We are all individuals and therefore our interests vary. Whatever age we are, we all play; whether with toys or gaming, sports, music or hobbies. Play Therapy encompasses all individual styles of expression; it offers a variety of mediums of resources, from toys, to musical instruments, art materials to natural resources such as sand, plasticine, clay and more outwardly expressive methods such as drama, poetry, writing and rap. It uses our skills and preferences to help us develop to our full potential.
Unlike more traditional ‘talking therapies’ creative techniques don’t necessarily require words as the process is innate i.e. we can unlock and change our inside emotions and perspectives without necessarily specifically understanding what happened and why but simply knowing it has been beneficial. However, the therapist may sometimes help assist with words where this is appropriate.
Play therapy is a collaborative process. There are varied styles from set activities which can be explained to you/your child and you can choose from to an approach that the client leads themselves, a their own pace, in their own time. In the latter style the therapist waits to be invited to participate and will observe and reflect back what is happening so the client feels listened to and learns about their emotions and responses. The therapist can help link possible connections in a more overt way or will support the emotional process in other ways.
For emotional safety the process is guided/overseen by a trained therapist who can look for more subtle cues in body language and demeanour to see when is enough so that emotional boundary are not overstepped in a way that would be unhelpful at that stage of therapy.
Whilst the name might suggest fun, Play Therapy can be an intense and challenging process at times. However, conversely, it can make it easier to emotionally express, process and manage difficult life experiences.
Children’s natural medium is play. It offers the opportunity to express where there are no words or where they don’t know the feelings or have the understanding to identify and express these. It is therefore ideal for younger children who have experienced difficulties that are overwhelming. My children’s therapeutic service is called SPARKLE – Special Play and Reflective Kinaesthetic Learning Environment.
Adolescents, Adults and Older People
If we think about it, we never stop playing as we grow older. Our taste in activities simply matures and changes and we can also start to channel our talents and time to specific areas. However, there is something natural and grounding about using natural resources. Sometimes we can benefit from using items that would usually be used by younger children to help us cover ground we missed out on so play therapy is a very permissive space where there are limited rules and plenty of opportunities for free expression. There are also many items that are universal to all ages regardless of maturity such as sand and clay.
Play therapy can offer creative mediums to express ourselves through. As adults we often understand the connections we are making in therapy more clearly and to a greater depth than words can convey/reach.
Play therapy can help us delve into issues at a different level. It offers us the opportunity to look at our issues from an outside perspective (instead of an internal one where we look inside our minds at) as we create therapeutic items which we can explore from a distance with objectivity. It can be particularly helpful in unblocking difficulties that someone might not realise they are unaware of.
With older people play can help maintain alertness and links with past skills as well as learning new skills and offering a space to express emotions.