Play is a child’s language of communication; it is their method of making sense of the world around them since their vocabulary is limited. The child directs the play which is only limited by rules that ensure safety. The therapist’s presence facilitates the client since he/she verbally describes the child’s action, a technique more commonly known as tracking; therefore, the child feels “heard” and knows he is not alone in his struggle, he has the emotional support of the clinician who provides him/her with his/her undivided attention.
Brad was a five year old child who was abandoned by his parents; his mother was unreliable since she visited him sporadically depending on her whim and refused to have the responsibility of being the primary caretaker of her two children. Brad’s father was deported leaving his son and daughter with their paternal grandmother as the primary caretaker of his two children. The chaos in Brad’s life was evident in session; he enjoyed playing hide and seeks which symbolically expresses the desire to be found, a favorite game of anxiously and disorganized attached children who were traumatized. These children enjoy being pursued and doubt their worthiness since they were often abandoned or neglected; the pursuit of being found helps them enact the trauma of being “lost” with a different ending, furthermore, the pursuit validates them as being significant which helps heal the trauma.
Brad proceeded to use play therapy to express his loss and feelings of abandonment; he took a toy fish and told a story of how the parents and the entire species died leaving the fish abandoned and left to die. The therapist explored the possibility whether humans or another species is able to adopt the baby fish, nurture, love and properly raise it; Brad reluctantly agreed that it is a possibility. Brad was using this metaphor to process and grieve his tragedy facilitated by the therapist; the therapist was present with him which was the healing power he needed to cope with his tragedy. The therapist kept the analogy in metaphor since Brad’s reality was too painful to internalize, he needed to externalize his tragedy; therefore, the therapist carefully explored his allegory and the different possibilities of rescuing the fish and providing it with a secure and nurturing environment needed to thrive.
Brad eventually stopped playing games of abandonment; he moved on to pretending that he had a dad teaching him to play ball and the therapist was the neighbor’s child without a dad who came over to play. Dad was teaching the two children to play soft ball and was kindly to the friend who asked if he could return tomorrow to play ball; this metaphor was a means of both enacting Brad’s fantasy of having an active dad who engaged him in learning to play sports and a coping strategy for his reality. Play therapy allowed him to live his fantasy and creatively find coping strategies; the “neighbor” did not have a dad and came over to learn how to play ball with “his” dad. This imaginary play shows the progress Brad accomplished in treatment; he graduated from being abandoned to using the resources available to him.
Furthermore, his progress was evident in his behavior at home and in school; his emotions were more regulated and his academics improved. Brad realized that indeed his grandmother, aunt, teacher and therapist were there for him. His grandmother provided a safe and warm home environment for him and his sister; furthermore, he had long distance contact with his dad and his grandmother sought PAL (Police Athletic League) to provide Brad with the positive male figure he needed who engaged him and other disadvantaged youths in sports and provided them the necessary coaching in athletics needed to succeed.