The Butterfly

This article was authored by Tamara Wolan, Senior Counsellor,
Child Trauma Service Victoria, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

So often in therapy we talk about the way to start therapeutic work with children and all too often we are not given the opportunity to finish in a way that feels meaningful.

I want to tell you a story from work in our Victorian Child Trauma Service about the way a butterfly was used recently to represent for a child and her mother their story of change and transformation, later also becoming the anchor for this child and mother to feel safe enough to leave the containment of the therapy service.

It was very early on in the therapeutic process, the butterfly became a metaphor for change. The case was a single mother with her seven year old daughter who had both suffered from sexual abuse. The trauma had left this mother and daughter feeling disconnected and alienated from each other.

Initially, the mother said she felt that when she first attended counselling, her wings had been damaged, and were not able to open up and show their colours as the weight of her worries and trauma symptoms held them down. The child explained that when she first attended counselling, she did not feel like a beautiful butterfly at all. The lack of colour and richness in her wings was used as a metaphor to explore what had been missing in her relationship with her mother. This was particularly relevant for the mother who had strong negative feelings about her daughter when first attending counselling and struggled to identify any positive elements to her child.

In helping this child to feel safe and regulated in sessions, the mother and child with the support of the therapist created a butterfly doll for the child to use as a sensory anchor during her counselling work. Wings were created using sensory objects such as buttons and stones, so the child could sit and touch the objects with her fingers and support her in containment and grounding when triggered. Each session, the child would sit holding her doll using her fingers to examine all the fine details on the wings, and move the wings around, demonstrating how she felt when things began to change and improve in her life.

Towards the end of counselling, the mother was asked to draw on a large sheet of paper a picture of her daughter as a butterfly. The mother drew a beautiful picture of butterfly wings for her daughter and on them wrote and drew all the elements that made her daughter special, unique and positive. Both mother and daughter continued in subsequent sessions to draw pictures and make paper clay models to represent how they now felt changed in relationship to each other. The richness in colours and patterns that they used began to represent how connected and positive they continued to feel towards each other.

In preparing for the termination of counselling, a butterfly party was planned. A discussion occurred about how both mother and daughter had discovered their wings like the butterfly doll and on their wings were carrying resources and strengths that they could use in times of future difficulties. In the termination party, the room was decorated with butterflies and flowers and trees. The child, mother and counsellor moved around the room in body socks to represent the butterfly wings that everyone carries with them. These experiences enabled the child and mother to leave the counselling service feeling empowered and reconnected. The butterfly metaphor had helped them find their wings.

Are there other metaphors that you have found useful when working with abuse related trauma?