When stressful, traumatic, or difficult events occur, children are often unable to discuss their feelings around an issue, because they feel at a loss for how to express themselves. This is where play therapy becomes important, because through the power of play, children are able to express their emotions, as they are comfortable and slowly adapt new methods of coping, understanding and re-framing their experience.
Play therapy is based on the fact that play is a child’s natural medium of self-expression. It is an opportunity which is given to the child to play out their feelings and problems, just as in adult therapy a person can talk out their difficulties. In play, children use their imaginations and express themselves symbolically through the toys. This means that experiences that have impacted the child in some way will show up as play behaviours. Through play and play therapy, children can act or play out traumatic or difficult life experiences to make sense of their past and to develop coping skills. Play therapy helps children understand muddled feelings and upsetting events that they haven’t had the chance to sort out.
Children who have experienced and survived traumatic events such as illness, or hospitalisations need to express and understand their feelings. The feelings associated with these experiences can get stuck when the child hasn’t made sense of what has happened. These feelings are frequently the cause of emotional and behavioural problems that adults observe in children. The impact of meningitis on the brain can distort the connections thought patterns already built and prevent new ones from occurring.
When a child is provided with a therapeutic environment by the play therapist and is given the chance to process a difficult experience through play, the child’s natural developmental capabilities are activated and the stuck feelings and memories become unstuck. Just as the body heals from physical injury, the child has an emotional system that can be self-healing as well, if certain therapeutic conditions are present for the child. Play therapy allows the child’s natural self-healing abilities to be activated, supporting the child’s growth and development on an emotional and psychological level. In play therapy, children do not have to talk about their problems to feel better.
When we experience pain, it is stored in the reptilian part of our brain, which is the automatic part that governs the way we breathe, eat, sleep and meet our basic needs. This part of the brain is different in its functioning, in that it controls things we don’t need to deliberately think about doing. When our body needs to do these things it automatically makes them happen. This also means that the pain experiences stored there are not always conscious, yet our bodies react to the experiences even if our memory brain doesn’t.
When a child is very afraid, or in a lot of pain, this automatic brain takes over and they may not be able to express why they do something, or understand why they did it themselves, just like we are not consciously aware that we need to breathe in and out. It just happens automatically for us. During play therapy, the child re-experiences the self as strong and capable, allowing them to gain confidence in their own ability to cope. This building of confidence reduces the need for the automatic brain to play a part in processing the experiences. They move as such, to the part of the brain we have more conscious control of.
As each child is different, their therapy will also be individual, so that the child gets to work through the things that are causing them difficulty. The play therapist follows the child’s lead in the process. The desired outcomes of play therapy include:
- A reduction in anxiety
- Increased confidence and independence
- Improved relationships with family and friends
- Positive behavioural changes
- Improved coping skills
- Increased resiliency
If you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, then please contact us, or call us on 091 380058.