All Things Play Therapy
Last month, we celebrated National Play Therapy Week. Play therapy is a mis- or, perhaps little understood mode of counseling. It really does just look like we are playing with toys, and some people wonder what exactly it is that we do. That is the reason for play therapy week! It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate and to share with others the research and training that goes into play therapy.
Whenever I speak with a prospective client, they always ask the same question: “What exactly is play therapy?” My short response is that it is just like talk therapy, but instead of words we use toys. Admittedly, that isn’t really all there is to it. There are so many types of play therapy and even more play therapists. Like traditional talk therapy, we each have different training and all put our unique spin on it.
The minimum training for a play therapist is the education and experience required for them to practice as a clinician, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor (or some version of that). In that case, we refer to them as counselors that use play therapy techniques. Now keep in mind, to achieve the title Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), you need a master’s in counseling, you must pass two exams for licensure, and finally you complete 3000 clinical supervision hours after the degree and tests are done, so counselors who use play therapy techniques have significant training.
Others choose to focus on play therapy as a specialty and become a Registered Play Therapist (RPT). This is in no way needed to use play therapy techniques in counseling; however, for those that choose to pursue this designation, there is an additional 150 hours of course work and 500 hours of clinical supervision.
So now that you know how to become a play therapist, you are still probably wondering what exactly play therapy is. Play therapy is conducted in a play room, and that play room is stocked with toys chosen specifically for therapy. These toys are used to help kids that may not be able to completely understand or identify their feelings, a safe way to express thoughts and emotions. This is not an overnight process. Like all therapy, getting to know and trust your therapist takes time. Once kids are comfortable, they invite the play therapist into their world of play and begin to open up. Speaking as a play therapist, this is a truly amazing experience.
Again, just like traditional talk therapy, there are many different types of play therapy, and it is important to work with a play therapist that is well trained in a few of them. Each child and family have unique needs, and we select the type of play therapy based on those needs. When it comes to play therapy, one size absolutely does not fit all.
Many play therapists use child-centered play therapy techniques, and these are wonderful for kids that need a sense of control or are experiencing stress/ anxiety. Child-Centered Play Therapy is exactly what the title implies; it centers entirely on the child. This therapy is child-led and provides an opportunity for kids to feel in control and empowered.
The opposite, of course is a more counselor-led play therapy session, and Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy (CBPT) is just that. Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy has set activities and techniques that are used in a play therapy setting.
Autplay is a specialized approach to play therapy for kids with Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, behavioral struggles, and developmental disorders. Autplay is a research based method that can be very effective. AutPlay Therapy Focuses on Four Target (component) Areas: a) Increasing Emotional Regulation Ability, b) Increasing Social Skills Development, c) Increasing Connection (Relationship Development), and d) Parent Training. Being certified as an Autplay Therapy Provider requires additional training.
While there are many types of play therapy that I won’t get a chance to cover here, I want to make sure I highlight those that are most frequently used and that I find most beneficial for families. One of my favorite methods is Filial Play Therapy. While it has an incredibly weird name, it is truly a transformative experience for kids and families. Filial is play therapy for the whole family! It begins with training parents on basic play therapy skills. Then we have play therapy sessions in the play room with both parent and child. They interact in the same way a play therapist and client would, and it really enhances family relationships. Finally, after these counseling center based sessions, therapy is moved to the home. The parent and child set aside weekly play time, and they continue to use these skills well after professional therapy ends. While there are too many benefits of Filial Play Therapy to list, what I like most about it is that it really strengthens relationships, gives parents and children a new way to communicate and interact, and gives families skills that they can use for a lifetime.
While these are just a few of the many types of play therapy available, these are the ones that are most frequently needed for kids and families.
I chose to write this blog entry, not just because we recently celebrated National Play Therapy Week, but also to help families understand exactly what play therapy is. It can be scary to take your child to a counselor and blindly trust that they are doing what is best for your child and family, especially when you’re not entirely sure what that is. I encourage families to learn more about play therapy and all that it has to offer.
Play therapy has so many measurable and positive outcomes. Play therapy helps families build strong relationships, improves behavior, supports families during divorce or separation, helps children and families with disabilities, strengthens bonds during the adoption process, and much more. Play therapy is as diverse as the needs of families, and I would love to share more about it with you.
Lisa Savinon is special education teacher and counselor.