Mending Broken Hearts: Using Play to Heal. Guest Post from Keeley Craw, Play Therapist.

Author Keeley Craw

Over the years I’ve had the great privilege of being a therapist to some of the most wonderful children. Children that aren’t often described as wonderful because their behaviour stops people seeing their beauty.

Children who come to spend time with me show me sides of themselves that
it never seemed safe enough to show anyone else; and what I’ve seen has often blown me away.

And so it was with Emily. Just five years old and the eldest of two Emily was living in kinship care after a life time of severe neglect, chaos and maternal rejection. Whilst we were working together her mum had stopped attending contact sessions.

Emily hadn’t seen her mum for a long time, she missed her mum and couldn’t understand why her mum wasn’t making the effort to see her.

She was eager to start sessions and was amazed by the amount of toys in the room. In early sessions she dipped in and out of playing with all the toys, like a starved person in an all you can eat buffet.

As a therapist I see this as a metaphor; a display of her experiences of the real hunger she had felt, the need to get as much as she could when she could. The one area of play that she would return to every week was with the dolls. With the help of a medical kit she would diagnose the dolls.

All of the dolls had a broken heart. At first it was too hard to stay with the dolls for long, a quick nappy change or a bottle of milk was enough, but after a number of sessions and as she
became more secure in her kinship placement she was able to offer care to the dolls that was more nurturing, and reflect on their emotions.

Through play and the relationships she was able to develop with me as a therapist and her kinship carers she was able to start to make sense of what had happened to her and to accept her new circumstances and begin a process of healing.

Emily had a whole life time of challenges ahead of her, but what play therapy aims to achieve is to give the child tools to equip them through life’s journey. I often think of this as scaling a mountain range. We can get a child to the top of one mountain, but over the course of time and developmental challenges the journey will involve a number of descents as well as battles back to the top.

So what can we put in a child’s tool bag to help them as they navigate their own Mount Everests?

As a therapist I’ve been trained to understand what children are communicating through their play and how to respond back in a way that allows the child to feel heard and make sense of their experiences on both a conscious and unconscious level. How to sit in the dark places with them, and how to journey with them back to lighter places.

As a parent you will want to keep your role distinct from that of a therapist, and the children need to have a very clear idea of what you are and are not, but your contributions to the tool box are invaluable. Alongside the daily meeting of needs for food, shelter and clean clothes are a child’s needs to be allowed to express their emotions and to be heard.

How can you do this? How can I play without opening up a ‘can of worms’?

The answer is play. Like a diamond play has multiple faces but at its ‘heart’ is the ability to transform. At the core of what I did with Emily were three things: I made her feel safe, I listened and I showed her that I had heard her.

A Course in Relationship Based Play (RBP) will give you the knowledge and skills to enable you to improve your child’s sense of worth and to improve your relationship.

This course won’t make you a therapist, but it will give you the understanding of the power of play and how you can harness play for better relationships. Of course for the children whose ‘wonderful’ is hard to see play can be a challenge so this course is set in the context of how to play when play doesn’t come naturally to the child, or even yourself!

Keeley has worked with children for 25 years, 13 of which have been as a play therapist. As a mum of two she understands the joys, challenges and paradoxes of parenting.

A Course in Relationship Based Play will help you to re-think play and give you new strategies to develop your knowledge of play and increase your skills. Feeling confident in play will enable you to engage with your child(ren) in playful ways that will help your relationship to flourish.

To attend the 6 weekly FREE Play Master classes to begin with an introduction session on 9th November 2020, register now: using the link below.

You will definitely get more out of the time if you can attend live and interact with the other carers but sessions will also be available within the group for two weeks later as recordings.

We hope to see you then.

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