As a therapist, I have a range of materials that clients can draw on in their therapy to help them make sense of their experiences and this article explores a few of the tools and techniques we use in therapy that often don’t feature as predominately as tools like sand, clay and drawing.
Often when children are going to have (or have had) a medical intervention, including going to the dentists, medical play is a theme for them. Play often takes the form of the client ‘being’ the doctor or the nurse, or role play with puppets.
As well as having play medical equipment in the room, I also have genuine plasters and bandages as well as syringes, a thermometer and a stethoscope. Like much of the play in therapy, medical play is about mastery, competency and control for the client. Research has shown that clients who have explored or rehearsed what they are likely to experience in hospital have less anxiety and lower blood pressure and pulse rates during procedures.
Baby Doll Play
Playing with baby dolls allows all clients the experience of practicing nurturing and caring. It also helps them explore their feelings about family dynamics and younger siblings. For those who are expecting a younger brother or sister, it allows them to explore their own role, practise caring and experience being the ‘big’ brother or sister. As before, this type of play allows a client to experience competence, as well as power and control.
For clients who have experienced traumatic events such as loss of a sibling or childhood abuse or trauma, it allows them space and time to process these experiences. For a child who has experienced or witnessed traumatic events, it allows them to model caring for a baby doll and experience indirectly the nurture they are providing the doll.
Baby doll play is also helpful for clients who experience worries about attachment, or who are fostered or adopted. It can help with blended family issues and anger too, as the client has a safe outlet for any strong feelings.
Engaging in sensory play allows a client to have new experiences and to engage in different ways with familiar materials. As well as clay, sand and paint, sensory play may include making music, stroking Orca or a soft toy, water, shaving foam, lotion, playdough or oobleck (corn starch and water). Sensory play can be calming and relaxing for some clients and also give them an opportunity for creativity and enjoyment as well as mastery. Sensory play can also help clients who struggle with sensory processing, giving them a sense of self-confidence as they meet the challenge of sensory experiences.
Games can have many purposes. They can be about communication, strategy, co-operation self-control and even chance. As well as fun and enjoyment, games help clients with self-expression, impulse control and self-regulation. They also help with developing executive brain function, focus and mood enhancement. Playing together in therapy helps with building a connection with the therapist as well as helping the client cope with healthy competition and learning to deal with both winning and losing.
(More ideas to follow next week!)