My Love for the Annual Play Therapy Conference (in GIF's)

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have been a Registered Play Therapist for almost ten years and have never been able to attend the biggest play therapy conference in the country...until 2018.

This conference is hosted by the Association for Play Therapy, the place to start for all things play therapy related. This year the annual conference was located in Phoenix, Arizona and brought a crowd of about 1100 mental health professionals and clinicians.  

It was one of the most fun professional experiences of my life.

 *Please note, that I do not represent or speak for the Association for Play Therapy, or any of its members in any official capacity. This blog reflects my personal experience and is designed to communicate how much fun I had at the conference.  I have nothing but love and respect for this community!

Check out my experience in GIF form...


Arriving in Phoenix for the Play Therapy Conference

Phoenix is a beautiful city.  The conference committee and organizers made a great choice here.  I was amazed at how unbelievably CLEAN it was.  The weather was perfect and the city and hotel staff  at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix were friendly and helpful.

 I really enjoyed this location as the venue for the 2018 conference. 

Walking into the Exhibition Hall and seeing Vendor Displays

Walking into the vendor exhibition hall was totally overwhelming in the best possible way.  There were so many things to buy (sand trays, sand tray miniatures, sand tray sand, books, toys, stuffed animals, etc).  

 I made myself wait until Day 2 to actually buy anything, and tried to remember Dr. Garry Landreth's rule that "Toys should be selected, not collected" as a method of restraint. But, my carry-on suit case definitely came home a few pounds heavier than it was when I left. 

My favorite products were Kennedy's Minis, the Mini-Meebie and the Sootheze puppy. (no affiliate links, just a happy customer!)

But,  the selection of books (and the book signings) really showcases the KNOWLEDGE base that the field of play therapy has! I was able to snag a signed copy of the Magic Rainbow Hug by Dr. Janet Courtney.

And, I left with a big list of books to order (next time, I am CHECKING a bag instead of just having a carry-on!). 

Meeting Play Therapy Legends in Real Life

There is nothing like sitting next to one of the most esteemed people in your chosen profession  in a conference workshop and having that person be the most down-to-earth and friendly person in the world.   Or having a little chat with someone that you admire and respect in the elevator or in the lobby.  

Then, when you add the opportunity to learn from them in person as part of the conference agenda, it really is jaw-dropping.  

Attending The Workshops

I know that I made THIS actual face so many times during the workshops that I attended!  I have pages of notes and a list of some very specific things that I learned that I am going to start implementing THIS week.  

If you wondering what those things are, I will say that they involve addressing culture in the sandtray, writing better treatment plans, and evaluating play therapy video sessions in a much better way.  (Those are just my TOP 3.)

Hanging with Old Play Therapy Friends

I am very blessed to know play therapists from all over the country.  I rarely get to see them (and many I never actually hugged in real life before this conference).  To say that I was excited to see them is an understatement!  

I also witnessed the reunions of so many friends and that was also such a fun sight.  This is really a great community of people and it brings an energy to the conference that I have not experienced in other events. 

* Don't worry - if you don't have "old friends" to meet at the conference, they had several networking dinners were you could easily make new friends! 

Meeting New Play Therapy Friends

Speaking of meeting new friends and networking - I was also introduced to SO MANY new people.   Again, realizing how many very talented people exist in our field and getting a chance to swap workshop tips, hear about products or just life tricks.

One of my new friends taught me about the Marco Polo app, which was a great tool for keeping in touch with my kids while I was away and really helped my #momguilt about being away from my little ones for the first time ever. 

Doing the APT Conference Scavenger Hunt

Okay, so I thought this was genius!! In the conference app (yes, they had an app for the conference!), there was a photo scavenger hunt where you had to take pictures of all sorts of things (someone from another country, a picture from above, someone doing a handstand, etc).  

It was so much fun. And, it gave me a perfect excuse to politely approach people that I wanted to talk to and ask for a photo and share a little conversation.  I really enjoyed it and it was a great icebreaker experience. 

The APT After Party

Full disclosure: The After-Party was not in a car and there were no celebrity sightings, but it was a singing and dancing festival of fun.  Even for wallflowers like me (who prefer not to sing or dance in front of large groups of people), just being able to watch everyone else have so much fun...well, that was fun too!

More Workshops!

We were having a lot of fun....but we all actually did come to learn.  And boy did we learn.  **I noticed that the conference veterans pre-printed their handouts and put them into a beautiful binder in advance - that was really smart and something that I will do next time.

My brain was on information overload from the workshops.  Make no mistake, even though we were having as super-fun time, the focus is always on learning new skills and becoming better and better as clinicians and helpers.  

Saying Goodbye

I was looking forward to getting back to my own bed (even though the Sheraton beds are very comfy!), but it was so hard to say goodbye to the conference, to my friends and colleagues and to the city of Phoenix. 

Back at Work

I feel like my to-do list is a mile long.  I spent an entire day reading and responding to emails and just getting back "into the swing of things." 

Some people might have been better at getting a little work done from the hotel business center or from their laptops, but I was not good at multi-tasking.  It was worth it though! So worth it! 

Making Plans for Next Year

On the last day of the conference, people were already getting hyped for 2019. Next year, the conference will be held in Dallas, Texas and I predict that there will be record-breaking attendance.

 I also heard from some locals that this is a big college football rivalry weekend, so my advice is to get your conference hotel reservations early.

You're not going to want to miss this!

If you are interested in becoming a play therapist, my top 3 serious tips:

  1. Become a member of the Association for Play Therapy (get the quarterly magazine, the quarterly research journal, the Mining Reports, the email blasts, and all the latest updates on the 2019 conference).
  2. Connect with your state Play Therapy Branch or local chapter and start to make connections with other play therapists in your community (State branches typically have an equally rewarding, but smaller conference each year).  For example, Dr. Robert Jason Grant is coming to the Hawaii Association for Play Therapy Conference for 2 days in March 2019!
  3. Connect with me by subscribing to my mailing list. You will get blog posts, free play therapy tools and notifications of play therapy training opportunities!

Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

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