If you have ever wondered “What is play therapy” or “how does it work?” this guest blog, written by Play Therapist, Nicki Malcolm explains it all….
Play and Creative Arts Therapy is a powerful intervention where individuals (all age ranges) use sand and symbols/miniatures or other creative forms to makes sense of their inner world. This change facilitates the unconscious to become conscious in a safe, protected and holding therapeutic relationship.
I think about ‘trauma’ as a wide spectrum that differs from someone’s personal experience. During this process of when we haven’t been able to access the frontal lobes to process the trauma (logically, understanding, thinking and reasoning) it can get ‘stuck’ in the part of our brain which we know as the limbic system. The right hand side of the brain stores memories as pictures while the left hand brain uses verbalisation and reasoning to make sense of these images. This is why Play and Creative Arts Therapy is so amazing and powerful as individuals can project their stories/pictures onto the medium of creativity and play, allowing both sides of the brain to begin to comminute with each other and therefore processing experiences.
When a child is struggling they will express themselves through behaviour, this can present as anxiety, depression, anger/aggression, withdrawn, ADHD, school refuser, self-harm, low self-esteem/worth and many more. These behaviours are a way of communicating to an adult that they are struggling and haven’t got the words to explain how they are feeling or are unable to make sense of their thoughts as mentioned previously with the right/left hand side of the brain function. Such behaviours can be caused by bereavement, divorce, abuse, neglect, and a depressed or additive parent/carer, lack of parent/carer attachment.
As we know, play is an essential and natural part of child development. It is a natural medium of self- expression and exploration. These sessions provide a safe space and a non-judgemental relationship where a child can express such feelings of anger, rejection, failure, abandonment, loss etc. During the session they can start to process and make sense of their inner world. This therapy work allows the unconscious process and the magical journey of healing to occur as the child develops a sense of self.
“It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” D.W. Winnicott British pediatrician 1896–1971
Individuals that I work with are usually stressed and struggling in school and at home or even both, many are school refusers, cause disruption or can be at the opposite end of the spectrum and be withdrawn and ‘not seen’ by the adults, they have major melt downs and are ‘difficult’ in general. Teachers and parents are often at a loss with the behaviour and have either not got the skills or the time to support the child. I want to emphasise that this is in no way a criticism of teachers or parents, they have many things to juggle, whilst still trying to be the best they can be for the child. I know many teachers that give over and above on a daily basis and feel frustrated and defeated that they haven’t got the time to spend supporting children more with their emotional needs. Likewise parents/carers are doing the best that they can do with the techniques that they know and that have been passed onto them. (I have done exactly the same) We as parents want the best for our children, we want them to conform, play by the rules, be happy and well adjusted, have fun, make friends and the list goes on. When our children present us with challenges through their behaviour, disconnection occurs in the parent/carer/child relationship. This causes a lot of pain and feelings of failure etc on both parties.
Recently schools have now provided or are providing a Mental Health Lead to support children as we see that mental health is increasing. It is part of their role to identify children that are struggling and support them and provide them with other outside inventions (therapy etc) if needed.
In today’s society, we could blame lots of external and environmental changes in our modern world, which of course does have an impact on our children, but fundamentally, it is my belief, that we pass our ‘inner story’ onto our children on an unconscious basis. What we tell them, how we respond to situations and experiences is a blueprint of their belief system. Imagine our brain as a filing system, when we experience a situation, emotion we unconsciously search our filing system to see how we should respond or react. It searches through many files and then finds the file and that is how we respond based on past experiences. Play therapy helps to change/challenge our belief system and create our own blueprint that doesn’t allow us to follow the same pattern that replays itself from generation to generation.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Carl Gustav Jung
A Play and Creative Arts therapist will belong to a professional organisation that has been accredited by the PSA (Professional Standards Authority) and has had years of theory and practical training. Some therapists, depending on training provider (PTUK, BAPT, and BAPT) have had their own therapy as they have had to process and become aware of their ‘inner story’. This assists the client in being able to process and heal, the client needs to feel unconsciously and consciously held by their therapist, feeling safe to bring what they need to in their therapy sessions and not have their therapist counter transfer their beliefs and emotions onto them, leaving the client feeling unheard and judged. A trained therapist has to go through a tough process of being aware of themselves and is constantly learning and evolving.
As a therapist, I need to allow some time for self- care as sometimes my role can be emotionally challenging. I spend time meditating and being creative myself. I don’t see my role as a job, it’s my calling and passion. I love what I do supporting children, teens, adults and families.
For more information check out Nicki’s websites by clicking the links below;