I have been in counselling for almost five years and have been diagnosed with Dyspraxia for 17 years. My counsellor believes in, and practises, play therapy for adults and children alike. (He also has experience of working with dyspraxia, which is why I chose him). The website psychologydictionary.com defines play therapy as “the utilization of play activities and materials in child psychotherapy. Play-therapy methods are based upon the theory positing that such activities reflect the kid’s emotional life and fantasies, allowing him or her to play out their feelings and dilemmas and to try out new techniques and understand relationships in action instead of words”.
Being creative is avery positive trait that Dyspraxic people tend to have and knowing that I can express myself creatively in my therapy sessions really helps me, for a number of reasons:
- It says something when you don’t have (or can’t find) the words
- There are plenty of “fidget toys” available – I love the play doh for this
- If I can’t express an idea clearly I can draw it or write about it
- There’s no “doing it right” or “doing it wrong” – just “doing”
- It’s often pure and simple fun!
Sometimes we do free writing, which is exactly what it sounds like – you take pen and paper, and you write! It doesn’t matter about your spelling, grammar, handwriting – none of that matters – you just get the ideas and feelings down. Then it is possible to read your writing back and talk about it, much as if you’ve made notes for a presentation on yourself!
If you don’t want to write it, you can draw it – and who doesn’t get excited and inspired by a pad of snowy white pristine drawing paper and a pack of pens in all colours of the rainbow? You’re not in a drawing competition so there’s no judgement on your artwork. (I’m actually not too bad at drawing, so I enjoy this part of therapy!)
Sometimes we build Lego together, and I’m never judged or criticised for dropping a piece on the floor, or not being able to fit two pieces together first time. My counsellor had never built Lego from an instruction manual, and in a reversal of rôles, I find myself as the teacher – the “leader” he calls me. We have made mistakes in the build, and together we look at the book and discuss where we went wrong, and take the pieces off to rebuild them. There’s never any blame attached to who might have put a piece in the wrong place. Here, I am in a team, I have been chosen for the team (instead of just joining a side as the last remaining person) – and I have been elected as team leader!
There are little figures available to be used as fidget toys or for rôle play, and tactile objects like shells, things of all different textures and colours – and play doh, which is only limited by your imagination. All of these activities keep your hands busy, which is great for those times when you need to say something but it’s too scary to give it the spotlight. Face-to-face talking is good sometimes, but can seem confrontational for dyspraxics who struggle with reading facial expressions or body language. Everyone is familiar with the concept of talking to your hands when conversation is difficult!
There’s an inner child in all of us, and sometimes that child needs to be heard. If you are still a child on the outside, you may not have the necessary tools to express yourself in a way that others really hear you and “get” you – for example, you may not be able to ride a bicycle when all your peers can. You know why – your mind knows what to do but it can’t tell your body properly! But you can’t express this in words. “Everyone else can do this – why can’t you?” the adults ask.
As a dyspraxic adult, I look like an adult on the outside and still do not have those tools. My counsellor listens to my disjointed thoughts, and then says “can you draw that?” or “do you want to write about that?”
And very often I get my thoughts in order by doing just that – as the definition states, actions instead of words. Then the adult – it’s known as the “adult ego state” – is able to hold a deeper and more meaningful discussion about those thoughts and feelings. Meanwhile the “child ego state” is satisfied that its feelings are being aired and acknowledged in a way that is understood.
Play is an important part of everyone’s life. You’re never too old to play, be it with Lego (I’m what’s known as an AFOL – Adult Fan Of Lego) or play doh (I make a mean copy of Morph, which led to a whole discussion about children’s television. A counselling session need not always be about ripping your heart out and laying it on the table in sacrifice!).
I told my counsellor once that I thought play therapy was about “building plasticine people and then smashing them with your fist” – he looked at me calmly and said with complete seriousness, “would you like to do that?”
In play therapy I can do that, if I want to. I can use my words, or I can use my hands. I’m not lying on a couch, with a suited and booted man wielding a clipboard. My inner child’s presence is acknowledged and welcomed. I may play alone, or my counsellor and I may play together. A difficult session is often followed by a whole session of play the next time – we keep it light for a bit until I settle again. My dyspraxia is not ignored, nor is it criticised or mocked.
In play therapy there is always a way to say what I need to say, to have it heard and responded to appropriately. I am me, and I am learning slowly that in the counselling room, my dyspraxia helps me to be understood instead of hindering me. If you’re struggling, with your disability or anything else, why not see if play therapy could help you? Your inner child is shouting “yes! yes! Give it a try!”
(With huge thanks as always to my counsellor, who really “gets” me)
“Dibs: in search of self” by Virginia Axline
“The Piggle” by DW Winnicott
Transactional analysis therapy (ego states) – there’s plenty of information on the internet about it. This website offers a simple explanation:
*** Please note: I do pay for my counselling, it’s unlikely to be offered on the NHS if you are an adult ***