One Way UK: Using Puppets in Carehomes and Hospices





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Written by Rev. Terrie Stott

In my work at the Hospice I used my puppets for both work with children and adult patients. With both the children and adults I made the puppets into special friends who came to visit to listen to any concerns that they might have. They gave the puppet a name (don't forget to write the name down) and the puppet would visit on a regular basis to listen to what the person had to say. The puppet does not have a voice but can indicate that they are listening, concerned, happy, by movement and expression.  I used separate puppets for non-individual work so that there was no confusion. Puppets can also be used to sit with people who are poorly and hold their hand or stroke their head arm etc. for comfort. I found that there was no need for speech as most people just wanted the company and would talk to the puppet without wanting a reply.

The times I did use the puppets with speech was in counselling sessions with young people, where the ideal is to kneel on the floor with the puppet in front of you, your head is bowed so that the face of the puppet is in front of the young person. The puppet asks questions using your voice and the child speaks to the puppet. It is important that you have someone to collect the young person so that you don't move until after the session has finished, it is the puppet that is in charge.

I have on occasions used a puppet with a dying child as someone who can interact with the young person on a level of just being there able to have a cuddle and listen to their concerns. Puppets are great at letting mum and dad hear what the young person's concerns are, especially if the young person does not want to hurt the parents or make them sad. Sometimes it's good to leave the puppet with the family; they have reported back that interaction was wonderful and moving for all of them.

I now work in a gated village for the elderly and I have used the puppets with the adults here in group sessions where each person has a puppet and the whole group tell a communal story going from one person to the next. We have also had sessions where the puppets become the voice of each person to share concerns or feelings that they would like to share. It is important to have confidentiality within these sessions.

I have also used the puppets here to visit people who are dying to give comfort in the same way as they did in the hospice situation.

The greatest thrill where I am is the use of puppets with people who have any form of dementia. There is a moment often in this work where the person connects with the puppet as a memory and they talk about the past, or they are reminded of a feeling which makes them happy or sad. This work with people suffering from dementia need to be done with puppets who can show facial  expressions or movement as it is important that they are able to reflect what the person is saying or doing and react to them. The only word of warning is that you may have to deal with how you feel in such an emotionally charged atmosphere. Using puppets with group work with people who are suffering with dementia is great as you can talk about the past, sing, dance, and tell stories and people do react to the stimulus of having ‘little people' interacting with them.

Puppets are a tool which can open many doors which would be closed to human interaction with both the ill, the dying and those with deep emotional problems. For me it has been a great privilege.

The challenge is in allowing the puppets to interact with people and for you as a puppeteer to take a supporting role.

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