Imagination and creative play for unique needs
February 15 2012, 2:21 pm

Educational Play Therapy

Play therapy produces consistent and robust results. Over a nine-month period in which 158 children received a mock session, 136 successfully completed their actual MRI without the need for a general anaesthetic – a success rate of 86%.

Many children visiting a hospital and undergoing medical procedures can become anxious. Translating medical speak into a language children and young people can understand and relate to is one way of ensuring paediatric health care experiences do not contribute further to existing stresses of hospitalisation. Helping children and young people interpret and make sense of medical terminology and practice is one of the essential services provided by the Educational Play Therapy Department.

‘Children and young people have a huge capacityfor coping if they are well prepared and feel like they have some control over what is going to happen to them. The role we play is to bridge the gap between the medical world and the child’s world,’ says Louise Marbina, Manager of Educational Play Therapy and Music Therapy.

Using an established assessment and prioritisation framework, Louise and her team of experienced play therapists identify children at the acute end of the medical spectrum who would benefit most from targeted clinical interventions and distraction play therapies. Along with inpatient activity rooms and bedside play, an essential function of the service is providing procedural support.

Examples of this are evident across Medical Imaging, in particular in relation to MRIs. Children and families are given the opportunity to practise the MRI procedure in the department’s mock MRI suite. The suite recreates the actual imaging processes by allowing children to experience simulated scanner sounds and movements.

By interacting with the equipment and technology, discussing the sensations involved and developing coping strategies, children gain a familiarity with the medical environment, normalising their hospital experience and minimising stress and anxiety. Play therapists are able to observe children’s reactions and gauge the need for sedation.

Play therapy has produced consistent and robust results. Over a nine-month period in which 158 children received a mock session, 136 successfully completed their actual MRI without the need for a general anaesthetic. The skilful deployment of non-pharmacological pain management techniques and targeted interventions hospital wide, not only enhances children’s emotional wellbeing, butsignificantly diminishes the need for sedation, avoids complication risks from medication and reduces the necessity of overnight stays.

In addition to traditional play therapy materials, the department is increasingly complementing its services with multimedia resources, reflecting the hospital’s commitment to technological innovation and advancement. Tools like the iPad and the iPod Touch are now being introduced as virtual media to duplicate traditional intervention activities. Children and young people can now assist in developing their own individual procedural support programs using a wide range of interactive modalities.

Harnessing new technology and utilising media assists play therapists to engage children in coping and distraction techniques across a wide range of multi-sensory and cognitive domains. When children and their families become active in managing their own health care, they gain not only a sense of agency but are able to positively participate in their hospital experience.

The hospital’s Educational Play Therapy delivers significant outcomes, demonstrating that play therapy is a beneficial service essential to forward-thinking integrated paediatric practice. The Foundation fosters support for educational play therapy so that the patients at the RCH continue to benefit from this rapidly evolving discipline.

The Educational Play Therapy Department is funded through a combination of philanthropic funds from Safeway (through the Good Friday Appeal) and the Department of Health. The Let the Children Play Auxiliary provide support for additional resources and the development of pilot programs.

The RCH aims to care not only for the child but for the whole family. The Foundation supports patient and family centred care by subsidising a variety of initiatives and programs that would not exist if not for generous donations. Read more here.

This story was featured in the Foundation’s annual review book, The Impact of Giving, read our online version for more stories about the RCH.