Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Play Class: Update

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 2, 2012

My class is called the “Clinical Practicum,” but I would like to rename it the “Play Class.” I love that I am teaching students, hovering thirty, with so much education under their belts (along with huge debt), and yet we are talking about how to play, both for our own enjoyment and for the therapeutic benefit of our patients of all ages. We lament together how play has somehow gotten lost in our society of overscheduled children and adults. “What happened to the public schools?” One student asked. This seemed to be the central question. With parents extremely anxious about where their child goes to school, has come a pressure on children to justify the additional effort of either a private school or a public school which is a burden geographically. Now that most children are driven to school, this creates a dependency on adults in which the child is then driven to after-school activities. The social norm, at least in West LA, seems to dictate that if the child is not learning a new language, involved in a sport, and learning an instrument, then he/she is somehow going to suffer as he/she enters into the “real world.” “We need to remind parents that children need play time to expand their imaginations and develop creativity.” I say firmly and repeatedly. “Yes, but we don’t have time to do that with our fifteen minute appointments,” they respond with frustration. “Yes, so we need to lobby for more time with patients.” I say, again, feeling argumentative, even though we are all on the same page. “There are not enough child psychiatrists to play with all the children that need our help,” another student says. “Yes, that is true, but we can promote the value of play such that we can help other professionals play with children in a therapeutic manner.” I say, alluding to the idea that our job needs to be much broader than psychopharmacology. The class ends with what I call “positive frustration.” We all want to see the field change. We all want to play with our patients.

4 Responses to “Play Class: Update”

  1. Jon said

    Two themes from previous posts reemerge here – play and a triple constraint.

    Play is fundamentally important to emotional well being and growth. The classical triple constraint so often found in engineering of time/money/performance is, unsurprisingly, rearing its ugly head once again in the modern practices of psychiatry.

    How one solves triple constraint issues is always a matter of art, finesse, and elegance. This is where the skill of the practitioner is honed and mastery can be achieved. The best of luck as your students travel the well trodden path form apprentice to master craftsman.

    • Thanks, Jon for synthesizing my posts. For the “triple constraint” to stay relevant, child psychiatrists must hold the “performance” or the play aspect of therapeutic intervention in high-esteem. This is the goal of my teaching. Stay tuned. Thanks Again.

  2. Shelly said

    I am a little confused by this post. What does the reference to public schools have to do with overscheduled children if the overscheduling comes afterwards, in the child’s “free time?” And do you not use “play time” in your office as a therapeutic tool to speak with children who are too young to articulate feelings and experiences otherwise? So how do these two themes merge in this particular blog? Are you saying that you cannot do your jobs effectively in the 15 minutes of each appointment you’ve been allotted? So how does that have to do with society’s norms?

    • I understand your confusion. I was trying to make the point that once parents invest in private schools, then their relationship with their child changes such that at this point, there is greater pressure on parents and kids to “maximize” their time by scheduling many activities in order to make a child look good on an application to middle school and then to college. I am guessing that the decrease in the quality of public education has contributed to this increase pressure on younger and younger children. I see how I did not make that clear, since I am beginning to formulate these ideas. The pressure on kids has decreased their play time, such that it is my strong opinion that as child psychiatrists we need to remind both our patients and society at large that children need unstructured time to play and explore and they also need structured time to work on the basic building blocks of independence, such as reading. Society has made children into machines, and so we need to remind people that play is a useful endeavor for development, particularly for creativity and innovation. Thanks.

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