Counselors focus on dark stories locked in young minds, reports Zhao Xu in Beijing.
To Meng Meng, a 5-year-old from a small village in Fujian province, the sand in the box was no more than sand and the miniature figures and animals she had been given in a sun-filled room were no more than toys.
But for her playmate, licensed psychologist Na Lixin, they are paths – tortuous as they may be – that could lead to a secret and probably unacknowledged chamber at the back of the little girl’s mind.
“The whole thing is called ‘sandplay’. In the world of psychoanalysis, it’s a widely used method to probe and reconnoiter a person’s – especially a young one’s – mind, where the indescribable unconscious reigns,” said Na, from the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center in Beijing.
She was picking up a brownish rubber snake to put in the rectangular sandbox in an effort to conjure up the scene created by her chirpy, wide-eyed friend months ago. “A scene never fails to tell a story, and in this case the story is an immensely dark one,” Na said.
Shortly before Meng Meng was brought to Na by her grandmother in September, referred by a children’s welfare organization in Fujian, she was raped by the uncle of a 3-year-old boy playmate.
The assault happened in a makeshift shack on a construction site, where the rapist and Meng Meng’s grandmother worked. “In many cultures, the snake is a symbol of sin,” Na said.
Other items that caught the girl’s attention included a miniature model of a man, which she identified as “the bad uncle”, a pair of rubber scissors and a magic wand. “While the scissors, with which she intended to tear everything up, implied rage, the magic wand indicated her helplessness, her hidden desire to be empowered,” the psychologist explained.
In the middle of one play session – there were three in total – Meng Meng placed a doll in the sandbox. It bore a striking resemblance to the little girl, but had red, angry eyes. When asked what had happened to the doll, Meng Meng looked up at Na with tearful eyes and replied, “She died.”
For children who have been sexually abused, death, or at least partial death, may be exactly what they feel. During the past year, a deluge of child sex abuse cases hit the news, which left the nation shocked and bewildered.
But not Wang Xingjuan, founder of the Beijing-based counseling center, who first focused her attention on the issue 10 years ago, after learning that the rape of a 2-year-old girl in a rural village had resulted in severe bleeding and internal lacerations. “Believe me, it (sexual abuse) has always been there. And with an increasing number of parental-age men and women joining the country’s bulging army of rural-population-turned-migrant-workers, the shepherding of their young ones – known here as the “left-behind children” – is left to the fledglings’ aging grandparents, for whom the term ‘child sexual abuse’ is simply too wild a thought, and any suggestion of it too offensive,” she said.
False sense of safety