The Healing Power of Play: Desiree Svegliati, LMFT - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

The Healing Power of Play: Desiree Svegliati, LMFT

October 2, 2023

Headshot of Massachusetts Handel Behavioral Health therapist. She has face piercings, wears glasses and a blue shirt. The background is a soft pattern of matching blueish and green leaves on white, set behind a subtle honeycomb tiled or screen like pattern.

“The simple moments of life pass us by quickly. It’s how we treat those moments that create lasting memories, and get us through times of darkness.”

Growing up, Desiree Svegliati, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist learned that it’s the ordinary moments that make life extraordinary.

She brings this lesson to her therapeutic practice: offering a safe and nonjudgmental space for clients to tap into their strengths and develop new tools to create meaning in their lives.

Desiree is trained in play therapy, child-centered play therapy, and CBT play therapy. She draws inspiration from her own lived experiences, where play filled her life with love, laughter, and connection. 

“I find that play-based therapy interventions take the pressure off the client and allow for the therapeutic connection to build naturally. We focus on healing, rather than fixing relationships, and patterns of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that may be standing in the way of growth,” says Desiree. 

Over the course of her career, Desiree has worked with children, adolescents, teenagers, families, and adults from diverse backgrounds, in a variety of different mental health settings. She extends her playful, accepting, and engaging experience to each client, no matter their age.

We sat down with Desiree to learn more about her background in the field, what led her to become a therapist, and what clients can expect from working with her online.

What inspired you to become a therapist?

Growing up, I learned first-hand how important a support system is to building a healthy individual. 

I wanted to be a source of support for children faced with difficult circumstances who didn’t necessarily have systems of support they needed to grow and develop. 

As I began looking into therapeutic styles and treatment plans, I knew that my understanding of people differed from traditional psychology. Whereas traditional psychology looks at people through individual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, systems psychology considers the individual as part of an interconnected whole.

What prior experiences have you had in the mental health field?

I received my bachelors degree in Psychology at UMass Amherst, and then worked as a bachelor level residential counselor in a residential program for girls struggling with severe mental health issues and dual diagnosis. My job was to keep the girls safe, and be with them through their day or night. The experience gave me insight into treatment plans and therapeutic strategies, and encouraged me to get my Master’s degree in counseling.

I moved down to South Carolina, where my husband’s family was living, and got accepted into Converse University’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program. 

During the clinical practicum, which included 500 hours of relational therapy with families, individuals, and couples, I worked at a sliding scale mental health clinic for people who didn’t have the insurance or means available to receive mental health care. 

After graduating, I received training in Play Therapy and worked with families at a similar sliding scale clinic. 

When I moved back to Massachusetts, I worked at a community-based health center in the behavioral health department, counseling children.

What does your approach to therapy involve?

I’m trained in play-therapy, child-centered play therapy, and CBT play therapy. 

During play therapy sessions, we use toys, games, and art as the vehicles for communication. For instance, I can give a child a dollhouse and stuffed animals that resemble their family members, and observe how they act out patterns of emotion, thought, and behavior through the play scene.

Play therapy allows a therapeutic connection to build naturally, because there’s less weight and pressure when we’re acting out our experiences and challenges through play. 

We work on emotional regulation, in real time. 

I might say to the child, “I noticed that you’re pretty frustrated and angry right now by the way you’re playing with that doll. Remember how we talked about taking deep breaths when we feel angry? Why don’t we take some deep breaths for a minute, and see if we feel better?”

I really like using the Ungame, a noncompetitive board game designed to encourage people to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas as they explore different topics. It can be used with adults, families, and children, basically helping us respond to personal questions with thoughts and emotions.

Child-centered play therapy (CCPT), an intervention specifically designed for children ages 3-12, is my favorite form of play therapy. It’s based on person-centered principles, and the belief that the child’s experience within the counseling relationship is the most important element of healing, and creating positive changes. 

Like in all my counseling sessions, I focus on establishing a safe space for the child to express and realize their thoughts and feelings in real time. The autonomy that the child is given throughout the session, enables them to explore thoughts and feelings, decision-making, effective problem-solving strategies, and adaptive coping skills. 

My approach to working with adult client’s isn’t all that dissimilar. I always focus on building a safe and comfortable space to support clients in a collaborative way to a place of understanding, integration, self-actualization, and growth. 

I’m trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which may help clients become more aware of and intentional with their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in the present moment.

Approaching clients from a wider perspective:

With my degree in Family and Marriage Therapy, I’m exploring an individual’s behavioral patterns through a wider lens. Individuals cannot be fully understood in isolation, but rather through the systems that shape them, whether they’re systems of families, relationships, society, culture, or institutions. 

If a client tells me they’re feeling depressed, my first inclination is to explore the circumstances that may contribute to their feelings. I’ll ask them, What does your home life look like? Are you impacted by systemic racism? Are you impacted by legal structures that don’t benefit you?

As a therapist, I can’t necessarily change those external circumstances, but I can be an advocate for the client. I can connect them to the appropriate resources, and help them adjust their internal compass to navigate life’s challenges.

Specialties:

I offer individual therapy to children (0-12), adolescents (13-17), adults (18-64), and families who are experiencing the following mental health and life challenges:

Building an authentic relationship with clients:

I really try to be my most authentic self with clients. If you’re putting on a mask and faking it through the process, clients, especially children, will pick up on that. 

The same is true with clients. I really encourage them to be honest with themselves about what is working in their life and what isn’t- then the therapeutic journey can begin. 

As you can see, I have a lot of piercings, tattoos, and my own personal style that makes me who I am- I want clients to know that they can be who they are too.

What’s your favorite part of being a therapist?

It’s an honor to walk alongside people while they’re going through a difficult time or feeling stuck and unsure of the cause. I’m here to safely help people make positive and lasting changes in their lives, and it’s definitely a privilege to do that.

Moving forward with Desiree Svegliati

Desiree Svegliati, LMFT is here to share authentic, healing, meaningful, and playful moments with you.

To start your online therapy journey with Desiree, contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

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