I believe in bringing humor and play into all types of therapeutic work, and not just with kids! A person engaged in play is deeply present in the moment, well regulated, and connecting to an experience of joy and safety that may be difficult to feel when they are more in their thinking brains and ‘doing’ selves. Of course counseling is not all fun and games, and there is LOTS of time and energy devoted to being with and exploring the hard stuff. Equally important, though is helping people to understand what it feels like to be present and engaged. Grief, loss, trauma, anxiety, etc., often can feel so all consuming we can forget (sometimes we may not even know) there are other ways to feel and be. Play can be a powerful way to access a different experience, providing an immediate sense of connection and, even if that moment is fleeting, at least a felt sense of possibility that people can remember moving forward.
Getting adults to play, though, is not so easy. Especially in an office. Sure, we can have board games or balloons or movement based activities that promote a sense of lightness and play. But with just two adults in a room, it can take a lot to get to that lightness. Especially when our cultural norms for ‘adult’ tend towards being serious and put together, and our norms for ‘counseling’ are also about being serious, on top of a sense that we ‘should’ be sitting in chairs and talking.
Put those same two adults outside, though, and play becomes so much easier! I’ve seen several clients naturally respond to the pull of the ocean with a lighter and quicker step towards the waves, kick off their shoes naturally, and engage in the timeless game of ‘tag’ with waves coming in and out. I’ve seen clients connect with their exploratory senses in the woods, ‘discovering’ out of the way streams, giant hollow trees, even clay deposits in a river bed. In each of these situations, it often seems instinctive for folks to splash in the stream, stick one’s head (cautiously) into the tree, or sink one’s hands into smooth, slippery clay. I see the joy, presence, and laughter that comes from these interactions. I even get to experience it myself, as I am glad to play with clients so I can more fully understand what is happening for them. These moments are especially powerful when I know I am with a client who struggles to experience any sense of lightness; who may be so overwhelmed by difficult emotions that their typical way of being in the world tends towards numbness or constant sadness/anger/defensiveness. What a gift for people to know that simply being outdoors and engaging their curiosity can create such a dramatic shift in their state.
Play is so innate. And so simple. And also so complicated, in an adult world of expectations, norms, and struggle. Come to the woods. Reconnect with the sense of delight we all once knew. I’d be glad to play with you!