Play Therapy is a developmentally appropriate form of counselling for children. Expecting children to talk through issues and make changes doesn’t appreciate the developmental stage they are at and Lucy’s story demonstrates the transformative power of play therapy for young children.
Lucy was six when her father first brought her to Home & Family. Her Mum had recently died of cancer. The cancer journey had involved an initial diagnosis, followed by an operation and on-going treatments, followed by a period of remission and hopefulness. It had reappeared more aggressively and, after some time had claimed her life.
When Lucy first came to play therapy she was terrified to let Dad out of her sight, had trouble sleeping, and was withdrawn at school. She worried about small things. She was shy when she first came but was willing to enter the play room. She stood uncertainly before slowly beginning to explore the room. She started at the sandpit, (very often a first soothing place for children to enter the play space), and eventually gravitated to other areas.
As Lucy came each week, she was able to use the play therapy room, and the safety of her relationship with her counsellor, to express about her sadness and her fear that Dad would leave her too. She didn’t talk much in words but a lot in play. She drew pictures of angels in the clouds. She made scenes in the sand and played out family relationships, idealising that Mum was still there and giving her special treasures.
She involved her counsellor in role play, acting out scenes of queens and princesses. Sometimes the princess was lost in the forest and frightened; Lucy was playing in an effort to make sense of the loss she experienced. Lucy expressed and, at least to some degree, processed her grief and loss and sadness about missing her Mum terribly.
Of course, grief is a long process and she will carry the impact of this loss with her in her life. However, through play therapy she began to see herself as capable and clever. She decided to join a sports team and another group at school. This regained confidence saw her engage more in the classroom and with classmates. Lucy began to relax. Play therapy is not an overnight fix and at first nothing appeared to happen, but as the weeks progressed the change became obvious.
Nobody explained the grieving process for Lucy, or asked her to talk about how much she missed her mother and feared being left alone. Instead, creating safe conditions in the play room made it possible for change to come through play.