Play Hard at Work: Emotional and Mental Well-Being at the USAF



May has been an exciting and interesting month with the Strategic Play team. We have been flying off to Japan and also New Mexico to work with the USAF Chaplains, Religious Affairs personnel, and other mental health workers. These individuals dedicate themselves to finding new ways of addressing issues related to the negative effects of serving and protecting, while simultaneously working as a critical part of the overall Department of Defense.


We have also been honored to work with the Family and Airman Readiness programs in various parts of Florida, as well as with the educators at the USAF Squadron Officer School in Alabama.


This month, we were in Okinawa, Japan, at Kadena Air Base, and in Clovis, New Mexico, working with folks at Cannon Air Base.


We shared the news about the power of play, specifically how it can be used to address complex mental health issues such as PTSD and moral injury. Not only do airmen leave their families for extended periods, but they have to do some of the most physically and emotionally taxing work; it can be very difficult for individuals to make sense of it in retrospect.


Research identifies that when people share stories and feel others are hearing and understanding them, this helps to offset negative emotional effects. One of the most powerful ways for humans to share their stories is by thinking in 3D by building models. They can then share their stories by using their models as metaphors, creating shortcuts to language. This methodology is closely associated with the practice of art therapy because it is directive in nature; this is in contrast to play therapy, which is non-directive.


And yes, this is hard play.


But it is also very rewarding, because it provides a concrete medium—the physical model—as well as an abstract medium—the metaphor—that allows the storyteller to share their narrative at their own pace. At the same time, the others are hearing, understanding, and absorbing information at a deeper level. This sets the stage for empathy, forgiveness, and healing. 


Our journey this month has underscored the vital importance of innovative approaches in fostering emotional and mental well-being among USAF personnel. The power of play, with its unique ability to build connections and facilitate deep understanding, has proven to be a remarkable tool in addressing the mental health challenges faced by service members. We are inspired by the resilience and openness of those we've had the honor to work with, and we remain committed to supporting their journey towards healing. Together, through creativity and compassion, we can continue to build a stronger, more empathetic community of practitioners armed with LEGO® SERIOUS  PLAY® methods.



  • 5/15/2024 1:20:41 PM
  • Jacqueline Lloyd Smith
  • 0
  • Leadership

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