#35: Step into a world where play and healing intertwine in Episode 35 of HPOE. Ariel, Stefanie, and special guest Maria delve into the transformative power of play therapy. Discover how Disney villains can become tools for empathy in therapy and how engaging with our favorite stories and characters can foster healing and growth. This episode is a heartwarming journey into embracing our inner child through the magic of play, offering insights for therapists, educators, and Disney lovers alike.

Register for the “Play Therapy: To Infinity and Beyond Conference” taking place at Disneyland and the Dinseyland Hotel from March 5-10th, 2024 here: https://www.anewhopetc.org/playatdisneyland


Summary of HPOE35: Unlocking The Healing Powers of Play

  1. Introduction (0:03): Ariel, Stefanie, and special guest Maria introduce the episode’s theme, focusing on integrating play in therapy and education.
  2. What is Play Therapy? (0:52): Maria explains the concept and application of play therapy, emphasizing its role in expressing and processing experiences beyond words.
  3. Play vs. Traditional Learning (2:34): Stefanie discusses the importance of play in education, challenging the conventional separation between play and learning.
  4. Play Therapy for Adults (3:17): Maria highlights the effectiveness of play therapy not just for children but for adults as well, particularly in couples counseling.
  5. Villains in Therapy (4:08): Maria shares her niche in using Disney villains as therapeutic tools, fostering empathy and understanding rather than pathologizing.
  6. Integrating Play in Therapy (5:15): Discussion on the diverse methods of incorporating play in therapy, including video games and expressive arts.
  7. Career Path to Play Therapy (6:58): Maria recounts her journey from aspiring to be a math teacher to becoming a play therapist.
  8. The Power of Play (13:03): The hosts and Maria discuss the universal and transformative power of play across different settings and ages.
  9. Disney’s Role in Therapy (16:56): The conversation turns to how Disney media can be utilized in therapeutic settings to facilitate discussion and healing.
  10. To Infinity and Beyond Conference (30:24): Maria talks about her upcoming conference at Disneyland, blending play therapy with the joy of Disney parks.
  11. Reflections on Play (36:29): The group reflects on the importance of play for both therapists and clients, encouraging listeners to find their own ways to play.

Ariel Landrum 0:03
Hello, everyone, welcome to the Happiest Pod On Earth. I’m Ariel, I’m licensed therapist who uses clients’ passions and fandoms to help them grow and heal from trauma and mental unwellness.

Stefanie Bautista 0:13
And I’m Stef, I’m an educator who uses passions and fandoms to help my students grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 0:20
And I’m Maria, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered play therapist who tries to find Disney and pop cultural references in everything for therapy.

Stefanie Bautista 0:29
And here at Happiest Pod, we dissect Disney mediums with a critical lens.

Ariel Landrum 0:33
Why? Because we’re more than just fans, we expect more from the mediums that you consume. So what Disney experience are we talking about today, everybody?

Stefanie Bautista 0:41
Well, we do have a special guest the welcome Maria, thank you so much for being on the podcast with us today. Maria, do you want to share a little bit about what you do as a play therapist? If no one knows what a play therapist is?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 0:52
Sure, sure. So as a registered play therapist with the Association for Play, which is based on in California, I incorporate the powers of play. And often what it comes down to is those moments that we don’t have the words to articulate what we’ve gone through, regardless of age. Play allows us to process and share those experiences with someone who’s trained to interpret play as communication.

Ariel Landrum 1:20
That’s really interesting, because I know, and I’m curious for you, I’m an art therapist, and we have very specific way in which we view art that’s different than using art therapeutically. So how do you use play as a play therapist versus a therapist who plays with their client?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 1:35
A great question, because we don’t just play with our clients. So play therapy is a model that goes on top of and includes your theory of change. So play therapy is a large umbrella, someone might be a narrative play therapist really focusing on storytelling and the powers of story, doing narrative work, but inner weaving their use of play techniques. Or they could be a solution focused play therapist or ecosystemic play therapist, right. So your theory of change will remain in play therapy is just a model that helps make the interventions more fun. And it removes the requirement to be in our brain and in our vocal space. So often, it can be really hard to talk about the hard things. And so having someone trained on the other side of the couch for you, who doesn’t need you to say the words but can give you alternate ways to express those things. That is that’s play therapy.

Stefanie Bautista 2:34
I love that in education play is a big part. But as teachers, it’s always like, “You have to stop playing now. Because we have to learn.” And it’s just like, the kids perspective is always like, “When are we allowed to play when are we going to play?” And I think this way, it’s kind of flipping the narrative a little bit and saying that, you know, we are learning through our play, but not necessarily saying you know, play as like a reward or whatever. Like it’s a way to express yourself in a way to communicate through play, because everybody talks about how body language is so important. That’s very important when it comes to play to because you are then using how you react to certain situations, how you’re interacting with other people, and how you’re doing decision making, as you know, a kid through play. It’s it’s really cool. I really love that.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 3:17
Yeah, great. Yeah. And yeah, play is learning, right? We are learning through play we have from the very I mean, when we think about infants, what what do we do we play peekaboo, right? We talk and sing songy voices that doesn’t need to go away. And so I’m, I’m excited also to talk about like using play with adults because it’s, it’s very much geared and marketed that play therapy is for children. But I use it with adults, I do it in couples counseling. It’s really helpful anytime. You don’t have the words necessarily or it’s too hard to vocalize.

