Play therapy. What is it? Who needs it? Who can provide it? Play therapists are often questioned about the validity of their work, as the very idea of play therapy, or playing during therapy, seems of little relevance. Surely, there can’t be any benefits or growth by “just playing,” right?
In reality, play therapy can be a vital service for your child’s treatment, helping him or her express and experience in a developmentally appropriate manner, when traditional talk therapy may not fit nearly as well. There are, however, several factors to consider when selecting a therapist for your child.
First, play therapy is far more than playing children’s games with no forethought or direction. It is, by definition from the Association for Play Therapy, “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.” In other words, play therapy is a theoretically based approach to support individuals and families in problem exploration, growth, and resolution, based on and through their experiences within therapeutic environment.
Play therapists utilize a variety of tools that can include but are not limited to the use of puppets, dolls, dress up items for dramatic play, art supplies, games, and the use of a sand tray and miniatures. These items are used for and by the client to tell their story, and to work through their own self identified struggles and conflicts. Play therapy is a research based therapeutic approach that has been shown to increase a child’s ability to learn from and deal with a variety of areas of concern including trauma, as well as social and emotional difficulties.
So how does play therapy differ from regular play? Play therapists are trained to observe, assess, and understand the special functions of each child’s play. These specially trained therapists can direct and model behavior to help a child address and resolve their own problems. Sometimes, at the directive of the child, the therapist can become involved in the telling of the child’s story, in order to participate in the experience with the client. In these situations, a play therapist is not only allowing the child a witness to their experience, the therapist is giving the client a message of “I am here with you, to see you, hear your story, and support you”. Play therapy is an experiential therapy that can move an individual past a stage of being stagnant or stuck, to understanding and living in a new and different way.
Just as you would take your child to a doctor specialized in their area of need, you too will want to find a play therapist who is well trained and has the experience to meet your child’s needs. What does it take to be a play therapist? Therapists who are credentialed as Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) are individuals who have earned a degree in their chosen fields of study, hold a license in their state verifying their clinical experience and education, have taken an 150 hours of play therapy specific education, and completed an additional 500 hours of direct play therapy experience under the supervision of a RPT-S. This training is on top of their already achieved clinical licensure status. Top quality education and experience can make all the difference in knowing that you’ve made a confident and well considered choice for your child’s mental health care.
If your looking for someone with a specialty in working with individuals who difficulty expressing their needs, identifying or accepting their emotions, struggling with social skills, consider the highest of quality providers who are trained in specialty area of play therapy. Be sure to take note of the RPT credentials, and don’t be afraid to ask how they can support your loved one. Play therapy can create a space safe enough for people to both acknowledge and heal their own wounds. Don’t hesitate to branch out of traditional talk therapy and into the experiential world of play!