Inside/Outside Box

In Play Therapy with older children (tweens) and teens, one of the important tenets is helping the child to establish a sense of self – Who am I? Who do I want to become? What are the innate things about me that are loveable and of value?


Too often, girls especially are targeted at a young age through media and savvy marketing to believe that “I am not enough”, “my body is not good enough, skinny enough, pretty enough”. This crushes a young girl’s self-esteem and confidence, placing them in even a more vulnerable, emotionally charged way of existing.

A powerful art-based play therapy technique is creating an Inside/Outside Box. This art-based play therapy intervention is focused on helping identify how a child sees themselves, as well as how they think other’s perceive them. In this activity, the making of a collage is used as a powerful, symbolic representation of the self.


  • Shoebox (multiple sizes)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Various magazines

The child can choose (or can bring into session) a shoe box with a lid. Instruct the client to cut out different words, pictures from the magazines that represents how he/she believes how others view him/her. Glue them into a collage on the outside of the box and lid.

Explore how other’s perceptions may or may not be true, what the client thinks about and feels while looking at their “outside box”.

On the inside of the box, the child repeats the process using different magazine pictures and/or words. However, on the inside of the box is how they see his/her true self and identity.

Ask the client to share what each symbol or word is, and what it’s symbolic meaning to them personally. Process any thoughts and feelings that may surface.

Suggested questions:

  • How does it feel to look at the outside of your box in comparison to the inside of the box?
  • What would you change about or add to the outside of your box, if anything?
  • What would you change about or add to the inside of your box, if anything?

Note, this may take several sessions to complete, you may also want to assign to do as “homework” for older children and teen clients.

The Inside/Outside Box is a wonderful tool that elicits powerful emotions and helps the tween and/or teen begin to see their whole self- creating a launching pad for blossoming self-esteem and self-worth.

clairHeadClair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Throughout her career, she has focused on providing therapy to children, teens, and their families. She is currently the Clinical Director at Wasatch Family Therapy. Ms. Mellenthin is a sought after supervisor, training graduate students and interns in play therapy, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. She is currently the President of the Utah Association For Play Therapy. In addition to being an experienced play therapist and professor, Ms. Mellenthin frequently presents professional play therapy and family therapy trainings and appears on local and national TV and radio as an expert on children and family issues.


  1. Kate Jackson, LCSW, RPT-S on August 23, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Great post Clair. I love this intervention too and find it very powerful. I like the processing questions you included. Again, nice post and nice blog in general!

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