Ariel Landrum 3:50
Well and for any of our listeners who have been listening to our episodes for a while episode 24 When we talked about Disney Villains we actually mentioned Maria and her talking and training on how to use villains and therapy as something that’s affirming as opposed to pathologizing.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 4:08
Love. Thank you so much. Was that from the TAGGS? That has really been my Yeah, no, that is my niche. So while I am very much a play therapist, and I’m very much a Disney fan, my my tend my fandoms tend to be Star Wars, Disney and Marvel except for when it comes to villains and then it’s DC. They’ve got bad guys done right. But yeah, being able to embrace the the power and the authenticity that comes from villains because typically, people who come to my care are not the heroes of their story. They’re usually labeled as the bad guy and are coming to meet for help. And that helps sometimes just turn it into let’s embrace this, you know, sometimes it’s okay to not go with the flow or question what’s always been done and to do things in a different way. Let’s embrace that. And let’s have a lot of fun with it.

Ariel Landrum 5:05
Yeah, I think that’s a really unique way to engage in, you know, play. Are there other new unique ways that you engage in play in your therapy sessions? Or that you think of play therapy?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 5:15
Yeah, I Well, I would say, again, play their visa, a wide variety of things. So here at our center, we do play from everything from expressive arts, to sand tray and sand play, right, using miniatures, and a sand tray setup. But we also, we have two different switch and PS setups in our office, because we do a lot of video game and play. Play can be whatever they’re comfortable with. And we just invite that into our therapy room. That is their language, especially more and more these days, right? Online gaming has gotten such a bad rap for such a long time. I’m old enough to say like, you know, when the internet started, you know, we were all told, like, you know, those aren’t your real friends. You don’t know them, right? Like those relationships aren’t real. And now we have the science to say, “Sorry, Mom and Dad, you’re wrong. Those are real relationships, and they hold real meaning and power in my life.” So yeah, if they’re if their favorite way of gaming is something that we can include, then we absolutely want to invite that in because it tells us so much. Right? This is where they’re spending their time and energy. I want to know about that.

Stefanie Bautista 6:26
Yeah, totally. I know that. Speaking of, you know, going back to when the internet started, and you know, when we were all forming our, you know, what are we going to do? Or what are we gonna do?

Ariel Landrum 6:37
Back in my day the Internet made sounds when you’re logged on?

Stefanie Bautista 6:41
It sure did. And, you know, at that time, I’m sure you know, we were all thinking of what careers we wanted to be when we grow, we grew up. Did you always think play therapy? Or were you just like, “Oh, I interested in therapists?” And play kind of came along as it evolved. Like, how did that journey work for you?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 6:58
I love that, because absolutely not. No. So I mean, up until like, my last year in high school, I thought I was gonna be a math teacher. I married one instead and so.

Ariel Landrum 7:10
Check check check.

And you and you incorporate play with with the math right?

Stefanie Bautista 7:18
Math is everywhere.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 7:19
So can play right play can be everywhere, too.

Stefanie Bautista 7:22
Yup absolutely.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 7:23
So then I went to undergrad and I was like psychology, “I’m interested in people. I like helping people.” And they were like, “It’s all research based.” I was like, “No, I don’t want to do that part.” So I ended up getting my master’s in marriage and family therapy and thought, like, “Yeah, I’m, I’m going to do family work, I’m going to do couples work, I’m going to be able to help, you know, adults be better adults.” You know, because the trickle down effect, right? In my mind, that’s where it was gonna go. I started private practice. And the woman who owned the group was like, “You are fantastic. You should work with kids.” And I was like, “No, thank you. No, thanks. No, I like I like, like the moody teen girls and like adults.” And she was like, “No, no, no, you need to come to a couple plates or trainings with me, and you really don’t like it, then fine, I’ll leave it alone.” That turned into being all in on Play. I’ve served on my like local state board as the president and past president for play therapy. I am now a provider for the Association for play therapy trainings. So I’m like “I’m all in.” But that was not my ideal job when I was like, but now I get to say I play for, like, my job. My job is to talk about villains and Disney and Marvel, and help people heal. I couldn’t have even imagined a job like this existing back before dial up was like old school.

Stefanie Bautista 8:48
I think that’s amazing. And I think that’s just the evolution of education now, and you know, knowing that you can start off wanting one thing, but as life, you know, grows us and gives us new opportunities. All it takes is one person to say, “Hey, I think you’d be really good at this.” And that opens up so many doors, and I love to tell you know, middle schoolers and high schoolers just because you say you want to do one thing and just because you said you wanted to be something when you’re younger, doesn’t mean that you can, you know, not either not achieve it or that’s not what you’re gonna you know, go to but other things will happen in your life. So I think you’re a great example of that.

Ariel Landrum 9:25
Yes, it can be really fear inducing to like change your mind, especially when it comes to like a career path or a decision of like, sustainability in your life. It feels unsustainable to to go off the track that you thought was meant for you. And it sounds like for you, it was really rewarding to have somebody say “Well just experiment, just get get a little try.”

