When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them I get paid to play, but what I do is so much more than that. Play and creativity is the way I build relationships with the young people I work with, I provide the materials and they show me themselves through the way they interact with it all.
I have practiced the language of play for many years now as a child, as an adult, as a Mother, as a Grandmother and as a therapist. It is not hard to tell when a child is showing you one of the core emotions through their play but only once a good therapeutic relationship has been built can we start to explore those emotions together.
Do I ever get it wrong? Oh yes but there lies an opportunity to model taking risks and dealing with making mistakes. I can only be congruently and authentically myself and therefore as a fallible human being I am bound to trip up sometimes. This too can be playful, how good it must feel for a child to be the expert on something, themselves! I know some stuff and I have some experience but I can never truly know what it is like to be someone else even if they remind me of me sometimes!
Through play children and young people can show me how they feel or what has happened to them without having to re-live it as it is shown in the metaphor and I can empathise with the characters over there rather than making it 'real' and perhaps unintentionally causing more trauma. Together we can look at difficult things 'as if' we were birds flying above and viewing it from a distance. Caring can be expressed but so can anger or a fantasy that would be inappropriate to 'act out' in real life.
Containing both myself and the child or young person I am working with, for I am bound to have reactions, again because I am a human being and I am building (or have built) a therapeutic relationship with the child or young person and that often involves caring about them.
Sometimes other adults in the child's life want outcomes or progress of a particular nature and this will sometimes put pressure on me but I work hard not to put that pressure on the child or young person I am working with. It takes time to build trust and a therapeutic relationship which can be holding and containing enough for big feelings to be shared. Besides adults often think they know what is needed but I know that the child or young person is the expert on what they need so I have no qualms about following their lead at their pace. In my experience the adults tend to measure the outcomes in a very different way to how the child or young person does but if progress and process is allowed and everyone is happy then I am happy too!