When supporting families, we talk about how parenting is like trying to sail a ship on a steady course. Covid-19 has made steadying that ship nearly impossible. While navigating our own ships through the choppy waters of family life during lockdown, our thoughts quickly turned to our clients.
Clients that come to us do so to acquire the tools, skills and resources to thrive and many see us as a lifeline or life raft, particularly when additional stress makes life more combative. Without life rafts of their own, we knew we needed to find a way to continue our support.
With video-conferencing all the rage, we apprehensively researched how, and whether, we could use the technology for socially-distanced sessions. It was then that we stumbled upon telehealth a blueprint for providing distanced health and wellbeing services which was already being used by the NHS. We were intrigued, but sceptical.
Theraplay® is about connection and relies heavily on touch and its powerful capacity to facilitate co-regulation. We could be playful online, but we wondered whether those ‘now moments’ when the neural circuits open to new relational possibilities would still happen.
The Theraplay® Institute led the way in encouraging therapists to consider moving online to remain open to meet families. To support our clients, we decided to ‘give it a go’. Without the safety and support of a training room to refine our practice, as usual, my colleagues and I at Beacon enlisted the help of our own families as we played out the roles of parents and therapists during practice online therapy sessions. The experience of Theraplay® as a parent was new to me and I felt anxious about what might come up considering how much the everyday juggle of staying healthy, home-schooling, running a business, etc. was taking a toll on family life. As it turns out, the joyful, ‘in the moment’, connection – though facilitated online – was exactly what we all needed.
With the concept tried and tested, since lockdown we have been working regularly with families online. It does present its challenges but the benefits for our clients far outweighs any minor problems we may have in adapting our business model.
For our virtual meeting in May we wanted to share our learning with our colleagues in the peer support group we run for Theraplay® practitioners based in the West Midlands. For the meeting, I asked colleagues to bring their children along. During the meeting, we led a session where we tried out Theraplay® activities online. It was great to see how much the children loved the social connectedness between our screens and to feel the power, and possibility, in the room with our children. Again, the connectedness we all experienced within the online session was exactly what we needed in these uncertain times.
As therapists, we know our families need us now more than ever. Through this pandemic, we are finding the confidence and developing new skills in order to innovate within our practice. While we don’t know when we will be able to resume sessions in the room and online delivery of therapy is new and our evidence base is slim, our peer support group now feel capable of crewing life rafts to offer support to families struggling in the choppy waters of family life.
For more information about the West Midlands Theraplay® Peer Support Group, hosted by Beacon Family Services, a not-for-profit based in Birmingham UK, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The quarterly group is free for professionals at all levels of Theraplay® training.