Written by Sophie Marsh
My name’s Sophie and I am a play therapist, writer and owner of Sophie’s Stories based in the Midlands, UK. I have always loved helping others and knew I wanted to be able to make a difference through my work. With this in mind I started my career supporting adults with mental health problems. But despite their resilience, I wished they could have received the right support when they were younger. I wondered about the impact this would have had. These thoughts led me to discover Play Therapy.
As a play therapist I spend my days working with children to help them to explore the things that are troubling them. Often we are able to do this without ever directly talking about the issue that brought them to therapy in the first place. How do we do that? We play, we use art and we talk in metaphors. Now for most people who haven’t had experience or training in Play Therapy this will probably sound very strange. But let me explain…
Why use play therapy?
We all, at some time or another, experience challenging situations and emotions, and our children are no different. This is just a normal part of the ups and downs of life. We are often able work through the things that are bothering us without too much trouble. But sometimes when we go through something difficult we need help to process it and move forward. For adults this is usually done by talking through our thoughts and feelings, whether that be with a loved one or a professional.
However, our children do not naturally communicate like this. It is much easier and more natural for children to communicate in a different, more creative way. Children naturally use play to explore both their inner and outer world. Play therapists use this knowledge to meet children where they’re at, without forcing them to use words if they don’t want to. In fact, they may not even have the vocabulary or the cognitive skills yet to be able to express their experiences, thoughts and feelings in words.
How it works to get children to communicate their worries
Often children struggle to find the words to describe their feelings and experiences, and talking directly about a problem can feel too scary or uncomfortable for them. This means if you were to ask a child directly about the bullying they’re experiencing at school, they may well clam up pretty quickly. But if you can tell a child a story about a mean crocodile who keeps dunking the other animals in the water, or play it out with toys and art, suddenly a whole new conversation can open up… This gives you the opportunity to explore together how the animals could stand up to the mean crocodile, or who they could go to for help.
Not only is this approach more effective, it’s more fun too.
I love writing and sharing therapeutic stories to start up conversations about some really tricky topics. Through a story a child can connect and identify with a character and this helps them to feel less alone with the problem they are facing. Stories can also incorporate new ideas and ways of coping that a child can then be introduced to and incorporate into their own lives.