Maria Laquerre-Diego 9:46
Like “No, there’s no lifelong commitment to it, right? Like take a couple of trainings and see if it lands,” and some of the early ones did not land and I was like, “This is crazy talk like this is not for me.” And then you know, being able to live We’re in like, really the base is in the the foundations for play. And then weave my own piece to it right? Like, that’s what we do we take those foundations and then we make them personal to us because that’s that’s where the magic is right? If I don’t believe it, if it’s not coming from my heart, the work that I’m doing is not going to be meaningful and helpful to anybody else. But it can also be really scary because the world is changing so fast. Does everyone want to see a therapist who talks about villains? No, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, that’s okay. But it’s taken me a long time in my career to be like, “It’s okay, that I’m not the right person.” Because especially in those heat, helping fields, we are so primed to be like, “Help everybody, you need to help everybody be so thankful that everyone that shows up is there to see you.” And it’s like, “I mean, it can be thankful. But if I’m not the right person, this isn’t gonna work.” And then if you are the right person, and you want to come in, and you want to talk about Iron Man having panic attacks, and how that is so applicable to how you are experiencing panic attacks, I’m the girl for that.

Ariel Landrum 11:03
So I’m hearing also, part of the way that you engage in your work is I’m hearing some authenticity. And the other thing that I’m hearing is that that acceptance of the client, even if they’re not your client, right? There isn’t a projecting onto them this expectation. And so this makes me want to ask, does this mean you’re more of a non directive play therapist? And can you explain for the audience with the difference between a directive and non directive one is?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 11:32
But yeah, so play therapy kind of falls into two camps, depending on your theory, non directive is child centered, or person centered. So if you think of Rogerian therapy, right, like the therapy, the client gets to lead the session, and the therapist bears witness, but doesn’t really question or direct the therapy in any way. Then directive would be where they come in, and like, “Hey, we’re gonna do this thing together today. I am leading the session, based on our goals, based on your interests based on where we’re headed, I have worked on what we’re going to do in between, and I’m going to tell you, we’re going to spend some of our time doing this.” I do both.

Ariel Landrum 12:14
Okay okay hybrid.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 12:14
Because I think they’re especially when it’s new, whether it’s play therapy is new to them, or just therapy in general is new, it can be really scary to be like “Here, here’s my giant playroom, you can do whatever you want to do in these rooms.” And I’ll just have people go. Just freeze, right. And like, “This is too much. This is too much.” So we’ll do some initial like information gathering right? First couple of sessions is really kind of set and scripted of like, “I need to gather all this information I want to get to know you.” And then in the in the meat of it. It can be you know, “I had an idea for today. But did you have an idea for today? Because I’m going to defer to where you are because you’ve lived your life in the last week since I’ve seen you. So my idea of where we need to start may not match.”

Stefanie Bautista 13:03

Maria Laquerre-Diego 13:03
“But if it does cool, I’ve got this path that we can try out. And you can tell me if you like and if it’s fitting or you, tell me what you would like to do today.”

Ariel Landrum 13:11
I know for me, I’m also both in the way that I have my theories are in the way that I practice is that because I have cognitive behavioral therapy as a theory, because insurance will cover it. There’s a lot of direction, lots of worksheets, lots of homework, so that that is me directing. And then in our sessions as a narrative therapist, that’s where my client is more directing, because they’re crafting their story, not me. Stef for you, because you’re an educator, how directive do you have to be with the way that you are running programs? Or is there room for like your students to just kind of run amok?

Stefanie Bautista 13:48
Teachers run on schedules and agendas and things like that, I think it’s more sectioned out a little bit differently. I wish I could dedicate one day to be like, “Hey, you know, you guys are leaving today.” And that would be called Holding Centers for the kids. So you’d be like, “These are math centers. So you know, I have these games for you to play. We’re going to rotate so and so we’re going to do reading centers and literacy centers. So you guys will be you know, reading this one chapter books, you guys will be writing about that.” So it comes in different forms. And as you guys were talking, I’m like, “Oh, we do the same thing. It’s just called something different.”

Yeah, holding centers. That’s beautiful.

Ariel Landrum 14:25
Holding centers. Yeah. So you know, it’s kind of just because it’s us. And you know, our ratios are very different from therapy. It’s a one to like 20 or 27 depending on the school system that you work for. So I think as teachers, you know, an educators you have to be creative about how you hold your spaces, because the ratios are just so massive, you know. And when you do hold spaces for one on one that happens during the larger group doing something else, and then you would be like, “Okay, we’re going to be doing a reading, you know, test today or we’re going to be like assessing you in this certain way.” Um, so yeah, it comes in different ways, but very similar to what you guys do just not exactly. Same, same but different.

No, I love that. I love that sharing of language because now I have I have something that I can ask you more about that. I like that, that that terminology. Because we’re saying like person centered, that’s one person that sounds very student centered still.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 15:24
Talk about systems, right? Like, that’s all the people in whatever system, depending on if you’re going really micro or macro.

