Author: Sheldine Murrell
Introducing Play Therapy

 I supervise an after school program in Harlem that caters to children with special needs ( district 75). I meet with my coordinator twice a week to discuss the progress of the children and their activities.
Problem/ Challenge:
 Upon meeting with my coordinator, she told me that Steven (not his real name) had been depressed. At times, he did not speak or socialize with the other kids. When he did socialize, he got really mad when people took toys away from him and hit other kids when they said or did things that he did not like. My coordinator then explained that Steven mother has been going through some difficult times. The school learned that his mother was living in an apartment with no heat or hot water. The school bus was dropping him off at an apartment building that was occupied by other people, but no one knew that his mother was not a tenant.  She had lost her job and had no place to live. She managed to learn of an unoccupied apartment in a building and broke in. She explained to the school and police officials that she had lost her job during the summer because she was unable to find a summer program for Steven. At one time, she did find a program, but it was so expensive and only lasted for six weeks. She explained that she put him in the program, but lost her job because she had to leave early to pick him up. When the program was over she had no one to stay with him during the day while school started. When she lost her job she realized that she could not pay her rent. She told the school that she did not want to put him in foster care and had no relatives to help. Now Steven is living in a foster home, while his mother finds a job. Steven is a nice young boy, he mentioned that he does misses his mother and is confused, as to why he has to live in a foster home. Steven has ADD and is diagnosed as Mentally Retarded. He can walk, talk, smile and eat by himself, but he has difficulties understanding and controlling his behavior.

 Our goal is to introduce play Steven to therapy. By giving him a time to play so he can release his frustrations and connect with the people he likes in our after school program. Steven has been going through an emotional time where he is confused, possibly scared and lonely. We can help him release some of the stress that he is going through with play therapy. This therapy can give him a chance to control his environment through play (thus giving him some stability), connect with staff that he likes and enable him to receive the additional love and attention he needs. I always heard of play therapy, but learned more of it when I was browsing through the website. My coordinator and I then brought up the idea of play therapy for Steven at our weekly meeting and asked for their feedback. Most agreed it would be nice and gave suggestions about the play items that Steven would like. Then we decided that we would have Steven play with a staff member who he really likes once a day for 15-20 minutes. We then gave all the staff copies of the play therapy outline and explained that Steven is in total control of his play time and that he is free to play by himself if he chooses. I then read the first two paragraphs of the handout and asked if they had any questions. Then we went through the 11 points that were listed on the handout and mentioned that the person who will be monitoring him would have to use these 11 points during Steven play therapy to insure that it is successful.

Outcome/ Result:
 My coordinator told me that first two or three days we started the play therapy, Steven seemed happy. When he came back into the cafeteria he smiled and talked more to the other kids. Today he does not seem so frustrated with other kids when they do not want to play with him. I had a chance to see him one time during his play therapy; during that time he painted a picture of a dog. He was so excited of what he had drawn I decided to praise him on the color and the background of the picture and encouraged him to continue drawing. He then gave the staff member one of his pictures and the coordinator the other one. My coordinator says he is doing well and she sees the little changes that are taking place. He seems a little happier. The staff members say he enjoys playing by himself, so we have not push the issue of including a friend. The staff member I assigned to Steven says he is talking about the foster home he is living in and that he sees his mother at the end of the day. The staff member mentioned that this is good, that he is talking about his feelings and is doing things that make him happy.

What would I do in the future?
 The play therapy was effective for Steven. He still has issues that he is dealing with, but I believe he realizes there are people who are here for him. By doing this program we learned that he likes to paint and make things through play dough. He likes working with his hand and feels happy when he creates things. Steven likes to give away his pictures and enjoys the praise that we give him when we say “ thank you’ or “ that is wonderful”. I believe play therapy is helping to build self-esteem. In the future we will try to see if there are any additional people in our program who can benefit from play therapy. We are also planning on telling his day time teacher about the activities we are doing during after-school and would consider doing some of the activities during the day when Steven has free time. Overall play therapy was effective for Steven and I am planning to introduce the idea of play therapy to my coordinator at the Brooklyn site. Possibly there may be a student like Steven who can benefit from this play therapy as well.

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Thanks Sheldine!