Therapeutic Value of Play in Post-Disaster Settings

Play is a universally important means for expression across cultures. Children reflect on relationships and experiences with others, express needs, release unacceptable impulses, and experiment with solutions through play. A child can move towards inner resolution of a frightening or traumatic experience through play by returning to the event again and again, changing the outcome in the activity. In a post-disaster setting, play serves a restorative function in the lives of children.

In order to play, children need toys, creative materials and other props. Games and storytelling can also serve as vehicles for play. The adult sets the stage, observes and participates by providing reassurance for feelings the child may be experiencing.

Play does not require the direct supervision of mental health professionals to be beneficial. For example, The Kids’ Corner (KC), a therapeutic play area conceived after the September 11, 2001 attacks, was staffed with volunteers from both mental health and other professions.The work done in this space was considered “play therapy” when conducted by mental health professionals and “play that had therapeutic value” when supervised by other relief workers. KC is a model that has been replicated with positive results in other disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. The fact that Western play methods work in Eastern cultures suggests the transcendent healing properties of play in post-disaster settings.

Hosin, Amer A. Responses to Traumatized Children. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 66-90. Print.

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