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Why I think play in therapy is important

I was asked yesterday how play in therapy works. I have got so used to play as a communication that I found it hard to explain. Often there are no words for our feelings or for the trauma because our minds cannot make sense of the experience but our bodies and senses still need to share and show the experiences we have suffered. Play is metaphorical and allows us to look at these experiences in a way that we can tolerate, often a little at a time, in a way that does not overwhelm us. Babies begin to make sense of their world through their feelings and senses before they can form words, when they gain language it is often forgotten that they are still mainly sensory and feeling beings.

I witness children and young people play out their stories without the need for words, being made to talk about a painful experience can feel traumatic or shameful, especially if they are unable to find the right words to express what they truly mean. I do not have to understand the story to be able to reflect the feelings that are expressed through the play nor to sit alongside them as they try to make sense for themselves, there can be humour and fun as we play together to make sense of the experiences that trouble, traumatises and hurt.

Words are often inadequate though we are made to rely on them as we make the journey from childhood to adolescence. Words are prized above all in our society. When a child or young person is able to express their inner world through creativity or play with an adult sitting alongside who can ‘hear’ their communication without the need for words then I believe that is where the healing starts.

Some book recommendations if you want to learn more:

Dibs in search of self by Virginia Axeline

Diary of a baby: What your child sees, feels and experiences by Daniel Stern

The Interpersonal World of the Infant by Daniel Stern

The Art of Relationship by Garry Landreth

Playful Parenting by Lawrence j. Cohen

The book you wish your parents had read by Philippa Perry

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