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September, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 09

How a Child's Drawing May Enhance Hands-on Comprehension

By John Upledger, DO, OMM

Can a simple picture of a person, a house and a tree help you become a better CranioSacral Therapist for kids? Amy Lewis, LMT, CST, is exploring that concept by using an exercise drawn from the fields of psychology and Waldorf education to gain a better understanding of where her youngest clients may be physically restricted.

Amy frequently works with children who are struggling with a spectrum of conditions, from anxiety and ADHD to school transitions and developmental delays.

"The cranial work helps them let go of whatever they're holding on to from the inside so they can become calm, focused and grounded," she says. Before she ever puts her hands on a child, she gives them a set of crayons and asks them to draw a picture of a person, a house and a tree.

"I want to get an imaginative imprint of the child's relationship with his body and the space around him," Amy explains. "I start by having him do a clapping exercise that elevates the heart rate just a bit. After the clapping, even if the child is usually good at drawing, you'll get a great snapshot of what the non-conscious mind wants to bring forth about where he's stuck in his body."

Adding to the Therapeutic Picture

According to Amy, everything in the drawing, from the colors to the shapes, has meaning. "The tree trunk and limbs can represent the nervous system, the lungs or breathing. The foliage is the life force and how the child is bringing that in.

"And the person tells me where he's physically blocked. If there's no neck, he may be in compression. If one arm is shorter, longer or smaller, it may not be innervated or something there may be blocked. If there are no arms, hands or feet at all, that tells me something, too. And the house indicates the relationship between the child and his environment."

Amy first learned about the person-house-tree exercise from the Waldorf schools her two daughters attended in Hawaii and California. Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education relies on a deep understanding of human development to better address the needs of children as they grow. Out of this educational model grew a concept called "The Extra Lesson," which is designed to aid children who may have physical blocks that are compromising their ability to learn.

"In this Waldorf environment, teachers use the person-house-tree drawing to see where the child is developmentally," Amy says. "To me it's a tool, an indicator that's just like tapping into the cranial rhythm. The picture gives me information that comes from the child's non-conscious mind, where the truth resides."

A Young Boy Gets Stuck in His Head

Recently, Amy has been working with a 5-year-old boy. "He colored his whole picture in green," she says. "That tells me he's probably too intellectual, especially at age 5. He drew his body floating in the air like a cloud. His tree wasn't in the ground and its limbs were chaotic, giving me an indication of what might be going on in his nervous system. His house had no door, no windows, and a roof with four dots in it but no chimney."

Amy combined all these indicators with what she was picking up from his cranial rhythm, and she went to work. "After a few sessions, I asked his parents for a new picture so I could get the child's impression of where he was going with all this. In the new drawing he has one foot touching the ground, but his hair is barely attached. In our sessions now, he doesn't want me to touch his head.

"His tree, his nervous system, looks better. And he has a window in his house now, but still no door. The door shows me how he's bringing in and filtering information from his surroundings. So this is telling me he still feels like he has no filter. But he did draw grass, a sky and a rainbow across the top. That tells he's getting some symmetry above and below, and he's bringing in more life force."

A Teenage Girl Finds Balance

Another one of Amy's clients, a 15-year-old girl, drew herself on a swing in her picture. "In real life she was having trouble standing up," Amy says. "Her parents brought her to see me because she was always bumping into things. It was all on her left side.

"It turns out that when she was in utero, the doctor did amniocentesis and she kicked the needle with her foot. She still has tiny white lines on her left foot from the needle. It affected her L4 and L5, and there's a break in her vortex. But she's been working through it. Her balance is starting to come back in."

Amy says she likes to begin a series of six CranioSacral Therapy sessions with the person-house-tree drawing. "It's a nice way to start the therapeutic connection as soon as a child comes into my office."

As an assessment tool, "It's just an indication, an additional source of information," she adds. "I always tell parents, 'It's not set in stone. It's information based on this particular school of thought.'" Yet it's one tool Amy continues to learn from as her CranioSacral skills evolve.


  1. McAllen A. The Extra Lesson. The Robinswood Press, 1990.
  2. Ayres AJ. Sensory Integration and the Child: 25th Anniversary Edition. Western Psychological Services, 2005.
  3. Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
  4. The International Extra Lesson Association.

Click here for previous articles by John Upledger, DO, OMM.


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