Play is commonly acceptable and encouraged amongst children and as individuals develop across the life span, play is discouraged and frowned upon. Some of the key characteristics of play include spontaneity, the freedom of expression, and the provision of varied contexts (Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2005). Play is not goal-driven, threatened, or blocked by real-world consequences (Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2005). In my last blog post, I addressed play therapy for children, and for today’s blog post, I will be discussing the role of play in adults’ lives and its applications in therapy.
Do Adults Play?
Even though play is not well-respected amongst adults, play is undoubtedly lurking in every corner of our lives. Play is manifested in board games, hobbies, team sports, theatre, and video games, just to name a few. While we may not take to all forms of play, some play forms appeal to us more than others. Play allows us to make meaning of what is going on around us whether we engage in solitary play or playing with others. Play also provides a unique context for us to engage in symbols, stories, norms, and ethics, as well as varied perspectives.
Play Therapy for Adults
When working with adult clients, I utilize different forms of play depending on their interests and preferences. For clients who are more inclined towards literary pursuits, we engage in poetry writing and narrative work through language to enable clients to craft and recraft their storied lives. For other clients who are predisposed toward experiential play practices, we engage in expressive art that allows clients to express themselves in non-verbal ways to process their issues in a safe way. Clients learn a lot about themselves through different mediums of expression that words may not be able to express adequately. For clients who prefer to rehearse or engage in the discovery of different roles, regardless of whether these roles are make-believe or realistic, drama supplies creative ways for them to adopt multiple perspectives through role-play and improvisation.
Effects of Play Therapy on Adults
Play allows individuals to express themselves and engage with a part of themselves that is not bound by the constraints of everyday life. Based on Gordon and Esbjorn-Hargens (2005)’s integral model, different play forms encourage the development of varied capacities that in turn allows us to grow and stretch towards our fullest potential. Not only do we engage in various capacities to connect with our emotions, but we also figure out morality, make sense of our existence in the cosmos, develop our thought processes, and enhance our interpersonal skills to help us relate better to others around us. Additionally, play allows clients to navigate difficult terrain in therapy through non-threatening ways at their own time and space. In the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
In my next blog post, I will touch on sand tray therapy, a play modality that can benefit clients of all ages and cultures.
Gordon, G., & Esbjorn-Hargens, S. (2005). Are We Having Fun Yet? An Integral Exploration of the Transformative Power of Play. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47(2), 198-222. doi: 10.1177/0022167806297034
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist for Individuals, Children, Adolescents and Couples