Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Neuro-Biology of Play

Originally posted on February 10, 2016

I have an interest in play, and I just encountered news of a book, The Inter-personal Neurobiology of Play: Nurturing brain development in children through play, by Theresa A. Kestly, who is a sand-play therapist and teacher in New Mexico. She updates our understanding of the natural ways play promotes maturity in children. (My point is that grown-ups need to learn some of these things too, because we all need them!)

Kestly’s book blurb (on the internet) says: “The mental health field has seen a significant shift in the past decade toward including a neuroscience perspective when designing clinical interventions. However, for many play therapists it has been challenging to apply this information in the context of play therapy. Here, Dr. Kestly teaches therapists how to understand the neurobiology of play experiences so the undeniable benefits of play therapy can be exploited to their fullest. (The book blurb goes on:)

“At last, clinical readers have a book that takes seriously the importance of play and brings a scientific eye to this most important aspect of life. Drawing on concepts of interpersonal neurobiology, the benefits of play interventions to achieve attunement, neural integration, healthy attachment, and the development of resilience and well-being become clear.

The book is organized into three parts. The first part lays a conceptual foundation for considering play in relation to the neurobiology of the developing brain and mind. The next part explores specific topics about play including the therapeutic playroom, the collaborative relationship between therapist and clients, storytelling, and mindfulness. The last part of the book asks questions about the state of play in our families, clinics, and schools. How did we get to a place where play has been so devalued, and what can we do about it? Now that we know how important play is across the lifespan from a scientific standpoint, what can we do to fully integrate it into our lives?

After reading this book, clinicians, teachers, and even parents will understand why play helps children (and adults) heal from painful experiences, while developing self-regulation and empathy. The clinical examples in the book show just how powerful the mind is in its natural push toward wholeness and integration.”

My (Adam Blatner’s) comments: I’m dealing with adults more than kids! Play is by no means restricted to childhood. Rather, the phenomenon of play is a feature or potential of mind—mind at any age! It’s about the loosening of categories of thought in the service of creativity.

Children do this naturally because their categories are still malleable. But adults need this too! We live in an era where the capacity of people to tune in or tap into their creativity is more valued than ever. And elders need to break out of habitual patterns and dare to imagine new horizons. Whether healthy and retired or beginning to “lose it,” aspects of play offer many benefits. Midlife adults will also find these activities liberating and fun, and the dramatic method of improvisation is a natural vehicle that replaces the reigning norm of competition as a mode of being-in-the world.)

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