Today, like every day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
How To Bring Child’s Play into Your Adult Psychotherapy
In psychotherapy, play therapy is traditionally used with pre-adolescent children to help the child client act out and communicate the inner world symbolically through games, sports, and dramatic enactments with the child therapist.
Rather than directly sitting in a chair and talking to a child about feelings and thoughts, the psychotherapist plays with the child client.
Play therapy can take the form of shooting baskets, playing characters with dolls or action figures, or building legos together. Through the dramatic action of the play and the emotions expressed, the therapist comes to understand the child’s inner world, help the child manage conflicts and emotions and cope with psychosocial struggles and traumatic experiences.
As adults in psychotherapy, why not bring play into your individual, couples, family or group therapy?
Psychotherapy is, of course, serious business. And frequently, what you need is to sit and talk — to feel heard and deeply understood. However, therapy is also an opportunity to express yourself as deeply and authentically as possible. That’s where play therapy comes in.
Often, describing your inner experience cerebrally through words and stories alone falls short. Sometimes therapeutic conversation even starts to feel pretty stagnant; you may feel like you’re having a sort of boring “coffee chat” where you feel like you’re just updating a friend on your latest life news with bullet points. Or you may feel like you’re just mentally talking in circles but sensing a profound disconnection from yourself and your therapist.
So, how can you bring more creative play into your psychotherapy to deepen the conversation and get more from your therapy hour?
First, think about what are creative ways you naturally express yourself.
- Do you draw?
- Do you hum or sing along to music?
- Do you stretch and get into yoga poses?
- Do you shoot photographs?
- Do you take hikes on the beach and collect stones?
- Do you write in a journal?
- As a couple, do you plan and chef a meal together?
- Do you do playful, sexy dances together at home or cuddle and hold hands in your unique way?
- As a family, do you make up games together?
- Do you sing songs together?
- Do you wrestle with each other or pinch and make silly family sounds with each other?
You know yourself better than anyone.
Next, bring those precious and meaningful parts of you into therapy
With play therapy, you can feel and express the whole of who you are with your therapist now, in the present. So that you can access the metaphorical, pre-verbal parts of your soul and communicate them directly to your therapist in their abstract form (just as we help children to do that in play therapy).
Knowing yourself, when you come to your sessions with your therapist, consider welcoming those creative, playful impulses that express the fuller picture of what you’re experiencing internally. Start with your natural comfort zone and expand from there:
- Consider expressing yourself through your body by getting up out of your talking chair and getting into some playful action e.g. do a dance, strike poses or gestures, get on the floor with your eyes closed and lie, crawl, rock.
- If you’re comfortable with your voice, make sounds, moan, sigh, wail, whine, whimper, sing a song you know or make up a chant in the moment.
- If you’re naturally drawn to art, take out some paper and pen/charcoals and graphically sketch a picture of your state, as directly as possible.
- If you’re comfortable acting, role play a dialogue between different characters in your life. Be your partner, be yourself, be your children. Step into these characters and express the complex dynamics in these relationships. Or ask your therapist to play one of the roles while you play some of the other characters.
- If you’re someone who feels more connected and whole when you’re in nature, ask your therapist to spend the session in a park or at a beach or out on the trail.
- If you need to create a ritual space to help you process a transition or loss in your life, co-create a ritual with your therapist. Plan a ceremony together and hold it during your session.
These are just a few of the infinite possibilities for being more fully alive, creative and communicative in your play therapy.
Having fun is not essential to play
While play is by definition enjoyable, having fun may not be essential. The improvisation that comes through play therapy is profoundly meaningful and builds new connections with yourself and your creativity. It probably even grows your neurological structures!
When you improvise with another person (your therapist, your partner, your family), you are symbolically making ‘babies’ together in the moment. You are courageously stepping into the unknown and designing collaborative structures together.
These “beautiful” acts of creating are enlivening and exciting, building confidence, attachment and self-esteem.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danny Givertz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Well Clinic. In addition to working as a psychotherapist, Danny is an advanced practitioner of craniosacral therapy and a sound healer, using energy and sound as tonics for mind-body conditions.