Ariel Landrum 15:32
LMFT is an LCSW are very systemic thinking right? Who’se invovled in this child’s life?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 15:37
We want to know all the goods and who has access to this kiddo. But it is that shared language, right? Like, just as we’re experiencing this, this is what play can do. If I can learn the language of their play. I’ve cracked the code, and they don’t have to decipher it for me.

Stefanie Bautista 15:53
It’s very interesting that you said that, because I was just thinking that, you know, when you see your clients, you’re trying to figure things out, right? You’re trying to see, you know, what systems in their life, or, you know, making these outcomes happen. For us, it happens already in front of us. And we have to like go the other way, and figure it out. So if I see, you know, little Sally outside, just hitting every kid that she can possibly. So there’s the behavior. So now that tells me X, Y, and Z. And now I have to backtrack and figure that out to where as you guys kind of already might have known the behavior and are now trying to you know, make those certain connections. So it’s it’s very interesting, different perspectives. And yeah, it’s really cool.

Ariel Landrum 16:34
So what I’m hearing is therapists and educators are engineers.

Stefanie Bautista 16:40
We do it all.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 16:42

Ariel Landrum 16:42
And we need are flowers.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 16:43
In you know, the version of cash instead of flowers.

Oh I didn’t know we were going there for this podcast. Yes please.

Stefanie Bautista 16:56
Anyway, as this is a Disney, you know, podcast, and you know, you’re a big fan of Disney just like, oh, we are, how did you feel when you were like, “Oh, my gosh, I can use what I love. In my job.” Was that just kind of like a mind blowing moment for you? Where you were like, “I can make this connection? And it makes sense. And I don’t have to like, stretch for it.”

Maria Laquerre-Diego 17:17
Yes. So I’ll tell you, there was a couple of moments, there was one that I was like, “I already was not a real word already. therapies, everything I watch and consume, right?” Like this natural setting in my brain. Much to the dismay of my family, we always have to do things twice once for the family to enjoy it and then once so that Mommy can like therapy and the crap out of it, right? Yes,

Ariel Landrum 17:38
Are that are you that meme where it was like that? That fictitional therapist is doing something unethical.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 17:46
Yeah, I have all training on fictitious therapists and now the damage that they’re doing? Absolutely.

Ariel Landrum 17:52
That’s another episode we would like t have actually.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 17:57
Yeah, so I was like, Well, I kind of with kids, it’s easy. It’s an easy step, right? Because they’re into like spider man or the Avengers or Ninja Turtles. So it’s easy for me to kind of like weave the storytelling in for kids, because they’re already talking about that. And instead of be going, we’re not talking about Paw Patrol. Today, we’re going to talk about your feelings. We can talk about feelings using Paw Patrol so that they’re still interested in engaged in the get the connection. Right. So that was one moment of like, “Oh, I can I can do this.” And then I had a couple of identify self identify geek adult clients that I was seeing. And I was like, let’s try. Let’s try this. And that went well. And then one other moment was like, “I’m gonna I would put out a training on like, the villain stuff,” right? Because if you’re in the world of, of kind of Geek Therapy, pop culture and superheroes. Sophie Ansari is like my goddess, and I go to her for all things. superheroes and pop culture. Did my own kind of like version of that, and then really was like, oh, people like this. I wonder I wonder if I could get them to like, like villains like I like villains. It is not gonna land for everybody. And I get that and that’s okay. But what if, what if, like two therapists heard me talk about using villains? And we’re like, “Ooh, that sounds interesting.” And I’ve been now doing villain talks for probably two years. And it’s just that I like I seriously I pinch myself and I’m like, I get to spend the day talking about villains and making lightsabers with people like this is my job and I love it.

Ariel Landrum 19:42
Calling back to the earlier conversation. There’s another path that you didn’t expect you would take which is training and then training specifically on a topic and a subject that excites you and training on what I think before your trainings was seen as taboo, like if a child or an adult loves the villain there that gets pathologized are seen as like, “Oh, they’re manifesting this like dark part of themselves.” And you really turn the light on, on the fact that that automatic assumption or automatic belief was not only not helpful, it was not client centered. It was really looking at it through this like very narrow lens, like the Satanic Panic back in the days, right? Like the, and you found more nuance in the subject matter.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 20:26
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s still one of my first three slides is like liking a villain is not pathologizing. And it’s not a diagnosis. You know, and, you know, Marvel doesn’t know, but they’ve come and backed me up. And when we had a whole Loki series, right, like, all based around, and because it’s not because I’m the only person who finds villains interesting, Disney would not just do that, for me. There has to be enough of an interest. And I think that there really is a really, you know, these are stories I’ve been told and consumed, because they’re interesting. And they’re interesting, because they speak to us.

Stefanie Bautista 21:00

Maria Laquerre-Diego 21:01
You know, and so being able to just encourage people to, like, lean in and learn more, instead of being scared and hold these, you know, misbeliefs, or these old ideologies that, you know, villains are the bad guys, I was like, well, it’s all about perspective.

Stefanie Bautista 21:14
And it’s really, you know, focusing on a person as a whole, right, instead of putting them as like, you know, a binary system zero or one like, you know, you’re either good or bad. Like that, in itself is so harmful. And I think, you know, Loki is a great example, because I love that series up and oh my gosh, it’s like my favorite, I could talk about it all day.

