It has been a hard few years for many. For mental health professionals and, in particular, those that work with children, it has been brutal. Burnout and compassion fatigue are very real. While we do our best, self-care is necessary for our survival in this field. We too can suffer from anxiety and depression. When we have no relief from stress, this fact is inevitable. So any bright light we can find we are drawn to it.
The world changed and like other first responders, we pivoted our practice and did what we always do - become the containers for everyone else’s struggles, hurts, and abuses. We weren’t prepared for this new world and research will show how successful we were in about 10 years.
However, in the present, mental health clinicians are struggling to keep our candles lit.
As a Play Therapist, we believe strongly in the healing powers of play. We see play in a lot of things and often we are the ones spontaneously breaking out in song, a dance, or have a silly hat on. We are also the quiet ones giggling on the sideline watching and basking in the laughter and light of others as they play.
This week is the Superbowl, which is nothing but play, and the communal joy of watching. It also is play therapy week, meaning we are celebrating around the world the therapeutic powers of play and how it heals the hearts of little & big humans around the world.
The universe has a way of being serendipitous during times like this.
Over the holiday, I spent time in the Hawaiian islands, where it is just the start of whale watching season as the calves are being born in the warm tropical waters. It is always exciting and awe-inspiring to see a whale spout or a glimpse of a fin or tail, especially from shore.
Our trip was coming to a close and it was our last night to watch the sunset, play in the water, and dig in the sand. While watching my children playing in the sand and water - giggling and laughing - I spotted a whale spout several miles out from shore. It was exciting. We stared for a while looking for it again and then we went back to play.
I was enjoying being a parent in that moment, watching my children in their natural habitat. I was finally able to relax and feel peace in my heart after several long, hard years. And then, magic! She was back!
The whale spouted next to our shore. She had done a loop and came to our side of the island. She was close - less than 200 meters off the beach - close. Everyone stopped and watched, amazed at how close she was.
Then the baby appeared. A baby whale next to momma, swimming along, fresh to this new world.
Play is a big part of all mammals’ lived experience. The baby began playing, breaching over and over again. Enjoying its body and the warm water. Every breach left me catching my breath.
A baby whale was PLAYING in front of me and my children.
The world stopped as we all watched in wonder at the beautiful connecting power that is being seen when at play. No matter the species, being witnessed as our authentic vulnerable self is what play is all about.
Play connects us all.
Play can stop the world in all of its glory.
The baby whale’s play grounded me on that shore. The baby whale reminded me that play is beautiful, wondrous, pure joy, and fulfilling. The universe chose this moment to remind me that play is everywhere, all the time, and to live life, we must play.
Play is what I need more of in life, so I will commit to playing more this year!
I hope you join me on this journey.