The Magic Key Technique
Children for a variety of reasons often “clam up” when asked to talk about their feelings especially about loss. When this happens it might be helpful for the child if the parent has a repertoire of strategies that are not language-dependent such as symbolic play, drawing or storytelling. Below is a great therapeutic technique by David Crenshaw (American Clinical Psychologist) called the Magic Key. It might be a useful tool for parents to help their child explore and discuss how they feel.
Theme: Therapeutic Exploration of Losses
Goals: 1) Increase awareness of losses, particularly unacknowledged or disenfranchised grief
2) Verbally express denied or disconnected feelings about prior losses
3) To expand therapeutic dialogue about the issues that matter most to the child
Materials: Paper, Pencil, Felt tips or Crayons
Description: Read the following instructions to the child:
Imagine that you have been given a magic key that opens one room in a huge castle. There are four floors in the castle and since the castle is huge there are many rooms on each floor, but your magic key only opens one of the many, many rooms in the castle. Pretend you go from room to room, and from floor to floor, trying your magic key in each door until you finally come to the door that your key opens. You turn the key and the lock opens. Because you have been given a magic key that only opens this door, what you see is the one thing that money can’t buy that you always thought would make you happy. Pretend that you are looking into the room. What is it that you see? What is that one thing that has been missing that money can’t buy that you always thought would make you happy? When you have a clear picture, please draw it as best you can.
The Magic Key (Crenshaw, 2004, Crenshaw, 2008), is a projective drawing strategy that was developed to evoke themes of loss, longing, and missing in the lives of children. This strategy is one of the ways to access these feelings when children are disconnected from their emotions or have great difficulty talking about their painful affect. Issues of timing and pacing, including the readiness of both the child and parent to undertake emotionally focused work, are critical. Whatever drawing the child produces in response to the directions to the Magic Key serves as a springboard to elicit more of the child’s feelings, wishes, fears, dreams, hopes, and serves to create a portal of entry to the child’s inner life.