Ariel Landrum 21:31
And again, if any of you are just new to our podcasts, or have been listening, in Episode 14, we had another clinician Rachel who talked about trauma adoption and the experience of being an adoptee and a foster care system. And that was Leaning Into Loki’s Journey. So if you want to see that with a new perspective, check out that episode.

Stefanie Bautista 21:53
And now knowing that the series is pretty much, you know, come full circle, and he’s, you know, finished his arc, I think, looking back at that, and those conversations that we had about, you know, his origin and what he’s gone through, is really important to see villains not just as the bad guys, and that there are people who have their own experiences and the decisions that they make. It just contributes to the whole story as a whole human are a whole host superhuman, I guess, a demigod in the sense. But still a person who feels who goes through things who has struggles, and is trying to just figure themselves out just like everybody else.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 22:28
It’s really easy to kind of view it as when someone comes in for help, right? They have one version of their story. And people have been putting assumptions and views on them without having the rest of the information. As therapists we get to sit back and go, “Okay, tell me the rest of the information.” Right. And we know that this is important, right? Like movies like Maleficent and Cruella. Right? Like, those are villain origin stories, it’s the why to why they were behaving that way later on in the storyline, or later on in life, all behavior have an explanation. Being able to embrace the villain side goes, tell me tell me why this is serving you because it’s serving you in some way. Rather than being like stop.

Ariel Landrum 23:14
And talking from that systemic lens and thinking of those villains. It’s the examples of the lack of intervention through pivotal moments, right? Whereas like, we are an example of interventionist interventionist in an individual’s life. If you have an educator that’s caring, if you have a counselor that’s caring, if you have a therapist that’s caring all of these opportunities that can help someone gain essentially growth and understanding or if they’ve experienced trauma, post traumatic growth. And in the cases with some of our villains they have they didn’t have people intervening, they didn’t have the support network or the caring helper.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 23:50
Yeah, well, in so many of them, you know, the other thing we can talk about is like those redemption arcs, are those shifts, right? The you’ve been the villain in the story for so long? Do you want to keep going? Or do you want to share with others the reasoning behind and no longer have that lens? Right? And, you know, I was bringing up Civil War as an example, the MCU Civil War, because those were two groups of heroes battling, you know, so how do you pick a villainous side? And it’s like, well, it was it was really about perspective. And what was important to either of them felt like they were the bad guy, and no, we had two groups of superheroes battling it out.

Ariel Landrum 24:24
And it definitely makes me think of like, with Moana, how we had to Te-Ka and we turned out she was Te Fiti right this whole time. And even though the story wasn’t primarily about her, the redemption was this, like villainizing of this deity and stealing and taking and pillaging like, what ends up happening, and what needs to be created to have repair. And I can’t think of many stories that at least Disney narratives that have a like big baddie not end does a big baddie.

Stefanie Bautista 25:01
I mean, to an extent, like even in Frozen they villainized Elsa. And she was not the villain. She is very much the main character. But they were so threatened by her and her power that that became the villain. And I think that’s what one of the early times that people are like, “Okay, the narrative has shifted a little bit, and we’re not seeing, you know, just like a monster that they have to defeat. It’s really, you know, the perspective again.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 25:26
Yeah no, I love that. And like Moana can easily be used, as you know, as an example of an interventionist, right? She doesn’t need someone to see her for who she was, and be able go, “We we can fix that we can heal that part of you so that you’re no longer raging and destroying.” But that can’t happen until they’re seen, right? Until Mallanna. was able to look you know her in her rage form and say, “Oh, I see you see you and I’m not scared.”

Stefanie Bautista 25:56

Ariel Landrum 25:56
I want to note on something that I think I think for you, there’s some intentionality. And I’m making a big assumption, make a big assumption, but from seeing on the outside, and now that I have you trapped in my podcasts I can ask, I think you you title things intentionally because I think of both your counseling center and I think now of the CE program that’s coming up that I even signed up for. So could you tell me what are this this titling that you do? And what comes into that?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 26:26
Yes, it’s a little tongue in cheek. So my parents would probably tell you that while I was a very bright and very social child, I also had a love for the sarcasm. That didn’t go away with age, I think I just got like more rooted and permanent with age. So when we bought the group practice, it was named after the previous owner, and I was like, “We need a new name. I don’t want my name because my name is long and convoluted, depending on which system I’m in.” And so I actually sat with my husband, and I was like, “I want something that’s like nerdy for those that get it, get it. But it’s also like, if you didn’t know it was the counseling name like that would also..”

