She’s Not There: Dissociation in Young Children with Trauma

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She’s Not There: Dissociation in Young Children with Trauma

February 2 @ 1:00 pm 4:00 pm CST

She’s Not There: Dissociation in Young Children with Trauma

1- 4:00  pm Central | Live Online


When young children are subjected to early adversities, they often have few defenses: the classic fight and the classic flight, but dissociation is less recognized. However, many young children coming out of early adversity use this brilliant defense mechanism to survive that which they can’t escape. These young, dissociative children present in a variety of ways, from the rigid and robotically compliant child who suddenly starts screaming in the middle of the grocery store to the labile child with disorganized attachment. Play therapy can be a powerful tool to help these children find a sense of felt safety and engage with their environments and families.

In this training, participants will learn about child development and the impact of early adversities on development, risk factors and signs of dissociation, and how to scaffold treatment to best meet the child where they are. Case studies will be used to illustrate different presentations of dissociation and how to meet the needs of that child and their family. This training will also focus on using play therapy to best engage these young dissociative children in a respectful, playful, and relationally-rich manner.


  • Identify signs of and risk factors for dissociation in young children who have experienced adverse events.
  • Describe relational and environmental factors that impact a dissociative child’s functioning
  • Apply trauma-informed play therapy techniques to help engage the dissociative child


Rachel Hanks is a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist who has worked at the Therapeutic Preschool at FamilyForward in St. Louis, MO, since 2016. She focuses on play-based interventions for young children who have experienced significant developmental trauma. She is Phase 1 certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and is a foundational practitioner of Theraplay (currently in practicum for full certification). She has presented on topics such as play therapy, dissociation in young children, neurobiology of play, and on the Therapeutic Preschool program. She has received extensive training on topics such as brain development, attachment, play therapy, and polyvagal theory. She thinks everyone should play more and even though her clinical focus is on young children, clients and clinicians of all ages can benefit from play therapy.