February 5, 2019

While most of you were watching the Super Bowl, play therapists around the country were beginning their annual celebrations of National Play Therapy Week (February 3-9).   

National Play Therapy Week always sneaks up on me.  I know about it and yet, I ALWAYS forget.  And many of my friends and colleagues have been planning great events, activities and giveaways.  And I didn't plan anything. 

So, in the spirit of a playful week, I thought I would create another fun GIF-based article about play therapy. 

What is play therapy? 

The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained Play Therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development,".

If you are working with kids, it is the BEST way I have found to engage them in a way that truly meets them exactly where they are. 

What do play therapists believe? 

It seems counterintuitive to say this, but play therapists believe that children are amazing just they way they are.  We accept them, problems and all, with no expectations for change.

That may seem odd to parents or teachers who refer children to play therapy because of their behavioral or emotional challenges.  But one of the main principles of child-centered play therapy is that we focus more on the person than the problem. 

We accept the child exactly as they are.  Most play therapists believe that children are more than just a list of negative behaviors. These beliefs and attitudes are often based on Dr. Garry Landreth's child centered play therapy theories and principles. 

What do Play Therapists DO?

Honestly, I don't typically ask questions like this!  Play therapists do all sorts of things when working with children, adolescents, and families so it is hard to describe what we do in a single sentence. 

Play therapy include observing and engaging in pretend play, playing board games or digital games,  doing art, working in the sand, drawing, and also being silent when needed.

Play therapists follow a child's lead.  We use a variety of toys and materials, but focus on building a relationship with a child in which the child feels seen, heard and accepted.  

When Should You Consider Play Therapy for Your Child? 

If you are concerned about your child, then NOW would be a good time to receive play therapy services.  Often, people are told that children ages 3-11 are ideal candidates for play therapy; however, the truth is that play therapists are working with individuals of all ages!

Play therapists are helping parents/caregivers of babies to bond, play, and attune to their babies needs.  AND, we are working with teenagers and young adults using art, clay, sand, and games.  AND, we are working with adults. And couples. And even older adults with dementia.  

So, when is the best time to start play therapy? If you or your child is struggling, then now would be a good time to start services!   To find a play therapist near you, consult the play therapist directory here.  

How Do You Become a Play Therapist?

The Association for Play Therapy confers the credentials for Registered Play Therapists. You can see the full requirements here

But, the short version is that you need some specific graduate level courses, an independent clinical license in your state, play therapy specific continuing education hours, play therapy specific clinical practice and supervision.   

If you are receiving play therapy services, don't be afraid to ask your therapist about their training and experience. 

Why Do I Love Play Therapy?

I love play therapy because it is a truly magical combination of art and science. Play therapy is based on foundational theories and principles. These principles have been researched and studied. 

So, it's not MAGIC. I'm not saying that we are using some special potions or even that we have a specific set of activities that we whip out to make children behave.  Play therapists have sound theory to base their actions on.  We are not "just playing." 

But, when children with vibrant personalities come to see you, they bring a unique dynamic to the relationship that is formed with a play therapist.  And a play therapist that is able to communicate through play is witness to this really cool environment where words are not necessary.  

And so even though we are not focused on behaviors and problems, they do start to change.  Children start to feel better about themselves and that part feels a little magical to me.  

If you want to learn more about play therapy techniques and theories, please subscribe to the mailing list.

About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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