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The role of the Play Therapist


Play Therapist Laura Budden has been working at the Prep School for the past 8 years as part of the pastoral care team. Here she tells us about her important role at Kent College.

"I have worked in the field of mental health for 27 years, starting as a Nursery Nurse and Play Therapist on a Mother and Baby Unit. From there I trained in mental health and in 1994 qualified as an Integrative Therapist within the NHS. Ten years ago I went into the private sector as a Therapy Services Manager. I joined Kent College Pembury part-time in 2008.

Kent College Pembury believes that an emotionally happy and confident child will have the capacity to learn better and achieve more. We aim to help them achieve this by offering support through each developmental stage of their growth, either as a school, group or (where needed) through individual sessions. I see girls for various issues; there are general everyday challenges such as friendships, confidence, self-esteem and anxiety, as well as significant issues with the family setting e.g bereavement, divorce etc.

I work with my therapy dog Olive who has been with me for 4 years. She is integral to the work I do as she helps engage the girls and break down barriers by building a therapeutic relationship. Obviously if a girl does not like dogs then Olive will not be involved in the sessions, however this has not happened yet!

A lot of the work I do is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) based where the girls are given psychological tools to use to instigate change in their thinking and behaviour in order to achieve a positive outcome in dealing with their problems. As they develop, the girls will carry these tools with them, in order to manage future issues.

I also promote the use of mindfulness to encourage girls to stay ‘in the moment’ and to enjoy the 'now' rather than worrying about the future or the past. Olive is great for this as she demonstrates mindfulness and 'living in the moment'.

For the girls who are too young to use 'talking therapy' or girls who struggle to express themselves emotionally, I will use play therapy which enables them to express their problems through a range of media such as sand play, painting, dolls and puppets. Using these ‘tools’ are enjoyable for the girls to engage with, as they are non-threatening and allow them to express themselves via a third party.

Giving the girls the opportunity to walk Olive plays a number of roles; girls talk more freely when outside and walking and they learn to be assertive by giving instructions and taking control of the dog which requires them to be confident.

Equally, as Olive is known throughout the Prep and Senior school a number of girls will come up to make a fuss of her and will interact, requiring the girl walking Olive to socially engage with a wide range of girls of all ages, enhancing their social skills and confidence with all age groups. I am able to assess the child’s abilities to read the needs of the dog and show empathy and understanding. This is important as the way they interact with Olive can often mirror their behaviour in friendships. Often girls struggling with friendship issues will have the most difficulty in recognising Olive's needs, finding it difficult to share meeting their needs with that of the dog. For example, when a child is playing with Olive they are so busy doing what they want to do, they often misread that the dog is not engaging with them and wants to do something entirely different.

Observing the girl’s interactions with the dog and other girls allows me to gauge their emotional and social developmental stage which will enable me to work on specific areas appropriate to their emotional understanding.

I am also involved in delivering aspects of the PHSE curriculum, usually around friendship issues, assertiveness and confidence building. I work closely with the teachers so that the topics dealt with in the sessions can be supported within the classroom and school as a whole, ensuring that the girls get a consistent message from everyone."

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