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Play therapy with couples

Play and joy are rooted in all of our hearts. We were all children once. For some of us; childhood seems like a wonderful memory, for others it seems like a time that they would rather forget. But whether we embrace it or not, each of us have an inner child, screaming to get out. We all know that playing is an important part of childhood and learning, but can play also be potentially valuable to adults….? My answer is yes, it can be. Playing can bring you into contact with feelings, experiences and thoughts that you have forgotten, or suppressed. Playing with adults can also unlock creativity and healthy integration between your mind and your body. Charles Schaefer said that: “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing”. This got me thinking, how can play therapy be used to help couples during the relationship counselling process?

Play can increase your self-esteem. Play creates the opportunity for you to be calm and relaxed, but also to be silly and joyful. One of the problems that most couples face is that they forget how to have fun together, or something happened in the relationship that made the fun stop. Having fun is part of what helps us to connect. When you have been hurt in a relationship, you don’t trust your partner to have your back. Play can facilitate the healing process by helping you and your partner build trust, in a playful way, and also to re-connect by having fun.

Play can also create an environment where you and your partner can safely express yourself. During play one can communicate feelings that will otherwise be difficult to say. Some people find it very difficult to express themselves. They either don’t possess the verbal skills or they are scared. Because play can be fun, it can help those who struggle to express themselves within the safety of a game. Couples with communication problems can be engaged to communicate and to solve problems through play, empowering them to do the same in real life. Play can also teach couples that talking is not the only method of communication – writing, drawing, painting and role-play can be valuable tools to use during counselling. 

Play can help the individual to become more aware of themselves and their process. Awareness is one of my goals in therapy – when you become aware of yourself, you become aware of the changes you should make to feel/do better. Because couples will play together, they will also become more aware of each other’s process, thus helping the couple to better understand each other. Fun games can also be used to “get to know each other” again. I use different types of board games to help me and my partner reconnect and also for us to practice working together as a team. You can buy a variety of games/board games and use them to help you and your partner to re-connect. You can also have fun in creating your own game. There are no rules and limits. Have fun with it.      

Let’s face it; life in the city can be hectic. People are very stressed and over worked. This can put even more pressure on couples and couples fight because they are just so tired. Play can help couples with stress relief and bring laughter back into the relationship. Did you know that when you laugh your brain produces endorphins? This creates feelings of happiness and relaxation. When you play and laugh your body reduces stress. Playing can also help you to release stress in a physical way. This is good for your body, but also good for your mind. Activities such as running, jumping and “play wrestling” not only helps you to reduce stress, but also gives you the opportunity to make physical contact with your partner in a fun, non-threatening way.

I know that play can seem silly to some people, but what have you got to lose by trying it. Play pushes most adults out of their comfort zones and that’s a good thing – you can’t grow inside your comfort zone. You need to reconnect with yourself in order for you to reconnect with your partner. If this means that you need to forget being a serious adult for an hour, than do it. I believe in the power of play and I know that play can be used as a successful tool in helping couples during their relationship counselling process. It creates a fun, safe environment for couples to express themselves, have fun, reduce stress, build trust and re-connect.