Saturday, January 13, 2024

Community Care

by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC, RPT-S

The truth of who we are, is that we are, because we belong. It’s in our DNA.” — Desmond Tutu

One of the most relaxed and oxytocin-filled times that I recall is waking up on my rope cot in my host family’s home in Ganeshpur, Nepal.  It was a chilly morning, I was curled up in my sleeping bag, and I heard the soft raspy voice of my host mother talking in the next room and engaging in her morning chores.  It was my first international service trip and first time staying with a host family.  I was amazed that I felt so connected to a family and a community that I could not easily communicate with.  The deep relationship that we formed through working towards a mutual goal:  building a school for the community, and caring for another in the process, was life-changing.  

The communal nature of Nepal’s culture and all of the rural communities I stayed in while doing international service work stands in stark contrast to our culture.  Families lived in adjoining homes or on the same property and shared chores and childcare.  Friends and family members were together throughout the day and no one was left with the isolation of a never ending to do list with no support.  Parents learned by example by seeing generation after generation raising children.  There is an oft repeated joke among parents when people say “It takes a village (to raise a child),” “How do I sign up?!”  

Unfortunately, for many in our culture, the village is not there.  Whether that is due to living far away from family members, cutting off toxic relationships, or loss, often modern American individuals are often isolated and overwhelmed.  We saw in the pandemic how isolation can breed stress and subsequent mental health and wellbeing challenges and the Surgeon General recently release research showing that it impacts physical and mental health.  Yet our society continues to value independence, which cuts us off from the benefits of interdependence.  

All of that being said, I am not ready to sign up for communal living.  I love spending time with others and then going home to have quiet time to recharge my Highly Sensitive, introverted batteries.  I say all of this to highlight the gift that interdependence brings.  I often see this gift in The Resiliency Center practitioner community.  The same wise clinicians that supported me when I began my practice are supporting me as I support supervisees to learn and grow.  I see this gift in my friendships.  I recommended to my neighbor the book Sensitive and she loaned me Hunt, Gather, Parent (a must read when thinking about community).  We so often think about self-care as taking bubble baths and doing yoga, which is lovely.  I encourage us all to also care for ourselves by filling up both ourselves and others in connection and support.  

Elizabeth Campbell is a Licensed Profession Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and EMDR Consultant in Training who provides empowerment and strength-based support to individuals in personal growth and change.  She specializes in play therapy with children, supporting Highly Sensitivity, and IFS-informed EMDR for all ages. She provides supervision and consultation for licensure as well as EMDR and play therapy certification.   If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at or 610-757-8163 or learn more at

Bonding for Life: FirstPlay Therapy

by Vanessa Mortillo

How do we know when we are in a healthy intimate relationship? What might we notice? Empathy? Mutuality? Comforting Touch? Security? Are skills for healthy relationships something we are born with, or can we learn these?  Expanding out further into community, friendships and social interactions: How do we balance the needs of others in a way that allows us to be part of a community without losing sight of ourselves?

The science shows that we are actually not born with these skills, but that the bonding during infancy and in our earliest years creates a roadmap for healthy relationships in the long term and is vital to the baby’s developing brain. Healthy bonding in infancy and childhood establishes a safe base for children and a felt sense of confidence in the world — referred to in child development research as secure attachment.  Without nurturing touch, interaction and play, babies cannot survive and feel secure. Through caregiver attunement, or the caregiver’s ability to notice and attend to their baby’s needs, a baby begins to feel securely attached, learns empathy, healthy coping strategies, a positive sense of self, and a good relationship with their body.

Attunement can be challenging with infants because they are not able to tell us what their needs are with language. In an ideal world, we would have all received attuned caregiving — full of back and forth play and connected interactions  — and enter parenthood knowing how to do this with our babies. However, in our human world, many of us may not have received this and grapple with increasing demands for our attention (including work obligations and technology). In addition, complications in the birthing process can include trauma and mental health challenges for parents and babies that impacts these early bonding experiences.

The good news is that regardless of what has happened in our lives, we can learn skills for healthy relationships. No matter our age or stage of life, it is possible to develop our abilities, changing ourselves and fostering healthy growth in our children. To help parents build these critical skills, Dr. Janet Courtney, an internationally recognized teacher and play therapist, developed FirstPlay Therapy, a short-term intervention, to support parents with skills for attuning to and bonding with their baby or child under 5. FirstPlay engages the powers of play, infant massage/touch, and story to build your bond and set your baby up for healthy growth and development.

In FirstPlay therapy, parents learn skills for relaxing themselves, creating daily times for connection with their child, reading and responding to their child’s cues, fostering back and forth playful interactions, and providing healthy touch. The benefits of FirstPlay impact the child’s development, increase caregiver confidence, and support parents with postpartum depression. And even better news: FirstPlay interventions can be done with children up to 5 years of age to continue to strengthen healthy bonding. 

For more information about FirstPlay therapy, contact Licensed Professional Counselor and trained FirstPlay therapist Vanessa Mortillo at or (267) 507-5793. Vanessa has a play therapy office at The Resiliency Center where she works with children and families to support healthy attachment, facilitate trauma healing, and help children with sensitivity, autism, and emotional and behavioral challenges to cope better, enjoy life, and thrive.