Monday, November 14, 2022

Play as Preventative Care At Any Age

by Vanessa Mortillo, LPC

    “The opposite of play is not work—it’s depression.” — Brian Sutton Smith

As a play therapist, I support young people through anxieties and hardships. Using their natural language of play, we act out struggles and work through them in the present moment.  Play offers a unique way of processing difficult feelings in the presence of a connected adult.  What surprised me the most about my work is that even in the midst of darkness and trauma, joy can and does enter the play.  One minute I am defending myself in an angry play sword-fight and next moment I am bouncing a balloon. Through the magic of play, I can travel between levity and heaviness with my clients, and we weave more light in as we go. Children often do this naturally, but adults can do this too.
Relearning this skill through my training as a play therapist has changed my life as an adult. Once very serious and intellectual, I now have more balance. I have gained the confidence to be ridiculous, silly, and to let go. I make sand castles regularly, I dance and wear costumes. I am less afraid to play in front of others.  I laugh more and feel closer to those that I play with. In the midst of hard things, I remember that play is available at any moment. 

This phenomenon has been beautifully described by play expert Stuart Brown, “Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.”  Dr. Brown became passionate about play when he studied mass murderers and found that most had been severely deprived of opportunities for play in early childhood and beyond. He calls this scenario a play deficit. While these represent the most extreme cases, his continued research on play found that playing regularly leads to more spontaneity, creativity, resilience, hope, and social connection for people of all ages. Dr. Brown also found this to be true in the animal kingdom as many social species play throughout the lifespan.

Kevin Carroll, Philadelphia native, former athletic coach for the 76ers, author and motivational speaker, cites his access to play as a child as transformational. In childhood, he had access to few resources and was adopted by grandparents due to his parents suffering from addiction. The playground and a red rubber ball changed his life. He has gone on to help organizations reignite creativity and inspire adults to play. At Tedx Harlem, he invited adults to formally resign from adulthood for a few moments.
“Here are my checkbook, my car keys, my credit card, my bills, my 401k statement. Because you know what? You’ll have to catch me first!  Because tag! You’re it!” I’d like to tag you into the magic of play by inviting you to join in.
Join us at the Resiliency Center for a workshop. From laughter yoga, movement, writing workshops, or our new Fun Therapy Happy Hour, we offer something for all types of players. Check out the helpful links and books below for a plethora of ideas of ways to play in every day life. 

Vanessa Mortillo MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor that provides individual and group therapy to youth and young adults. Utilizing mindfulness, expressive arts, and play therapy modalities, she harnesses creativity and imagination in the service of growth and healing. Specialties include children and teens, mindfulness groups, play therapy, and expressive arts. Contact her at (267) 507-5793 or