On October 30, 2021 I had the honor of being featured as a guest blogger for Dr. Jessica Stone, co-creator of Virtual Sandtray App®© and creator of Digital Play Therapy(TM).
Many years ago, while working towards my Bachelor of Social Work degree, I learned to NOT volunteer for public role play exercises. “Why?”, you ask. Well, inevitably it would turn in a direction that I really was not prepared for. I was caught off guard and, therefore, I missed the opportunity to carefully consider my responses—feeling vulnerable and exposed. As I became a more seasoned clinician, a ready response came more easily AND I continued in my established pattern of self-preservation.
Fast forward 25+ years. In 2019, I became a Registered Play Therapist. In March 2020, I was introduced to and began a deep dive into incorporating digital tools in my play therapy practice. In fact, it has become a passion! Through this journey of professional growth, I have also been exposed to an unexpected personal growth. There may be more, but I attribute this shift to two primary factors: 1) healing properties of play and 2) felt safety among colleagues and friends.
Notice the picture above—one side is very tidy, while the other is very messy with a plethora of items on the floor. These past several months I have had the opportunity to receive training in the therapeutic use of Virtual Reality. Each training has given me a different, yet equally powerful take-away message. In the most recent training, we utilized and discussed two games from the perspective of multi-sequential tasks and learning: Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator. Clinician hat on and learning brain activated—check. Well, until it wasn’t. almost immediately my clinician hat and learning brain were replaced; instead, I was a person fully immersed in an unfamiliar setting, attempting to navigate surroundings. I quickly became frustrated. I could hear the tantalizing sound of the coffee pot; yet, after multiple attempts, I could not figure out how to dispense the coffee. The more I looked around, the more things deeply resonated. Finally, I gave up! In fact, I became somewhat defiant—throwing things on the floor, putting my head in the copy machine to see if it would actually work (IT DID!!), randomly pushing all the buttons—trying to make sense of SOMETHING. I quit….again—abandoning the job for a vacation.
Just a game, right? How is it possible that all of my senses could feel like I stumbled into the virtual version of my life?? On the surface, play seems like ‘just play.’ However, when considering the Therapeutic Powers of Play, it is so much deeper than that! For years, play therapists have been advocating for the profession; declaring “WE NEED MORE PLAY! PLAY HEALS!” So much so that, at times, I am baffled by the dichotomy. We have fought so ardently for play therapy to be a recognized and respected modality and, yet, the acceptance of digital play can seem elusive. In terms of traditional and digital play therapy, one does not replace the other—it is a both-and. The goal is not for every play therapist to utilize every modality of play, including digital. Instead, the hope is that we, as a play therapy community, will at least widely entertain the potential and acknowledge the benefits of Digital Play TherapyTM. We owe it to ourselves, our clients, and our profession to be interested enough in the client’s world, and all it entails, to give consideration —even if it means making referrals.