Michael was a 10 year old boy. He came to The Green House because he had been groomed and sexually abused by male adult family members from aged 4 to 8 years old. His younger brother was the first to tell someone, as he was also subjected to similar abuse.
Michael was in foster care when the referral was made by his social worker. It was felt that he would benefit from a dedicated space where he could explore his feelings and develop his self-esteem. It was clear from his assessment session that Michael had internalised the trauma he had experienced and his carers were concerned about him struggling to manage his emotions in the future.
Michael presented as compliant, quiet and sometimes ‘frozen’ in dramatherapy. He seemed to find it very difficult to play, be spontaneous and connect with his therapist. Michael would talk about the abuse he experienced in quite a dissociated way; telling his therapist what he had been telling professionals for years and what he thought she wanted to hear.
Feelings were difficult for Michael and he also struggled to feel connected to his body. To try and unlock some of this ‘stuckness’ his therapist introduced some sensory and arts-based activities. Things like using play doh, sand and water. Michael began to experience what it was like to get messy with paint and after a time he seemed to enjoy making a mess and clearing it up with his therapist.
Michael then expressed an interest in working with the story of Shrek. At each of his weekly sessions he would act out sequences of it or draw an aspect of the story. He and his therapist would then reflect on what was happening for him and where it was resonating for Michael.
In Shrek’s story the protagonist lived a quiet, solitary life until one day he is flung into a mission to help fairytale characters who are being persecuted by the villain, Lord Farquaad. Shrek has a friend, Donkey, who helps him overcome several obstacles and travels alongside him on the road to meet Lord Farquaad. Shrek also has to overcome internal struggles and one of these centres around a crisis point where he feels such shame and thinks that he is so unloveable that he decides he would be better off going back to his ordinary life. In the swamp where he came from, he didn’t feel judged and he didn’t have to deal with difficult relationships and challenges. However, Shrek realises his self-worth and with the help of his friends he overcomes the challenges Lord Farquaad sets him. After a fierce final battle, he kills the villain and reinstates safety for those that were persecuted. The fairytale characters, Shrek and Donkey then build a new village to live in, with a swamp close by where Shrek feels most comfortable to be.
Michael felt a strong connection to Shrek. He saw him as a survivor, as brave, strong, fearless and at times, vulnerable. He gradually began to recognise how he also had some of these qualities. Michael struggled with feeling responsible for not stopping his brother being abused so it was particularly powerful for him to act out the part of the story where Shrek kills Lord Farquaad and finds his own space, the swamp where he was most comfortable. During his final therapy sessions Michael was keen to imagine a future for Shrek and in doing so, he began to feel more positive about his own.
By the end of his time at The Green House Michael felt more comfortable in his own skin, more confident and more able to express his feelings. This improvement in his emotional and psychological wellbeing were reflected in his evaluation scores and his foster carer’s feedback. His carer had noticed how Michael was less overwhelmed by the shame of his abuse, more willing to try new things and less detached from his peers. His improved self-esteem showed both at home and school and in the end Michael’s brother was also referred to The Green House so that he too could benefit from the team’s specialist support.