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How Creative Play Helps Heal

As adults, creative play is often viewed as a waste of time. However, for children, it’s encouraged and celebrated. Are these two things really so different? Find out how art can actually help to heal the wounds left by trauma.
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There’s a double standard when it comes to art. Children are encouraged to lose themselves in creative play, but for adults, this (or any artistic endeavor for that matter) is often viewed as a waste of time, a novelty at best.

Does this really make any sense?

Why would art intrinsically be good for a child but not an adult? Granted, we encourage art for children because it constructively occupies their time, but this can’t be all there is to it.

Did our ancient ancestors start painting on cave walls because they were bored? Did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel because the Renaissance Italians had yet to invent Fortnite?

Art was at the birth of civilization and paved the way to a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around us, which invariably increases our quality of life.

Art is, always has been, and always will be, a venture into a greater world, and, as kids know, creative play is one way to fully immerse ourselves into that greater world.

Benefits of Creative Play

They’re joyful when kids paint, play, create, or build. The experience is always positive, as long as what they do remains free from judgment or criticism of any kind.

As children are allowed to play freely, they’ll naturally use their imaginations to work out problems, conquer fears, and explore the universe.

Problem-solving. Fear conquering. World exploring.

Hmmm…adults create entire industries and spend billions on these three things. Yet, they’re all accessible through creative play, which is free and always available to everyone!

The only thing holding us back is our own judgment.

We All Role Play Everyday

To some, mental escape through play may look like a person is wasting time, but what’s happening is the person is on a journey.

And some are on a journey where, along the way, they’re finding a way to heal part of themselves.

Everybody does this to some degree every single day. We replay situations from the day, imagining different outcomes. This is exactly the same process as the creative play of a child. The only difference is that the adult’s imagination has more life experience and tends to get stuck in its patterns and ways.

If emotional pain is severe or isn’t allowed to properly heal, then mental states like depression and anxiety will begin to set in just like mental scar tissue, which causes even more pain.

Exercising the imagination stretches it out.

Relearning to Play Creatively

So, how do adults relearn how to engage in creative play?

There are two steps…

1. Find a safe space that’s free from judgment, and preferably cameras or recording devices. This will create a distraction-free environment that lets you speak freely without having to worry about how any of it will be interpreted by anyone, or what they think of your face when you ugly cry.

2. Let thoughts come to you.

This can be scary for people, especially trauma victims.

Many people’s minds wander to dark places when they let their imaginations roam free. The monsters appear, the dragons breathe fire from all directions, the wicked voices dance around with their taunts. Creative play offers a controlled environment for these forces to appear. It allows us to walk towards them, ask them what they want, what they have to offer, and what they need from us to go away.

In doing so, we simultaneously process the underlying emotions causing stress, anxiety, depression and gain new insights that will help make them more manageable when they inevitably return.

We’re reminded that a place exists where our truth is valid, the good prevails, and love conquers all, and that we can go there at any time through our minds. So fantasize away!

Take Caution With Replaying Trauma

If you’ve been through a traumatic situation and can’t help but replay it in your head, know that this it’s ok. It’s perfectly normal, especially if this happens soon after the traumatic event, even in the months and years after.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best not to imagine trying to achieve a different outcome from a traumatic event. Delusion doesn’t help anyone heal. In fact, it only delays it because the brains senses dishonesty and now believes it has an extra problem to solve.

What’s important is that you remember this is a post-traumatic memory, it will take time to process, but that every time it comes back to you, its severity will be slightly lessened.

If you find yourself being pulled back into the memory, then find a way to escape into an alien world where you can observe everything at a distance.

If you miss a loved one, permit yourself to have an imaginary conversation where you tell them everything that’s been going on, then listen to the advice you imagine they’d offer.

And you can always use creative play to get a mental vacation from rumination – travel back in time, make friends with a monster in a fairy tale land, heck, go on a pirate adventure to find some treasure and rum!

When it comes to creative play, not even the sky’s the limit.

So don’t be silly… especially if you’ve been through trauma, because it’s time we let ourselves enjoy being silly again! 

Creative therapies have been shown to heal emotional pain, not just in trauma survivors but in everyone. Stars of HOPE is a non-profit organization that uses art therapy and community resources to help survivors of mass tragedies hold onto hope during difficult times.

Visit our website to find out more.

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