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The Healing Power of Play - Page 3

After the terrifying plunge, he was submerged in five feet of cold, dark water at the bottom of the well. A neighbor, who fortunately was a volunteer fireman, pulled him out of the murky depths, forced the water out of his lungs, and revived him before he was taken to a hospital. He stayed in the hospital for two days, where he was treated for injuries that included bruises and facial lacerations.

By the time he was released from the hospital, he'd stopped talking and playing. He clung to his mother, couldn't sleep, and showed little appetite or interest in food. He'd become hysterical when his parents tried to give him a bath. In the first session with the family, a week after the accident, he was fussy and irritable, and either sat in his mother's lap or stood next to her, clinging to her.

I got down on the floor immediately and started playing with the toys. Bobby watched intently while tightly clutching his mother's arm. Clearly this little boy's anxiety was sky-high, so I deliberately avoided creating any play scenarios depicting conflict or threat, but instead evoked a playful kind of magic, using puppets to play harmless tricks on each other in a spirit of fun. I had the Wizard puppet try to practice magic tricks, but the Monkey puppet kept taking his magic wand and hiding it. The repetition of these silly scenes, accompanied by comic patter, often makes children laugh more and more with each subsequent enactment. At first, Bobby smiled hesitantly, but after the fourth repetition, he was fully engaged in belly laughing, along with his parents, watching the Wizard puppet get increasingly frustrated with the Monkey puppet for taking his magic wand.

I should note here that one absolute prerequisite for being a child therapist is the willingness to make a complete fool of oneself. You must be willing to engage in the play wholeheartedly—without irony or self-consciousness—no matter how ridiculous you may appear to adults, including the parents in the room, or you'll surely fail.

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