Whenever and wherever I work, I ensure the environment is welcoming and inviting. It needs to feel calm, nurturing, and safe.
The set-up of a room or space is extremely important if you want to get the most out of the session and so is having a basic structure. That way, once the client is used to the routine, it can take away any fear factor that they may have about the ‘what next.’
For children, I like our space to feel cosy yet fun. I will have soft music playing, a scented candle or wax melts burning out of reach, soft cushions to sit on, soft toys to hand (my chameleon crew) and, dependent on the theme of the session, twinkling fairy lights or sensory lighting.
If there is space or just in a corner of the room, it is nice to provide a ‘den’ feel so that if overwhelm takes over during the course of the session the child can safely retreat there.
It’s all very well planning a session, but sometimes you just need to go with the flow. If the child does not want to participate in specific activities at least ensure you have other items to hand that you know they are comfortable with. This could be cars, dolls, playdough, water beads or simple colouring pencils and paper.
Adults of course generally like the relaxed feel of the room with no pressure instilled in getting the session going. Give them a hot cup of tea or coffee and allow them to just sit and soak it all in. It may be the only time they get to just ‘be.’ Again, the session may have a basic outline, but they might not feel up to a structure each week – there may be days when you just need to allow them to talk while you listen and that’s OK. You’re building a trusting relationship – be guided by what they feel they need that day.
Obviously, the current Covid situation has altered this way of working. In some respects, this can be more beneficial as the child or adult is already relaxed since they are in their own territory. When working with children, the parent will join in and so is effectively ‘me’ – the role I would play if we were 1:1. My position alters to the director of play. I still incorporate music and creativity each week and it is such a fantastic position to be in, watching what may have been a fraught relationship unfurl into one of trust, connection, playfulness, and understanding in just a few weeks.
Some of the most successful sessions are those that are carried out completely outdoors. There is so much naturally to hand and the environment has its own sounds, sights and smells. A blanket to sit on and some cushions are enough to set the scene – the session that follows is usually one of spontaneity and fun.
I’d like to end this with a quote from the author Garry Landreth: ‘Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions and boosts our ego’.
Tara Copard is a mental health advocate.