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Images and Stories as projective tools in child therapy

In the following example, the therapist invites a child (client) to tell a story using illustrated cards. The child chooses four cards depicting train-carriages. She lays the cards one next to another, to create an image of a train. 

The child says: “… This train looks strong. It drives fast… very fast… I don´t know where it is going and when will it stop…”

Therapist: “Which carriage is leading the train so fast?”

Client: “This one” (she points to the engine-car).

Therapist: “Can you tell me about this car?”

Client: “It is very dark… no one knows what it has inside…”

Therapist: “Yes, I see it barely has windows”

Client: “It has one window but it is usually closed. Sometimes it is a bit scary to imagine what is in there”

Therapist: “Yes, it is hard to think what is inside when the window is closed and the train moves so fast. What about the other carriages? I know that they are all parts of the same train, but each part is different”

Client: “Yes, each of them is different. In this train the carriages have a fixed place. This one next to the engine-car carries books. It likes to read alone quietly and it is very smart. The last carriage in this train talks like a baby. It is happy because it has so many toys inside…”

Therapist: “And this carriage in the middle?”

Client: “I think that there is something wrong with its walls. The walls are too thin. See? (she points to the illustration of the carriage and then touches the card softly) It is scared that its walls would break if it goes too fast.” The child continues sadly; “Once the train went so fast, that this carriage got disconnected from the others, and it was left behind”

Therapist: “This sounds like an unpleasant ride…”

Client: “Yes. It was really difficult, because the carriage really tried hard to drive like the others. It almost broke down… It cried when they continued without HER”

Therapist: “It is so sad. I am worried about this carriage and its thin, fragile walls. I would like to get to know it better. Maybe we can find ways to help it feel better as the story continues…” 


Clients can use illustrated images to tell us something about their situation, their experiences or their relationships. The cards offer an additional channel of expression.

Working with metaphorical cards, in the layer of imagination, enables clients to express feelings and thoughts that they might be too intimidated to acknowledge and/or to share with the therapist otherwise.

Moreover; the processing of the emotional issues that arise can also take place within the metaphorical layer of the therapeutic work. The therapist can invite the client to elaborate on the story, encouraging the child to add details and to enrich the description of the characters. Role play, dramatic enactment and different modes of creative work can be used to explore the client's narrative and deepen its understanding.

Therapists should be sensitive to the dialogue between the imaginary story and the real life-story of the client. Both the gap between these stories and the shifts from one type of story to the other, hold therapeutic value.


To learn how to use these cards and others, please join one of our online workshops 


The "World of  Trains" Guidebook includes numerous suggestions for using the cards in settings of Individual Therapy, Couple/Family Therapy and Group Therapy. 















Written by Gali Salpeter - Story & Therapy

Expressive Therapist. Spec. Drama and NarrativeTherapy (M.A.)(NFKUT)(I.C.E.T)

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