Ariel Landrum 27:04
If you know, you know,

Stefanie Bautista 27:05
If you know, you know, yep, yep, yep. Yep.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 27:08
So we played around and like, I’m also a very, very big fan of Firefly, but Serenity Counseling is like overly saturated in the market. And I didn’t want that. And so he was like, “What about A New Hope?” “Oh, done, done, done, done, done. Let me find the registration name. The domain name is mine now. Yes, yes. Let’s play with that.” You know, and paying homage but not stealing, because it’s not my information. But yeah, if you look on our website, there’s lots of love to all things fandom from our blogs. You know, some of our logo work, to even like our headshot pictures. If you go through, pick out a therapist, they all have their fandoms like displayed in their photo with them. I have really fun headshots with my lightsaber in my dual bladed dark gray lightsaber. And then yeah, and then so my next thing was like, “I wonder if I could get away with doing some learning and training and some playing at Disney? How do I make these few things work? Legitimately. And also, because I would like to go to Disney with a bunch of other like nerdy therapists and like, just have fun.”

Ariel Landrum 28:28
And for our SoCal audience, she does mean Disney Land, not Disney World. So there’s a big divide between the Disney’s, so this is the Disneyland not the Disney World. Within the community. It’s drama. It’s drama every.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 28:44
Love to both love.

Stefanie Bautista 28:46
Right love to both.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 28:47
Disneyand was just an easier navigation for this first time out of like, “How do you do parks and learning and not like run people ragged or lose them to the parks?” Because…

Ariel Landrum 29:00
When you have to take a boat into your park. Yeah I get it.

Stefanie Bautista 29:03
You will lose them. It’s a world not a land.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 29:05
I can’t have a conference happening at Disney and “Go but you cannot go to the parks. You must stay here and listen to me talk.” I mean, that’s just crazy talk. So yeah, so this Play Therapy: To Infinity and Beyond conference happening at Disneyland is my attempt to blend the play and the learning through play with the lecture that is required by all of our licensing boards. Pre COVID con going to conferences used to be super fun. Like I remember just having so much fun while learning and getting to network and connect with people and feeling that energy in the room. And I haven’t been to anything like that since COVID happened so even returning to in person it’s just like we’re trying to pack in so much in the short amount of time. That I was like I want dedicated time to play in the parks like go play. If you’re a rope dropper, awesome. If you’re there for the night scene cool. Go go play, do one little piece of learning while you’re in there that will use the next day during lecture. But one you can’t go to Disney and not play like that just seems super silly. But two learning it should be fun.

Ariel Landrum 30:24

Maria Laquerre-Diego 30:24
Learning should be fun. Yes, that’s required for our licensing boards. And yes, it’s required for professional development in the better of what we’re doing with our brains. But I want to have fun doing. And so yeah, I was like, I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna throw this together and put it out there and see if there’s anybody else who wants to like claim a Disney conference for work. And come and have fun with me.

Stefanie Bautista 30:48
That is the best.

Ariel Landrum 30:50
And how many attendees Do you have signed up right now?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 30:52

  1. We’ve got a nice group of 30 people coming.

Stefanie Bautista 30:56
That’s amazing. I mean, the first time Ariel told me about this, I was like, “What? Wait a minute. So you’re saying that I work with children. And in order for me to be successful in that I should also be a child for a day.” That makes too much sense. I wish more education conferences happened at Disneyland. I’m just putting it out there for anybody who’s listening that’s in charge of these things, but the therapists are doing it right. So we should take notes.

Ariel Landrum 31:24
We are doing some play in the park. One of the things that we were curious, because I don’t think you’ve been to Disneyland since it’s been revamped. Since it’s been renovated, correct?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 31:34
I was there in March

Ariel Landrum 31:36
Of last year?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 31:37

Ariel Landrum 31:38
So I don’t think Toontown would have been renovated then did it?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 31:40
Yeah, I was there just like right after opening weekend, so I get did get to visit Toontown and do the runaway railcar.

Stefanie Bautista 31:48
Okay, okay. So what are your thoughts specifically because I and I want Stef to share because she has littles Toontown is more expansive now. I think it is very catered towards getting your wiggles out. So for you, is there a thought of that in for the conference or consideration and then Stef? I’m curious for you, how has it been for you with the kids and having that more expansive space?

Yeah, I mean, for me, having littles at the park, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, if I need my little one to run around, where do they do that?” And I was trying to find specific pockets in the park to have them just run loose. And I found this like little indent where I think the characters come out in Cars Land, where I could just corral my child and let him run around. But it was so small, it was literally an employee entrance. And I was like, “This is safe. This is not you know, anything where I’m going to lose them. They can go one way or the other. I have like full vision of them.” And I was like, “Why don’t we have more of these spaces?” And I think that was right, as Toontown was getting renovated, and then they opened it up and I was like, “Oh my gosh, a play area. Why didn’t they have this before that’s what was missing an actual playground because, you know, we go to the parks, we you know, go to a playground, they have a play structure, all that stuff. Disneyland didn’t quite have something like that Toontown was just very much like the other lands where you know, they have the open space for you to walk through park stroller, but you go into whatever attraction are going to but knowing that attraction is probably full has a waitlist, you have to be on Disney, you know, Genie+ all that stuff. It’s just not ideal to just have your kid run around. So I was very happy with the expansion because I remember being a kid when Toontown first opened they did have those play places but they weren’t really too friendly for like the little littles which I had, I’d have a one and a three year old so definitely need to get their wiggles out so that we can get on the ride later on.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 33:43
I love that yeah, it think you know Disney is great at doing like their immersive experience, right? So Galaxy’s Edge for me it was one of the first times that I was like, “We are not in California anymore like right?” And they do they do that wonderfully but they they’ve done that so much catered towards adults. Right. I think Toontown now is really what what that is but for children where it started right like Disney was was meant for children there you know, there’s no shame in being a Disney Adult but like, originally it was it was a place for families to bring their kids to play. But it was very became very quickly became like stand in this line. Do this ride. Stand in this line do this ride. But things would like Galaxy’s Edge, Avengers you know Avengers Campus and now Toontown I think it’s more of like really immersive you can play while not being in line while being in line. You know, can I even think about like the long lines for like the Indiana Jones Right? Like it’s interactive in pieces. But this I think was really helpful for them to go. “What do the little ones need? Right? Because we got the Disney Adults on hook. They’re the ones footing the bill to come? Well, like how do we How’d you let these little ones whose attention spans are much smaller still really enjoy being here? Because we want them to come back?” And I think that was their answer to that.

