Wendy Lauter LCPC, A.T.R.-BC
(Licensed professional counselor, registered and certified art therapist)
Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and the work that you do.
Wendy: I’ve been in private practice for almost 25 years. I’ve worked in a variety of settings—residential, therapeutic day school, domestic violence shelters with children. Basically, I’m a child and adolescent therapist. I say that 80 percent of my practice is with children and adolescents and 20 percent is with adult women. I’m a licensed counselor and also an art therapist. The art piece informs a lot of the work that I do. In a way, the Mightier images and gaming fit into my view of the world and how I help kids.
Q: What are the sorts of clients that you work with?
Wendy: I see lots of kids with school behaviors and school anxieties. Most of the clients I work with have some form of anxiety.
Q: How does Mightier fit into your private practice?
Wendy: Mightier is the best way I’ve found to teach children and adolescents breathing technique, how to decrease heart rate, and mindfulness. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to make things like mindfulness and breathing and meditation work with my kids. A high majority of them are embarrassed doing those kinds of exercises, think they’re stupid, roll their eyes—it’s been a struggle. Playing computer games, on the other hand, is just natural for kids. So, one way I use Mightier is in teaching kids how to breathe. It’s just a comfortable and easy way for them to understand the concept of breathing down their heart rate, breathing down their anxiety, and breathing down their anger.
Another way I use Mightier is as an intervention for anxiety as it’s happening in real time. I step in and provide an intervention along with the Mightier program. An example of this might be a client whose anxiety comes out as anger or frustration, causing this child to switch games every time their heart rate goes up. I would help them with other strategies or interventions and then encourage them to stick with the original game.
Q: How do kids usually respond when you introduce Mightier?
Wendy: They grab it, they turn it on, and they just go with it. It’s something they’re really familiar with. And then of course they end up having to teach me how to do certain things. [laughter] Mightier takes something that is so painful for kids—their inability to manage their affect or their anger or their anxiety—and turns it into something playful and normal and happy. It changes their perceptions about who they are, how they manage their feelings, and what they can control in a way I’ve never seen before.
Q: Would you say Mightier has changed how you approach your work?
Wendy: I really believe that if kids could figure out how to make themselves better on their own, that would be awesome. Or, if when they’re home with their families, if their families could have control over how to help them manage all of these big feelings. Sure, it would put us practitioners out of business, but I feel like that’s the future—giving the control back to the kid and the family.
As a therapist, it’s pretty grandiose to think you can be all the difference in a family and a kid’s life for one hour once or twice a week . That expectation puts a whole lot of pressure on us to be superheroes. I don’t think it’s possible. I honestly feel with certain kids that I’m seeing that if they would do Mightier for six months and the parents would manage and support it, the kids wouldn’t need a therapist. I’m not saying all kids are that way, but for me one of the best things about Mightier is to be able to say to a parent, “Take this home and call me if you have any questions. It’s going to help your kid in ways I would never be able to.” I feel like I have a second therapist who’s backing me up, but it’s happening outside of my treatment room. The kids I see whose parents invest in the Mightier program are getting better quicker. And the kids whose parents, for any number of reasons, are not supporting my recommendation of getting Mightier are having a harder time.
Q: That’s incredible to hear. Are there any specific anecdotes you would be willing to share?
Wendy: I had a session the other night with a client who has Mightier at home. At one point I handed her the lavaling cards. She went through them silently. When her mom came in, she showed her which ones she had gotten while playing the game, and then read to her mom which ones were like her personality-wise. I was amazed that she knew every one she had unlocked and was willing to tell her mom about the personal connection she had to the game.
Q: How do you typically introduce Mightier to parents?
Wendy: I encourage parents of highly anxious children to get Mightier for their home because anxiety is not a one-hour-per-week experience. Parents can use Mightier as a preventative tool and as an intervention when in an acute anxious state. For example, think of a child who gets physical symptoms of anxiety that last for days. By using Mightier when he begins to feel anxious, he is able to not only decrease the anxiety, but also to avoid the physical symptoms altogether.
Q: In what ways does Mightier differ from other strategies?
Wendy: DBT and CBT are harder for kids to wrap their brains around than we would like to admit. I think Mightier can prepare kids to be able to understand and embrace DBT and CBT concepts. It gives them a foundation for embracing other strategies.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts on the Mightier certification process and the Mightier manual?
Wendy: Part of what is so beautiful about Mightier is its simplicity. The things in the manual just add to that. The manual and the certification training give you a range interventions that are simple, easy to do, and really resonate with kids. These add-ons really complement the Mightier program.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with professionals who are considering using Mightier?
Wendy: As therapists, we are so pressured into having to write measurable cognitive goals and strategies. What’s happened since I started with Mightier is that is that I can just write in a kid’s progress note, “Mightier, 15 minutes, biofeedback program.” And I feel like that covers everything. It’s a relief because I’d been struggling with how to translate what I’m doing cognitively for the written record so that if someone were to look at it, they would see I had strong concrete measurable goals . I’m working with a kid at the moment whom I got special dispensation to see from their insurance company because I am not in their network. I had to write a review of treatment and goals to get more sessions. One of my goals was, “continuing with Mightier children’s biofeedback affect management program.” The insurance company signed off on more sessions than I ever had gotten from any insurance company before, and I was shocked. I don’t know for sure, but I wondered if it was because of Mightier.