Play Therapy in a Pandemic: More Referrals as Children Cope with Covid-19 Impact
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, and schools have struggled to stay open whilechildren 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, 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 involves 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 frommake-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,” 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," she said.
The idea of play therapy is about supporting the child’s emotional health and well-being through a therapeutic lens.