Why Adults Need Play
AKA a little speech I gave in church about how I became a play therapist and why play is important to adults
I come from a family of German Lutheran, hard-work-ethic, overachieving perfectionists so the fact that I am a play therapist might seem a bit strange.
What brought me to being a professor and play therapist is a series of unplanned events. God must truly have a sense of humor! I’ll briefly and quickly share a few with you.
In my senior year at TCU, I was devastated when I didn’t get into the 10 psychology graduate programs I had applied to. My advisor had filled out a reference for another student who was going to some school in San Antonio so I thought, why not?
While visiting this school, a wise professor advised me to change my specialty to marriage and family therapy because of my interest in working with children. I wasn’t so sure, since as a 22-year-old, single, person I couldn’t imagine counseling married couples. But I took his advice anyway. It was there that I met my future husband.
While in Iowa, the state of my birth, doing further graduate work and freezing to death, I wasn’t satisfied because I wasn’t getting the kind of the knowledge I knew I needed to help children. Somewhere in my investigations I heard of this thing called “play therapy” that made SO MUCH SENSE to me and was elated to discover that the largest and most well-known play therapy program in the world was back in Texas. I applied and gratefully, they accepted me.
I became a professor at Lindsey Wilson because someone Jeff and I had met at a conference knew of two openings for professors in the Counseling department at Lindsey.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a professor. In high school I knew I wanted to work with children but I didn’t want to be a teacher like my mother because they worked too hard and didn’t make enough money. But here I am, a teacher after all.Moving to Kentucky has allowed me to meet all of you beautiful people, start the Appalachian Play Therapy Center at Lindsey Wilson, and share with others the power of play and play therapy.
That’s the life story part; which brings us to right now.
Close your eyes. Think of the happiest moment of your life when you’ve felt most alive. Chances are--whether this moment was as a child or an adult--it involved some sort of play.
Play is the most natural thing that children do. You don’t have to teach them how to play. Somewhere along the way, though, we lose this inclination to play. We get serious. We’ve got more important things to do. We’ve got to be productive. We’re supposed to be successful. Meanwhile, we become stressed, anxious, depressed, hypertensive, overweight, sick substance abusers.
It’s no surprise that my favorite story in Children Worship and Wonder is of Jesus and the children. I can hear my friend Jeana telling it right now:
“No! Don’t bother Jesus. He has important work to do.”
Then Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Do not stop them, for such belongs the Kingdom of God.”
Well, disciples: change of plans. I’d like to think that Jesus got down in the dirt and played with those children. Hmmm… I wonder what this story is telling us?
Life without play is a life without games, sports, books, movies, art, music, dance, or jokes. No fishing, quilting, knitting, word-working, wrestling, or making love. Play is not just an activity. It is a state of mind.
Many studies have demonstrated that adults who play mentally and physically are less prone to dementia and heart disease, adjust better to retirement, live longer, are more creative and are just plain happier.
Charles Schaefer, the founder of the Association for Play Therapy said,
We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves,
or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.
Through play our whole being is engaged—our bodies, minds, and souls. To me play can be a profoundly spiritual experience. It allows us to express ourselves and connect most deeply with the best in others, thereby improving relationships.
There’s a reason why play is also called recreation. It recreates us. Play has no plan, no purpose other than to just enjoy the experience. It is freeing. Imagine the feeling you get when you are on a swing.
I’ll end my paraphrasing Mr. Rogers, one of my favorite people.
When we treat play as seriously as it deserves,
we feel the joy that’s in the creative spirit.
It’s the things we play with and
the people who help us play
that make a difference in our lives.
So I ask you--will you play with me?