Sometimes Play Can be the Best Therapy
Most of us think of playtime as a fun diversion. But for students who have experienced trauma or have developmental disabilities evidence shows that play therapy can be very beneficial for healing and growth.
That’s why Camelot’s therapeutic schools include play therapy in their programs.
This week Camelot therapists, counselors and social workers are gathering in Naperville, IL, to train in play therapy techniques. During the training, Camelot staff will also be on the receiving end of the therapy so they understand what their students will experience.
“We engage in experiencing the therapy so we are never asking kids to do something we ourselves haven’t been willing to do as well,” said Lindsay Rossmiller, Camelot’s head of expressive therapies.
Although expressive therapies are already a regular part of the Camelot curriculum, each year staff members gather to practice the techniques and to learn from each other.
“One year, we performed a working play and music therapy and we all had parts,” Rossmiller said. “It’s like a musical but we made our own costumes and we did that all in one day. That is something our students have done too. They all learn their lines and they engage with each other and sing the songs. Therapists try it just as students would.”
The training is always participant-led to accurately emulate what play is like. This year staff members will focus on exploring the five senses.
“This year we are talking about sensory experiences – what I see, what I smell, what I taste, what I touch and what I hear – and how those things impact the way I view the world and the way I engage as a therapist and then the ways that our kids engage, based on what they know about the world through their senses,” said Rossmiller.
Play therapy can be uniquely tailored for each student. A child might hold out their hands and the therapist will simply trace lines on their hands with a feather. Play could be personifying a character or holding a pose or singing a song. In music therapy, play could be performing a play. In art it could look like creating thoughts through a structure or engaging with an idea that is imaginative. The type of play used is initiated by the natural strengths of the student.
Camelot’s music and art therapists are licensed in those specialties. But the people who benefit most from these training summits are social workers, counselors, speech therapists and occupational therapists.
“This gives our related services people even more tools to be really flexible and creative in their work with the complex needs of our kids,” Rossmiller said. “We work with kids of every age to engage them in play and in art and music. This is especially helpful to kids who are working on learning more about boundaries, as well as kids who need another structure to work together with their peers. It helps to teach staying focused on attention. It gives the space for kids to play together and to work together. There’s turn-taking and sharing and passing, general awareness of self and others.”
Theresa Mortl Smith, VP of Camelot’s therapeutic schools notes that play therapy is effective for a wide range not only in age but also conditions from multi-needs to social emotional disabilities. She said that Camelot staff members have found play therapy helpful as a way to correct student behavior in a creative and playful way. That’s backed up by research. The data reflects improvements in students’ social skills and decreases in aggression.
“We know that our kids have diverse ways of taking in information and engaging in a strengths-based way,” Mortl Smith said. “At Camelot we’re looking at the potential of each child, and each of those potentials is very unique. This type of therapy allows us to meet kids exactly where they are while still providing structure and nurture. With play, we challenge our students to re-engage and to make positive statements of self and to be active in their own therapy.”