Stefanie Bautista 35:10
Yeah, I’m definitely thinking that these Imagineers are now our age have kids of their own. I was like, Something’s missing here because I am too stressed out to be at the parks.”

Maria Laquerre-Diego 35:22
If you think about, like, you know, taking a little one from like, one ride line to another line line to another, like you don’t get to, like, enjoy, whereas the you can walk around Galaxy’s Edge and just like enjoy the ambiance and the walkthroughs. And so being able to see that expand, you know, and they’ve got Avengers Campus now, right where you can do similar things. But, ya know, in terms of like the conference, I mean, one of my hopes and directives is like getting them to go to Toontown as an adult, and play in that giant, you know, play structure and take some pictures, I’ve been trying to lift the weights or break out of the window bars. Because it can still be easy to be an adult at Disney. And the whole point of this is like, we’re gonna go back and like capture our, our, our child’s heart and let that play at Disney. Because yes, you can be an adult at Disney and do all of the adult things and have a great time. And I’m hoping that they tap into like their child’s heart and go look at this for the first time and just experience the wonder and play and like, what is that doing for you?

Stefanie Bautista 36:29
And that vulnerability to just have fun. I think my favorite thing is when I’m at Toontown and they have that slide where it’s a bunch of little rolly pins or like like rolly things, every adult that I’ve seen that goes on there goes into it with such glee and then they come out of it like my back my butt oh my god every and then some people go ahead and do it for a second time. And it’s really hilarious because you you let that go you actually give yourself space to enjoy and you know, be a Disneyland to play.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 37:01
Well and play can look so different. Right? So I mean, my my friends listening to this now go Maria is the one who’s like, “Here’s our agenda. I’ve got our lightning leads, I’ve got our Genie+,” like I am, but that is my playful side like I will do that and that brings me joy and then I will drop everything when Maleficent walks by or Kylo Ren and like I am all in. And so maybe your play is thrill seeking and you’re trying to get all of those lightning lanes and you know doing Guardians and doing Incredicoaster. Maybe your play is just being aware of your surroundings and realizing and enjoying the fact that you’re not answering emails, you’re not in your office, you’re able to watch other people right like who’s not a people watcher at Disney. You’re able to watch other families you know, have fun and maybe that connects to something that you’re trying to heal still or that you’ve forgotten. Yeah, so I love you know, Disney. There’s so many ways to play at Disney, not just the rides. That I love that they’re kind of expanding that with Toontown and I hope hope it continues in that way.

Stefanie Bautista 38:07
I mean, you were just mentioning different ways to play what’s your favorite way to play at Disneyland? Like what’s your thing?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 38:12
I’m very much a rides thrill seeker I love the Guardians love the in Incredicoaster. When I’m not at Disney I’m still like Disney Dreamlight Valleying on my thing. I am the one who is like doing cosplay or Disneybounding with my ears unabashedly I’ve ever really gotten comfortable on like plays important and it’s okay if I look silly doing it. But yeah, I would say probably those those thrill seekers and then like grabbing those lightning lanes and Genie+ things like that I get such a like little giggle when I’m like we got it.

Ariel Landrum 38:53
Like a lottery win.

Stefanie Bautista 38:56
It is it is a game sometimes a cruel game because you’re like, “The schedule just didn’t go in my favor,” but but if you is such a delight when you get all the ones that you want, because you’re just like, “Dang what a win.”

Ariel Landrum 39:09
Stef, what’s your favorite way to play at the park?

Stefanie Bautista 39:12
I mean, different phases of my life. Right? Like I’ve been going to Disneyland like regularly since I was probably you know, a little one. I was. Yeah, true blue Angeleno. I mean Toontown when it was just open I remember going there and it looking wildly different so when it was much more affordable Of course, you know, just to play at the parks just have that time with my family that’s not in you know the house and just me being a kid. But I think you know, as a teenager I want a lot with my now husband and we experienced different ways to play at the park one day we would just people watch one day we just spent on Main Street just like going into the little shops and like looking at all the little details because you could just do that and not have like a ride heavy day. Um Being a foodie at the parks, that’s definitely my thing, trying all the new things because now they’ve they’ve heard us because we spend the money for all of the things. So definitely being a foodie dressing up at the parks, that’s one of my favorite. I think now in the season of having children, I think it’s just, you know, giving them opportunities with my expanse of knowledge. That is a learning curve in itself. Because you know, you want to do all these things. But the limitations be like, you know, what I could just focus on one thing we could just focus on, It’s A Small World, and just have them write it over and over and over again, so that they have that wonder, and that’s okay. And that was something that I had to learn for myself that I don’t have to do a full, you know, rope drop to park close to both parks at the same time, we could just focus on one area and just let them explore that. And I think that’s rediscovering Disney as you know, not just an adult, but a parent, too, is definitely you know, a way to play as well. It’s a game.

