Medical Play Sessions
for children 2-12 years
Medical play is a common play-based intervention that is used by Child Life Specialists within paediatric hospitals. It is used to assess a child's understanding of their medical experiences, to play out difficult experiences from a place of agency and control, to normalize and process medical experiences, and to correct any misunderstandings about what happened and why.
Sometimes children can go through stressful medical experiences brought on by illness or diagnostic tests, immunizations or hospitalization. When they're over, we want to forget they ever happened! Unfortunately, our bodies can remember the stress and fear that those experienced caused and it can take some time for the body to return to it's baseline state of rest and digest. For children, this may look like having new fears, separation anxiety, big emotions/meltdowns, developmental regression, or behavioural changes. When this happens, play can be a powerful tool for assessing children's understanding, correcting misconceptions, and healing the emotional wounding that took place.
Why Choose Medical Play?
Medical appointments, hospitalizations, lab visits, immunizations, and frequent or chronic illness can be difficult for kids for a variety of reasons that are unique to each child. Medical play allows them to play out their distress with support from a place of agency and control, normalizing the experience and working through the parts that cause distress. These session are helpful for any child who has experienced stressful medical experiences.
Medical play can also be helpful when a sibling, parent, friend or family member is receiving medical treatment or experiencing frequent hospitalizations. Medical play with a Child Life Specialist can provide you with an assessment of how much a child understands what is happening, and can support children with developmentally-appropriate information, coping skills, and expressive opportunities to process their experiences.
What to Expect
A Medical Play appointment requires a 30 minute initial intake session, over the phone or virtually on a day prior to the play session, in order to talk about your family's needs and goals. Following the intake session, a 30 minute in-person play session can be booked.
Sessions are personalized to your child and the available activities will vary depending on the age of the child and their unique needs and context. However, sessions are typically open-ended and child-directed and may include playing with toy and real medical tools with a stuffy or a doll, reading a book about medical experiences, sensory activities, and expressive art experiences. Parents or caregivers are welcome to stay to observe and participate in the session!
Personalized recommendations for supporting coping at home will be provided by email following the play session.
Children may only require one session of medical play, or you may find that multiple sessions are needed. The number of sessions will be determined by your family's needs and goals and desires. Often observing a medical play session and receiving personalized recommendations will be enough to help you to support your child at home.
Sessions may be covered by your extended health insurance. Please check with your provider to learn about your personal coverage for working with a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
Nicki also runs regular Teddy Bear Clinics at This World's Ours Centre on Main Street in Vancouver. These clinics are open-ended medical play-based groups for children to explore with their caregiver.