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...
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 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.
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!).
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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