Imaginary helpers provide emotional support


A new psychological technique has been developed which improves the mental well-being of children with autism through an activity that invents tiny characters that kids can imagine are in their heads helping them out with their thoughts. The technique is based on cognitive behavioral therapy and aims to build social and emotional resilience. Adopting the imaginary homunculi characters is especially helpful for high-functioning children with autism.

Homunculi help children deal with difficult emotions

Homunculi are tiny human-like characters. The term refers to a historical theory that the fetus was a microscopic but fully formed human being. “The homunculi approach is particularly suited to those with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, who often have difficulty identifying troubling feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety,” said Prof. Tommy MacKay from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

The characters are fully idealized and specific to the child

“The homunculi are miniature agents with problem-solving missions and special gadgets who live inside the brain and help out with distressing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Through inventing their own homunculi characters and stories, the children learn to cope with their real-life social problems,” explained Dr. Anne Greig, the other researcher and an educational psychologist for Argyll and Bute in Scotland.

Helps reduce stress and anger

The idea has been in development for more than ten years during cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. The technique involves detailed examples of characters, their missions, their gadgets and a poster showing the skull with different components such as “thought and feelings” screens and a “stop, think, do” alarm. One part of this recent study had 20 high school students with Asperger’s syndrome, emotional and behavioral problems participate in a 10-week course which included the development and use of homunculi. Testing at the end of the study showed that students’ sense of well-being had improved as well as reduced levels of anxiety, depression, anger and stress were reported.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, The Homunculi Approach to Social and Emotional Wellbeing

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