Student Journey: From SNA to Play Therapist and How the Two Can Work Together
An introduction to Therapeutic Play Skills is beneficial for early years practitioners, special needs assistants and those who work with children in any capacity and want to understand more about dealing with challenging behaviours.
“My position at the time was an SNA in a school and for a number of years previously in June you never knew if your job was going to be there in September. I had just decided I have enough of this stress every year wondering what’s going to happen and I said I think it’s time that I take control of my own destiny,” she said.
Since completing our introduction to play therapy course Irene hasn’t looked back. She is currently studying her Post Graduate Diploma in play therapy and hopes to complete her Masters degree.
“I did the course as a taster and I just found it amazing. Everything that Aoife [Kelly, Tutor] did on the course was so relevant. I have since gone ahead and I’m now doing the post grad in play therapy so it has stood to me doing that course.
"It’s open to anyone interested in child development, child welfare, anyone that has an interest n working with children.
“It was absolutely excellent; Aoife is so precise and so good at what she does it was amazing. She’s not saying, ‘I mentioned that in the class last week, go over your notes’, it’s like ‘okay let’s sit down and we will talk about it again’. She’s very thorough and she’s so nice in the way she approaches things. She’s very encouraging all the time.
“Doing that course was a stepping board and a confidence booster for me to go ahead.
“I gained confidence, I gained self-esteem, it reinvigorated me and out of that I have gained a post grad certificate in play therapy and hopefully by the end of this year I will have my post grad diploma. I’ll hopefully have a masters in two or three years' time in play therapy.
“It’s a very powerful tool to have. Even if you were never to go on further, I would say it taught us enough, even as an SNA, to deal with the children you are dealing with on a daily basis. It gives you an extra edge. It was a fantastic leaping board for me onto what I am doing now,” she said.
Irene describes how play therapy helped her work as an SNA.
“What I found myself doing as an SNA, I was with one particular child and I used to have to take him out of class every day because he was so disruptive, and I would let him play with toys.
“I often wondered was I doing the right thing? I knew a little bit about play therapy, but I didn’t know enough.
“I would let him play and I wouldn’t interfere with him, I was letting him play with soldiers, aggression and he was killing people and shooting people and I was saying ‘should I be doing this?’ Should I be facilitating this side of the child to come out?
“I just didn’t know what I should be doing so I thought well at least if I get a taster for play therapy, I might get an idea as to whether I was doing right or wrong just to give me some idea that what I am doing is right.
“Also, it was something else to put on my CV and I didn’t think I would go further to do the post grad cert or the diploma,” she said.
From the introductory course, Irene gained skills that she could use as an SNA.
“There are skills like sit and listen and reflect back and understanding how reflecting back works on the child and the whole neurological development that the child is gaining by the play and the whole understanding of how it works and how it empowers the child, it gives them the confidence it gives them their self-esteem and coping skills to cope with their life and all the anxiety and problems they are having as young children,” she said.
Irene’s Examples of Play Therapy Skills in Action
“I have one child that I worked with and the coping skills he gained from play therapy was amazing. He was an undiagnosed child with ASD he was nine years old, and he was undiagnosed because the parents refused to get him diagnosed and it was such a shame, but he gained so much from that play therapy session on day one.
“When I collected him from the classroom to bring him out, he immediately started talking and it was all anxiety, and he was talking so fast in his own world talking about zombies and creatures and I was there going ‘oh my god what am I going to do with this child?’ but I just kept listening to him and looking at him.
“We came into the playroom and he still kept talking and I didn’t stop him. All the time while he’s talking, he’s looking around at all the toys in the playroom and then he just stopped talking and he knelt on the floor and picked up a little thing I call fidget blocks. When he picked them up, he stopped talking and he was silent for about ten minutes playing with those blocks.
“Then after a few minutes he would move around the room and start playing with the other toys and he was totally relaxed.
“Every week after that the first thing he did coming into that room was go for those fidget blocks, he had immediately recognised that playing with those blocks relaxed him and replaced him enough to be comfortable within that playroom.
“Because I hadn’t interrupted him when he was talking for 20 minutes that gave him the trust of the playroom. He had gone through days with his parents telling him to be quiet, his teacher telling him to be quiet, stop talking, it was all negative, negative, negative and I listened and that was the only difference.
“There was no magical power, you just listen and you let that child be himself and that gave him confidence and reassurance that he was going to be okay in the playroom, the fidget blocks then just settled him down, gave him time to catch his breath and relax and then he played wonderfully with the toys he got really into being a builder one week a soldier the next week every week he did something different he was great.
“When I first started going into the classroom to take him out there was a constant noise in the classroom and I’d have to come in and ask where he was and the teacher would have to look for him, he was never sitting at his table he was constantly moving around.
“Whereas the last couple of weeks when I was going in to take him out there was silence in the classroom, and he was sitting at his desk. You saw that development, I have seen that with so many different children in different ways, but he was the most profound and quickest to react, it was like he knew he needed that help, so it was amazing.
“I had another child who never smiled, was never happy, who never wanted to go to the playroom and each week would say ‘all I want to do is throw those water balls all over the room’ and I would say that you know you can’t do that.
“I facilitated that one week by coming in with a big plastic sheet and putting it down on the floor and putting the water balls on top of it. He said what is the sheet for and I said what do you want to do in this room, and he said I want to throw them all over the floor, so I said away you go.
“He took a handful and threw them outside the dish onto the plastic and he looked at me and he had the biggest smile and the happiest face, I really felt like crying it was just facilitating that one thing.
“He turned the whole dish out and he was just so happy that whatever that did for him it made him smile. Afterwards I just said to him, ‘you know that feeling you had when you toppled them out?’ And he said yes, I said ‘you remember that feeling and when you are feeling really sad you imagine what you have just done there no matter where you are’ so that is another little skill that he has now.
“People don’t give children the credit for being as intelligent as they are, they say they don’t understand they don’t know what’s going on but they actually do more so than we realise,” she said.