When I was a kid, playing was almost like a full time job. My sister and I were a lot of times left to our own devices to entertain ourselves after school and on weekends. Always after homework was done and dusted, of course! We girls were usually encouraged to “go out and play” to give Mom and Dad enough time to get the important household stuff done. Little did our parents know, their girls were travelling to uncharted lands and inventing fantastic stories all in the comfort of our own backyard.
If you’re a parent who has ever sneaked a peek at your children playing pretend, you might be interested to see the fantastic places they go when they play. Mom was none too pleased when she saw two little girls dragging her good broom and mop through the dirt, but what she didn’t notice were two beautiful princesses riding horses that had wings and could actually fly. Did you know that kids don’t have a concept of time when they play pretend? We could disappear for hours in the world of the imagination.
Grown ups tend to lose that sense of magic. We get older, we have to pay bills, and we forget what it was like to be the boss of our own made up stories. That’s exactly the problem I ran into when I started training to become a Play Therapist.
What is a Play Therapist?
A Play Therapist is someone who is trained to help children resolve their problems using creative methods like play, art, drama, music, and dance. Play Therapists understand that play comes naturally to children and that children express themselves most readily in their playing.
Did you ever notice that once children reach a certain age, they start to play pretend, without anyone ever teaching them how to do it? Sure, they need grown ups to teach them their colors and numbers and letters, but for most children, playing pretend comes automatically. It’s pre-programmed. Why? Because children’s brains help them learn about the world through playing. Kids don’t learn the same way adults do. They must pretend to comprehend.
I didn’t know this when I set out to work as a children’s therapist. I thought helping kids overcome their problems will be a piece of cake. We’ll just have a nice little chat about feelings and play a board game or two, and things will get better.
Some Children Can’t Talk It Out
Starting out as a behavior therapist, it was my job to talk to children who were separated from their families and placed in foster care, or adopted into new families, or their feelings and behaviors were so extreme, they couldn’t live with a family and were placed in group homes, hospitals, or juvenile hall. Most of these children had been through serious abuse, major losses, and traumatic life events. Many of them experienced things that even most adults I know would find it difficult to talk about. And quite often these really tough kids experienced these things when they were too young to understand. Too young to have the words to describe what they had been through.
These kids would not have a nice little chat about feelings, and play a board game or two, and get better. They couldn’t “talk it out”. They didn’t respond to behavior charts and stickers. These children were still living in a state of crisis. Their adoptive and foster families had tried everything they could think of, and they didn’t know what else to do. I was sent in to help, but what was I going to do for the kids who couldn’t talk about their problems?
Play Helps Children Heal
What I realized was that we need to find a way to bypass language in order to help children who do not have words to heal. Play therapy has been around for a long time as an option for helping children heal their emotions in a non-verbal way. What did all of the children I was working with have in common? They were all able to play in some form or another.
Play Therapists are able to do a lot more than bring out the board games. They are specially trained people who understand how to communicate with children through the medium of creativity. In a typical play therapy session, a Play Therapist invites the child into a uniquely designed play area, where toys, art materials, puppets, and costumes are available so that the child can choose how they would like to play. Play Therapists remember what it was like to be a child, when it was easy to create imaginary worlds and stories. Children use their play therapy time to play pretend, creating imaginary worlds where they can re-live and re-explore aspects of their lives that are too scary or painful to talk about. When they are pretending, children can conquer their fears, rescue someone in distress, and be the hero of their own stories. Children can go back in time and write their own happy endings, and along the way, they build confidence and skills to get along better in life.
If you are taking care of a child who has had a tough time with changes happening in life, you may consider talking to a Play Therapist who can help. For questions about Play Therapy and Play Therapy resources in your area, contact Georgie Wisen-Vincent at email@example.com.