Khulisa Deep Dive Series: Play

In the fourth part of the new Khulisa Deep Dive series into Dramatherapy, Caroline Brindle looks at the role of 'play' and how it's used in Khulisa programmes to build self-esteem and support creativity.

“It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” - D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality.

The importance of play for children is well documented as being vital for their development – so much so that in 2013 the United Nations issued a General Comment stating “that every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Children first learn about the world around them through play, it is vital for their physical and mental health, as well as their self-esteem and self-awareness. It is through playing that children begin to develop their sense of self and others.

Of course, playing covers a wide spectrum – from hide and seek, to make-believe games, through to art, painting or Lego. Sadly, we tend to stop playing as much when we leave primary school, and so as adults we have almost forgotten how to play.

Khulisa’s programmes are carefully designed to ensure that we bring play into the space, through fun ice-breaker games, and the use of artwork and drama. We offer the opportunity to our children, young people and adult participants to play again, knowing that it aids creativity, which as Winnicott says above, in turn helps with self-discovery.

Creating art can help the brain find answers to things we struggle with – Carl Jung said, “often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” We see this in every group that we run – in our prison programmes there is always at least one participant who discovers something hitherto unknown about themselves through creative artwork.

It is often these lightbulb moments of discovery that our participants take with them and remember for the future. A recent prison programme graduate commented that he had never fully stopped to consider how his actions impacted on others when he was angry. He created a mask of how he feels and how his face looks when he is in the midst of anger and violence. As he was reflecting back to the group, he realised that the clenched jaw he had depicted, and the related inability to speak, had begun as a child when he was watching his mum experience violence. As a child, he was powerless to help, and was told not to interfere, so had to clench his jaw and swallow the anger and hurt he felt. Over time, he realised, he couldn’t even manage to speak when he was angry and began to hit out instead.

By creating artwork – by playing – in a safe space, this man saw the emotional root connection to his anger, and made a vow not only to change, but also to never pass this on in turn to his children.

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