PLAY THERAPY AND NEUROSCIENCE
''From the first moments of our lives, we exist within a complex matrix of social relationships. This elaborate social relatedness is organised and controlled by neural networks of bonding and attachment, play, predicting others intentions and being able too see the world through others eyes.''
-Dr Louis Cozolino (1953-)
Understanding our brain development is very important in play therapy. Therefore, it is vital to include some information about our brain development in this section.
There are three parts of our brain: the brainstem, the limbic system and the cortex. The brainstem starts developing in uterus and matures during the first year of life. It operates bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Neglect, abuse and repeated traumatic experiences cause dysregulation in brainstem therefore children experience sleep difficulties, sensory and integration problems, and appetite disturbances. Children are able to re-organise this part of their brain by being provided a predictable environment.
Emotional reactions and attachment are organised in the limbic system. Limbic system matures during childhood and is operated by amygdale which assesses and responds to some our strong emotions, such as aggression or fear. If the development of the limbic system is interrupted, children display attachment problems and are unable to regulate their emotions. The limbic system can be re-structured through a repeated, positive, safe and nurturing relationship.
The cortex (fully develops in the early adulthood) is the most advanced part of our brain. It is responsible for our cognitive development. The development of cortex is significantly depended on the other parts of our brain. If its development is disrupted, children experience difficulties in their impulse control and learning. Accessing to the cortex is easy and can be modified through verbal input.
Early attachment is crucial which effects on the right brain regulatory systems. This is developed in babyhood through primary care giver's attuned, rhythmic, repetitive and reciprocal interactions with her infant. Children who misses those interactions in their early life are able to restore their attachment issues through play therapy.
This is proved by research that released high level of stress hormones damages neurons that are responsible of our memory, conscious processing and stress response system. Play therapy helps children to deal with their stress and makes them calmer. Play therapy enables children to release oxytocin, opioids and prolactin hormones in their brain system. These systems deal with their aggressive and anxious feelings, and strength their physical and emotional well-being.
In the therapeutic relationship, the calm presence of the therapist activates mirror neurons which helps children to regulate their emotions. In play therapy environment, children learn to accept their own negative emotions and life experiences; begin to face up with their difficult emotional states and painful experiences; and are able to create some coping strategies for their issues.
(PGDip Play Therapy, MA Therapeutic Play)