Mental health clinic debuts new play-therapy rooms
Environment designed to help kids relax, engage
New play-therapy spaces are providing a more comfortable way for kids to interact with mental-health providers at Right Track Medical Group.
The outpatient mental health practice has debuted play-therapy rooms at both its Oxford and Tupelo clinic locations. Each is decorated with whimsical paintings and filled with a range of playthings — from dolls and action figures, to Legos and crayons.
Dr. Stephen Pannel, Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer, said therapists can use play-therapy techniques with children up to about age 12.
“Using play-therapy techniques can be a way to help children develop better coping skills and figure out more effective ways to express their emotions,” said Pannel, who completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.
“Therapy sessions can be very intimidating to a child, but play-therapy techniques help soften the seriousness,” he said. “By their nature, kids don’t like being in a room with an adult or stranger, especially in a healthcare-type interaction. A room set up with toys is a much more comfortable and engaging atmosphere for them.”
Play-therapy techniques can be an effective tool to help children with social deficits or behavior problems. They can also aid the healing process for kids that have been through a serious illness, or experienced domestic violence, abuse or other traumatic situations.
Play therapy can also be used as an alternative to medication for children who respond to the techniques, Pannel said.
“Sometimes kids have things that can be addressed with therapy alone,” he said. “After an assessment and visit with a provider, sessions using play-therapy techniques can allow children to receive therapy without also receiving medication.”
At Right Track Medical Group, therapists often begin a session by allowing a child to play freely as he or she observes the child’s behavior and actions while playing, in addition to talking with a child.
Activities can include storytelling, drawing or modeling with clay. “When children are focused on something else, it’s much easier for them to open up and talk about how they’re feeling,” said Robin Daleke, LCSW, therapist at Right Track Medical Group.
Daleke, who has worked with children for over 15 years , said play-therapy techniques help lower the anxiety a child might feel during a therapy session.
“Therapy is not easy for a grown up to do — much less a kid,” she said. “Using these techniques helps a kid to relax, so they say what is really on their mind.”
Play therapy can also be a great way to inspire confidence and creativity, Daleke said.
“Kids often don’t think they have a voice or that they can use it,” she said. “This creates a safe and comfortable space for them to use their voice.”