To celebrate Playday 2014 Helen Fisher, Senior Practitioner at Winston’s Wish has written about how she uses therapeutic play sessions to help bereaved children.
Working with children therapeutically needs to be done at their speed and in a way that they can access. Often children and young people do not have the language development to accurately describe their feelings and experiences. Children learn and practice all acquired skills through their natural language of play. To this end, we endeavour to make all of our meetings fun. This can seem strange to others, when you know the topic of discussion is the death a loved one.
One way which I use play in my role is to offer some children, where appropriate, weekly therapeutic play sessions. Children come along at the same time each week, where they can play how they choose with the same toys and play equipment. The toys range from sand and water trays, a wide range of small world figures, craft and creative materials, musical instruments, dressing up and role play, puppets, games and stories. During this time they are able to tap into their difficulties and work through them unconsciously, in the safety of the play room, using the toys and creative materials available in a way that feels right to them. Once this is rehearsed in the play room, children may then bring their learning into their real life experiences.
This is true of a boy I worked with who had experienced the death of his grandmother, who was also his carer. He was seven years old and was now experiencing separation anxiety from his remaining carer, particularly at the school gate, he was unable to go upstairs by himself and hadn’t slept in his own bed for many months. During the play sessions, he selected what and how he wanted to play, and although there were themes to his play, by the end of the sessions he had made use of all of the equipment at one time or another.
At a review at the end of his play sessions, his carer reported that he was now able to go upstairs by himself, dropping off at school was no longer an issue, and he had recently started to sleep through the night and in his own bed in his bedroom. This was a massive achievement for him and he was very proud of himself.
For more information on Winston’s Wish please visit their website: www.winstonswish.org.uk