“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ~Plato
Discovering the Power of Play
By Mary Ruth Cross, MFT, NCC, RPT-S
CEO/Owner Treehouse Family Counseling Services, PC
One of the joys I had growing up in the Bay Area is that I had a neighborhood full of kids around my own age to go out and play with. My siblings and I would ride bikes, play basketball at the local church yard, play with dolls or dress-up and have tea parties. We would get all the kids together and play a giant game of Hide-and-Go- Seek or when we were a little older Capture-The-Flag. We would often be told to go outside and play.
Today’s children are still encouraged to go out and play but more often on pre-arranged play dates or organized activities. So much is learned about how to be in the world from our earliest moments of negotiating relationships through play activities. In play therapy we take the most fundamental parts of how children communicate and use it to understand what they are feeling and how they are coping and adapting in an ever changing world. Our job is to create safe and sacred space for the full self of the child, teen or family to emerge. Play allows clients to go beyond the limitations of words. The true self can not only emerge but be healed when past hurts or traumas interrupt development.
Many people think that play therapy is “just for little kids.” This is not true. Play therapy can and is used to help all people. All it takes is a little imagination and an understanding of the developmental process of the person we are working with. For example, while working with a 9 year old boy one day I paddled down the Nile on a Safari for an hour, where he learned to master his fears, then later I was able to use a magic wand to turn a frog into a friend for a child that was feeling lonely. Still on another day I was able to help a little terrified girl learn how to feel safe again through play. With a couple I was working with, they used miniature toys to show how their arguing was effecting the relationship. Peter Pan once said “All it takes is faith and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.” This is true for play therapy too, but I would add that it takes a trained play therapist willing to hold the play space open so that the client can be whomever they want to be.
Through play people can express feelings of joy, sadness, harmony, discord. It is through play that we connect with others and work through life’s ups and downs. Play allows us to heal, find inner strength and resiliency. Play can return us to the garden of living and thriving. At Treehouse Family Counseling Services, PC the staff has advanced training in play therapy and years of experience working with children and families. We are here to help.