18 February, 2021 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

Play Therapy in a Pandemic: More Referrals as Children Cope with Covid-19 Impact

Play Therapy in a Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of people worldwide. There are few lives it hasn’t affected in one way or another. Lives have been lost, businesses have shut their doors, schools have struggled to stay open while children are picking up on the feelings of fear and anxiety in society at large. 

It will take years to quantify the impact of the pandemic on human development mentally, physically, spiritually and on a larger scale in society. 

The impact on children during their key developmental years is already being seen and felt. On one hand Covid-19 is causing fear and anxiety for children while on the other hand issues that were already there are now being addressed because they have the time to be acknowledged. 

Play Therapist and tutor at Portobello Institute, Aoife Kelly, says she has had an increase in referrals as a result of the pandemic. 

I have my own private practice. I don’t normally work over the summer or school term but since the pandemic children who would normally never be on my radar have been referred to me.

"It has been unreal, they are sensing the anxiety of this whole pandemic, they’re scared, they’re worried. A lot of these children are presenting with nightmares, they are nervous and scared, so we are doing play therapy,” she said.  

As well as the overall fear and anxiety around health worries and routines being turned upside down, Aoife says the lockdown environment at home has allowed parents to see and acknowledge children’s issues that were easier to overlook in the busy pre-pandemic lifestyle.  

“The pandemic has brought referrals to me that otherwise wouldn’t have come to light for two reasons. I think part of it was because of lockdown parents were home with their children and maybe there were issues presenting themselves and schools were highlighting that, but parents weren’t acknowledging it, but that lockdown gave parents the opportunity to accept what is happening and going on.

"Parents now are accepting situations that otherwise wouldn’t have been as expediently dealt with. A lot of parents mightn't want to know about difficulties with children, that’s what the pandemic has done for some of those children.  

“Other children who normally wouldn’t present and would be happy in school and functioning normally have become anxious and nervous and now they are coming to a few sessions helping them to reconnect,” she said.  

Play therapy is all about working with children in a non-directive way so they can process what’s going on for them through play.  

Play can be used in multiple ways to allow a child to express themselves from make-believe play and fantasy play to creative mediums such as art, sand, clay or Lego. 

They are all working through their process and getting the support that they need which is me being here with them, but they are doing the work. I am figuratively holding that space with them so that they process things out.  

Play Therapy isn’t a quick fix solution or a magic pill, parents come into me and say, ‘can you fix her/him?’ and I say no because that’s not what this is about.  

I’m there to support those children to try and accept themselves for who they are.

"A lot of my clients would be on the spectrum they are children who have been coming over the years, so they just pop in once a month or so just to check in, offload and go again,” she said.  

Aoife added that each child is coping differently. She has one client who thrives in the home environment and the idea of going back to school is raising issues for her.  

I got an email this morning from a parent of a previous client who said to me that her little girl who is nine is really engaged at home; she has loved being at home because school was her challenge and now, she’s getting anxious knowing that school is coming back so she booked in for a few more session to start helping her to prepare herself for that impending back to school scenario. 

Thankfully we are classified as an essential serviceso I have been able to work since July last year which has been brilliant. When everything shut down initially, we weren’t allowed to practice, nobody knew what was going on but very quickly the HSE were seeing the worry and concern around children’s mental health, so they allowed us to open with all precautions,” she said.  

The idea of play therapy is about supporting the child’s emotional health and wellbeing through a therapeutic lens. 

Read more about what play therapy is and when it is relevant here. 

Interested in studying play therapy?  

Portobello Institute offers a Therapeutic Play Skills QQI Level 6 course taught by Aoife which is an introduction into play therapy and an excellent addition for early years practitionersSNA’s or a starting point for those who want to become play therapists. 

Our admissions expert Jennifer Matteazzi is available to talk you through all aspects of the course, fees, delivery method and qualification in more detail. Book a consultation with Jennifer here, call 018920031 or email jennifer.matteazzi@portobelloinstitute.com. 

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