Theresa Kestly, PhD
Wednesday 8th August
Willunga Waldorf School Library

Most people believe that play is something children do just to relax or to fill time when there is nothing more important to do. We know that play is good for children’s development, and sometimes some of us adults even allow ourselves to play a little when we can spare the time. But play may be more important than we think according to some neuroscientists who are now engaging in the research and study of play. I actually had to rethink what play means to me as a result of witnessing several sacred ceremonies of Native Americans where clowns played a crucial role. Not long after that experience, I began to study play more seriously as I tried to articulate why play therapy can be healing for children who are anxious or have been traumatized. In this brief talk, we will explore these ideas and take a look at what scientists are saying about this topic. Jaak Panksepp, known for his laboratory studies of play circuitry in the brain, believed that studying play could very well lead us to a Science of Joy. Barbara Fredrickson, in her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPLab) at the University of North Carolina, shows us the data on improved immune systems as a result of positivity practices that include relational play. The designers of Lego Serious PlayTM (LSPTM), a problem-solving modality for adults only (business people, engineers and architects) also believe that play, along with storytelling, is serious business. Stephen Porges, internationally acclaimed neuroscientist, describes how play is used by the nervous system to heal the dysregulation of trauma. From these perspectives, we are learning that relational play helps us to solve problems and to become effective adults without losing our joy for life. How might we invite more of this relational play into our educational and mental health settings and into our adult lives with the special bonus of improving our physical health as well? Play may well be an important antidote to Western societies that have become biased toward left-centric mental processing. Maybe with a Science of Joy we might find a new path forward.

Theresa Kestly, PhD is a psychologist, educator, consultant and a registered play therapist/supervisor with the Association for Play Therapy. She is author of the The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play: Brain-Building Interventions for Well-Being, part of the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology. She maintains a private practice with specialties in play therapy and sand tray therapy in Corrales, New Mexico for children, adults, families, couples, and small groups. Theresa served as a senior staff psychologist at the Albuquerque Family and Child Guidance Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she specialized in child, adolescent and family therapy, consultations with the Indian Health Service, and consultations with the Albuquerque Public Schools. She supervised psychology, counseling and psychiatry trainees as an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Mexico. Theresa served as the first president of the New Mexico Association for Play Therapy. She is the founder and director of the Sand Tray Training Institute of New Mexico in Corrales, New Mexico where she provides large-group seminars and small-group intensive training for psychotherapists in child and adult sand tray therapy.