Ariel Landrum 41:00
Stef is the one who got me to start going to Disney fairly regularly. Because before then the only time I had gone was like twice when I was a kid. And as military brat is because I was not even in this continent. I was not here. So my favorite way because it’s from the perspective, I think of like an adult is I either try to get my money’s worth, which, you know, I’ve learned like you’ve already spent the money there’s no way to get your money’s worth. But psychologically I feel like there is trying to pack things up, or it’s food oriented, and it’s so much food oriented now that I’ve like gotten into niche Disney fandom communities where they like mix different foods from different carts. And it’s like, I want to get the bread from a Maurices. And like fill it with the the meat from this cart and like make my own sandwich. Like it is now the Yeah, I think it’s food related and then seeing how I can individualize the experience as as if no one else has done it before even though I learned it from a Tiktok.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 42:07
I love that and you know, finding like the hidden gems like you know, I we went to The Beast’s Library for the first time this this past March, and we had been like four times in the last four years. But that was the first time I was like, God, I’m not, I’m not just chasing down the rides like I want the experiences to so doing like Crush Talk, and then the library are super fun. But Ariel, you must be delighted that the conference is happening during the Food and Wine Fest.

Ariel Landrum 42:32
I’m so excited, I will be getting the Sipper Pass. Now as some of the audience members who’ve listened, no, I’m allergic to alcohol. So I will just be doing the food part. But if my partner is able to come one of the days, I’ll probably get both and he can try the wine and I’ll try the food.

Stefanie Bautista 42:49
If not, I mean I can volunteer as tribute and just drink all your thing. It’s not like I’m pregnant. Anyway.

Ariel Landrum 42:55
Speaking of the conference, so our audience members are aware. Again, it is the Play Therapy: To Infinity and Beyond. And it is taking place at Disneyland from March 5 through the 10th 2024. So if you’re listening to this another year, you missed it sorry. It includes an immersive journey to play therapy, training on innovative techniques and tools and includes virtual reality and digital play. And the conference is designed with just a wide range of therapists. So they’re going to focus on positive psychology, on tools for telehealth, and of course, include cultural considerations and family play. And there will be days that occur in the park as well as convention days at the Disneyland Hotel.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 43:38
It’s gonna be so fun. And if you are listening to this, and it’s past our March dates, just know we are looking at 2026 for another one.

Ariel Landrum 43:50

Stefanie Bautista 43:50
Love that. Yeah, we are planning ahead, y’all!

Ariel Landrum 43:53
But if this is before March, you can sign up at ANewHopeTC.org/PlayAt Disneyland. So one more time, ANewHopeTC.org/PlayAt Disneyland. This was wonderful. Thank you, everybody.

Maria Laquerre-Diego 44:12
Thank You. Thanks for having me. This was so fun.

Ariel Landrum 44:14
Absolutely. When we will definitely be tapping you on future podcasts because I feel like we have so much more to talk about.

Where can our audience follow and find you?

Maria Laquerre-Diego 44:22
Yeah, so our website is ANewHopeTC.org We’re on Facebook, Instagram @ANewHopeTC.

Ariel Landrum 44:32
Beautiful, and as always, you can follow Happiest Pod on Instagram and I still call it Twitter. But apparently it’s x. And it is @HappiestPodGT. Again, @HappiestPodGT. And you can go to GeekTherapy.org to follow all of our episodes and blog posts.

Stefanie Bautista 44:51
And I encourage in the spirit of play everybody try to find their way to play this week, wherever you are. All right. Thank you everyone.

Ariel Landrum 44:57
Thanks everyone. Bye bye

Media/Characters Mentioned
  • Disney Villains
  • Spider-Man (Marvel)
  • Avengers (Marvel)
  • Ninja Turtles
  • Paw Patrol
  • Loki (Marvel)
  • Maleficent (Disney)
  • Cruella (Disney)
  • Moana (Disney)
  • Elsa (Frozen, Disney)
Topics/Themes Mentioned
  • Play Therapy
  • Education Through Play
  • Disney and Therapy
  • Villains as Therapy Tools
  • Adult Play Therapy
  • Career Change to Play Therapy
  • Integrating Play and Learning
  • Disney Parks as Therapeutic Spaces
  • Cultural Impact of Disney Characters

Website: happy.geektherapy.com
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 | Stef on Twitter: @stefa_kneee | Ariel on Instagram: @airyell3000 |

Geek Therapy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit with the mission of advocating for the effective and meaningful use of popular media in therapeutic, educational, and community practice.
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