Week 2 – Child-Life Therapy

This week I met with Child-Life Therapist Sandra Pengilly, who told me about the work that she and her staff do with kids as partt of the Child-Life Therapy Team at CHW.

Child-Life Therapists used to be called ‘Play Therapists’. They use human-centred approaches to helping children to understand and negotiate their experience at  hospital. Working with children, parents and clinical teams, they design and implement processes to empower children, helping them to manage the fear, pain and uncertainty that accompany serious illness and hospitalisation.

Child-Life Therapists work with children across the hospital, and at Kids Rehab, they are generally used only for children who show signs of extreme anxiety in relation to examinations and treatments. “Medical Play” is one processes they use – using role play with soft toys and to help children to model their concept of the treatment experience and develop a sense of agency in relation to their experiences at hospital.

Another important tool they use is the production of a special book for each child i.e. “My Botox Story” (a few pages from this included above) – that they give to the clinical team prior to each treatment. The booklet describes each stage of their treatment, and enables the child to make some choices about the way in which the procedure takes place. The clinical team then use this booklet to inform the treatment process – by giving children a sense of choice and control over a few simple things such as how many people are in the room at the start of the procedure (before the laughing gas), and whether they sit up or lay on their back (adults look bigger when you are lying on your back – and this can feel intimidating).

This use of rehearsal and reflection on experience (in Medical Play) interests me a great deal, and is something I’ve been exploring with The Heart Library Project, that I developed in 2008 in collaboration with Caitlin Newton-Broad, where we would invite people to represent some aspects of the experience they had just had with the work (as a reflection of their own physiology). What interests me about these processes of modelling and representing experience through imaginative play, illustration, and conversation is they way it integrates different experiences and values, embedding and re-framing knowledge/experience. Neurons that fire together wire together!

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