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All Work? No Way!: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

I learned a great lesson about play this week in a presentation focused on helping kids heal from trauma. I immediately realized how much the lesson also could be applied to the healing process for adult men (and women too).

Now, I’m a pretty serious guy. I generally don’t like most games. My work is focused on trauma, and recovery and violence, and understanding the connections between the three. Maybe, oddly, I find it fascinating and exciting to learn new insights about trauma. I spent 15 years as a child-protection social worker; have worked as a sexual abuse-prevention advocate and as a facilitator of groups for men involved in intimate partner violence.  My focus now, at 1in6, is on adult men who experienced sexual abuse as boys.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I see myself as pretty happy. I love the life I have, my family and friends. But I’m not really what you’d call “the life of the party.” 

And this “play” stuff…..well. Yeah. Sure. You bet!

So it was in my “serious” role as a board member of an organization that serves kids in the public foster care system, that I heard Steve Gross, talk about play.  And, oh, oh. Something shifted!

Gross has devoted his life to building resiliency in children whose lives have been deeply impacted by trauma.  He worked at the Trauma Center in Boston (founded by Bessel van der Kolk) and is now the executive director and Chief Playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation. That’s right—“Life is Good”—the t-shirt and hat people. Who knew?

In a brief presentation, he helped me begin to understand the power of playfulness for all of us, young and old. He explained that the healing quality of “playfulness” lies, not in the particular activity you do, but in what you bring to whatever activity you do, whether it’s work, or leisure or restoring a healthy life. He recommends bringing optimism and joy.

“Trauma is about overwhelming fear, trauma is about frozen action, trauma is about helplessness, trauma is about the loss or about the deepest violation of trust,’ he said. “And then one day I realized, why am I focusing so much on trauma, when the antidote to trauma is joy, when the antidote to trauma is playfulness.”

Even the process of healing from adversity, pain and disruptions can become joyful, he says, if it’s approached with playfulness. 

So he has trained thousands of teachers and social workers and childcare providers all around the world to use play to instill safety, confidence and compassion in children who have experienced trauma.

And in the short time he spoke, I began to realize that those of us who grew up with childhood trauma before Gross came on the scene, can still apply his wisdom to our recovery and healing as adults. 

– By Peter Pollard

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Peter Pollard is the Professional Relations & Communications Director for 1in6, Inc. Peter previously worked for 15 years as a state, child-protection social worker and was the Public Education director at Stop It Now! Since 2003, he has served as the Western Massachusetts coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and also does work for a Certified Batterers Intervention Program. See Peter’s portrait in The Bristlecone Project exhibit.