Erik was an 8 year old boy who was referred to Play & Creative Arts Therapy by his class teacher. He was struggling in school to control his anger, often having violent outbursts when asked to do things that he didn’t want to do. He was rough with other children on the playground, especially when he was not winning at football and would struggle to maintain friendships.
Erik also found it very challenging to take praise for any work that he did, often labelling his work as ‘rubbish’ or not good enough.
In Erik’s first few therapy sessions, it was clear to his therapist that he was struggling with very low self-esteem. This made it hard for him to feel likeable, good or special in any way. This explained why he found it so tough to take praise in class and why he would give up so readily on tasks.
In therapy, Erik spent a lot of time playing games that involved winning. To be the winner in a game made him feel good and special. He would sometimes cheat to make sure that he came out on top during games, which the therapist allowed and recognised as part of his healing. Over time, Erik started to allow his therapist to win in the games. He was able to practice and experience what it was like to allow someone else to be the winner and how to lose graciously. 
Erik thrived on the one to one attention that he had from his therapist, developing a strong and trusting relationship. Over time Erik started to open up about his life. Erik told his therapist that his Nan had passed away the year before. This was information that the school did not know and was news to the therapist. It became clear that Erik was trying to process the loss of his Nan and was overwhelmed by his sad feelings. In therapy, Erik had a safe space to explore the difficult feelings that he was experiencing – exploring his loss in creative ways that did not require him to verbalise what was wrong. Erik told his therapist that he used to go to his Nan’s every day after school so she could look after him and his brother. Since she had passed away, Erik had to go to a childminder after school while his Mum was working. Erik’s therapist saw that he was missing out on the close relationship that he had with his Nan. There wasn’t another adult in his life that he could relate to in the same way, as his Mum was always so busy. His Nan had been the primary figure in his life and the person that he would turn to in times of trouble.
Towards the end of the sessions, the therapist met with Erik’s Mum and suggested that they work together to help Mum set up some special play times with Erik, once a week after school. The therapist shared her skills with Erik’s Mum in weekly sessions when his therapy had ended. Our therapist was able to give some of our play skills to Mum so that she could continue the good work that Erik had done.
Erik’s teacher fed back that following therapy and the work with Mum, Erik was like a new child. He was starting to recognise his achievements and feel proud of his work. Because he felt better about himself, he was able to attract and retain a new group of friends – he didn’t mind not winning games in the playground any more as his self esteem had developed to provide real strength and resilience to challenges.
Erik was able to process the loss of his Nan and strengthen the relationship with his Mum. Now, one day per week, Erik’s Mum spends time with just him playing and having fun. She does this for his little brother too.
Play is the most effective way to create strong and healthy relationships and to heal old wounds. Erik was fortunate that his school recognised that he needed some help – and that we were able to provide it for him.