Playing the most natural self-heal method
Jose (not his real name) was at first reluctant to speak and take part in a therapy session organized by a group of psychologists.
A then-12-year-old survivor of Typhoon “Pablo” which devastated Mindanao in 2012, Jose was brought to attend the session by his godmother, who took him in after his parents and siblings died in the storm, in the hope of helping him cope with the loss.
After a while, Jose played with the toys that were set up in the room, said Dr. Ma. Lourdes Carandang, clinical psychologist and founder of the MLAC Institute for Psychosocial Services Inc. “Later, he was even able to write a message to his family, saying that he will ‘always love them and live on for them.’”
Jose’s playing and communicating via letter to his family, albeit symbolic, according to Carandang, is one instance showing how “play can be a [form of] release” from the trauma caused by a disaster.
Speaking during the Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health 2015, organized by the Switzerland-based Council on Health Research for Development and the Department of Science and Technology on Aug. 26, Carandang noted that playing is “the most natural self-healing method.” “Adults should not just brush it off as only something ‘to pass time with’ or worse, something that is nonsensical.”
Her organization, the MLAC Institute, is pushing for play to ensure the psychosocial healing of disaster survivors through its recently named Play and Mindfulness-Based Expressive Arts Therapy (PM BEAT), which includes arts, poetry, clay modeling, drama or role play, music and mindfulness exercises. Through its therapists, the group has already conducted sessions for children and even adults in communities devastated by severe storms like “Sendong,” Pablo and “Yolanda” in therapy rooms filled with toys and art supplies
Children and disasters
Children are particularly vulnerable to the stress that follows a natural disaster, according to mental health experts, and their symptoms may linger much longer than in adults. This is especially true in a country that is listed in the 2013 World Risk Report as third most disaster-vulnerable, said Carandang.
Disasters have a profound effect on children, turning them fearful and anxious, and disrupting their eating and sleeping habits. They also exhibit clinging behavior, experience nightmares and have a feeling of powerlessness and numbness.
Several studies have shown that play therapy and interaction with other children speed up the recovery of kids from post-disaster trauma. The United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund even said playing can help children recover from trauma by encouraging their physical and emotional development.
And as shown in young Jose’s case, “children have an innate capacity to recover through play,” Carandang said. “[This is where] they can express their emotions and their feelings and this is when they come to terms with whatever has happened.” Noli A. Ermitanio