With a mini-circus tent, a play kitchen, a doll house, costumes, teddy bears and a comfy-looking purple couch, the brand new room at Niles Family Services looks like a kids' play paradise.
Except it's not.
"This is not a playroom. This is a child therapy room, to help kids deal with what they're dealing with through play," said Seth Knoble, Niles Family Services director.
He was speaking last week at the official opening of the room, which Family Services therapists use to help children from infancy through middle school age.
Knoble had words of gratitude for Rich Casey, vice president of Skokie Hospital, and Seema Terry, the hospital's manager of community relations, who came for the occasion. The that normally would have been spent on holiday presents from their employer.
"We used to do a holiday gift for employees, but they recognized that if we could pool the money and give it to the community, that would be more meaningful than some little chotchki,'" Casey said.
Therapy through play
Because everything children, especially young children, do is play, the therapists--two full- and three part-time-- will use play to help them work through issues.
"Let's say we ask a kid to make breakfast (in the play kitchen) and he throws a cup on the floor. That could give us insight into what's happening at home," Knoble said.
"Or if he doesn't want the dolls to go to sleep. Why not?"
Children who have been abused may tear off dolls' limbs or take off their clothes and play with them naked, he said.
Or, if a child is drawing a picture of his family and the dad is not in it, that gives therapists a picture into how the child perceives the family.
Talk therapy doesn't reach kids
Therapist Cheryl Meltzer and Knoble made the point that kids often don't know how to explain in words what's happening in their lives.
"Play is kids' language," said Meltzer. "With adults it would be through talking."
Older kids might feel comfortable talking while playing a game of Connect 4 or Sorry, they said.
The room is also stocked with therapeutic games, which help kids to describe emotions or feelings.
Therapists can also take children to play billiards downstairs from the Niles Family Services offices (in the Niles Senior Center), or to the playground or basketball court at Culver School next door.
"It opens up a more relaxing atmosphere. But this room is our trophy, because of you guys," he said, nodding at the Skokie Hospital representatives.
A two-way mirror on one wall of the room allows supervisors to observe, in order to confer with therapists to help the child clients. Sometimes, therapists will also let parents observe behind the mirror, or they may use it to help parents refocus on their kids.
The balance of the $10,000 gift that remained after the play therapy room was completed went to provide emergency funding for financially-threatened residents, Knoble added. It was used to prevent shut-offs of their utilities.