Play therapy - building confidence across Thrive
I am posting this on behalf of Emma Newby, Chair of the Local Governing Body at Chiltern Primary School, and play therapist.
NHS statistics show that in 2022 18% of 7-16 year olds had a probable mental health condition, an increase of 6% in the last five years. For 17-19 year olds the increase has been even more dramatic, increasing from 10% to 26% over the same time period. This means that in the average mainstream classroom five children will be struggling with their mental health. With the symptoms of poor mental health being vast and having a direct impact on a child’s ability to manage in school and learn, it is in a school’s best interest to support pupil’s mental wellbeing. Waiting lists for NHS services such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are notoriously long and the services available a postcode lottery, so schools are increasingly having to find ways to fill the gap themselves to enable their students to thrive.
With all this in mind it has been fantastic to be given the opportunity to develop a Play Therapy provision across three of the Primary schools in the Trust over the last two years. Play Therapy uses children’s natural style of communication, play, to allow them to express their difficult feelings at their own level and at their own pace. In weekly, one-to-one sessions they get to choose how they use the kit, including art, clay, music, movement, sand, puppets and dressing-up, to work through the challenges they are facing. The playroom is a safe, non-judgemental space where the child takes the lead. Reflection and mirroring,
and other more directive techniques like therapeutic stories and creative visualisations, are provided by the therapist to help the child recognise the things they are communicating and work through them.
As a result of the Play Therapy carried out so far there are children in Thrive schools who have: increased their weekly attendance levels; developed the skills needed to manage peer conflicts; been able to advocate for their needs in professional environments; learnt to manage their anger and verbally express their feelings, increased their confidence and ability to join in with classroom activities. All of these victories are felt at a personal level by the children as they are better able to enjoy life, and on a wider level in classrooms as children are less disruptive and better able to focus on learning.
Play Therapy is becoming more common in this country, but its provision as part of a mainstream school offer, rather than within private practice paid for by parents, is rare. Schools who get to experience what Play Therapy can bring to their community are, in my experience, quick to embrace it. As one member of staff commented on my annual feedback form last year ‘Please keep training these Play Therapists so that many more children can receive this specialist support’.
Going forward I am hopeful that other schools will follow the example set by Thrive in recognising the holistic needs of the child, and how they directly impact upon a child’s ability to learn. Maybe then we will see a reversal of the terrifying mental health statistics, and children’s mental health needs being consistently met, regardless of where they live or their family’s financial resources.
NEWLOVE-DELGADO, T. et al. (2022). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2022. Available from:https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2022-follow-up-to-the-2017-survey
LONGFIELD, A. (2020). The State of Children’s Mental Health Services. Available from: https://assets.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wpuploads/2020/01/cco-the-state-of-childrens-mental-health-services.pdf