Finding Playfulness in the Seriousness By Rachel Altvater, PsyD on 8/31/18 - 2:21 PM

I have recently seen videos of social experiments that encouraged adults to find time to play. In one such video, a hopscotch board was drawn on a city street and over the course of the next ten hours of the 1,058 people who walked by, only 129 stopped, if but momentarily, to engage in the playful distraction.

In another video, a man and his friends set up a large ball pit in an urban space to see if adults would take a moment for themselves. He asked people walking by if they were too busy to have fun. Immediate responses focused on the need to return to work - all work, no play. However, several people decided to seize the moment to dive in. A man wearing a perfectly pressed suit threw his briefcase into the pit moments before jumping in. The joy that exuded from those playful moments was priceless.

I am a play therapist, so am fortunate to play for a living. Through play therapy, children can externalize, process, master their struggles and tame inner demons through a variety of expressive mediums. Sessions transform from battles to caring for babies, playing sports, building worlds in the sand, making and eating full course meals, watching puppet shows, drawing, painting, blowing bubbles, and much more. With play, the possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination. It is truly a privilege to see the healing power of play first hand and to make time to experience play myself.

I would guess a vast majority of adults believe that play is primarily reserved for children. Life is stressful and there are a plethora of serious tasks and obligations that we must save our energy for instead of goofing off and spending time playing. Many of us are inundated with a full caseload, meetings, case management, consultation groups or supervision, continuing education, family obligations, and other side projects. We simply do not have time to stop and play hopscotch or jump in the ball pit. It does not mean that we do not want to; there is just not enough time in the day.

Being a psychotherapist is an immensely rewarding, and at times challenging and emotionally draining job. Being a container for so many hurting humans takes its toll on mind and body. We need self-care more than we allow for ourselves. We need to remember that we cannot give so much to so many and very little to ourselves. We must be gentle with ourselves and find time to rest, relax, and replenish.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be completely immersed in your imagination and fully experience that moment? How can you make more time for playful self-care? When an obligation needs to be removed from our schedules, why is self-care is often the first to go? Because we convince ourselves that we cannot possibly sacrifice anything else on our schedule. As the Zen proverb states, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” This gentle self-care reminder is applicable to time spent playing as well. Foster more moments of joy, laughter, happiness and the liberation play can bring in your lives. The next time we contemplate if we have time in our day to playfully tend to our minds and bodies because we are too jam-packed, we must remind ourselves that these are the moments that we need these experiences the most.

File under: A Day in the Life of a Therapist, Musings and Reflections, Child & Adolescent Therapy