When a child is born, parents don’t receive a manual for how to parent. Parents are left to figure out to develop and nurture a healthy child by their own experiences of what to or not to do. There is societal shame around “getting parenting right” and yet we are all in the same boat! Parenting is hard work and full of unknowns! It lets you know all that you don’t know, creates anxiety about getting it right, and feeling like once you are on topic they have grown and moved onto the next challenge. This is particularly difficult when you know as a parent that “something is up,” “this just doesn’t feel right,” being told “they will grow out of it,” or “what are you doing different.” You seek out support and answers, oftentimes this is online which then sends you into “where and what is right?”
Seeking out help is a sign you want to be the best parent you can be for a child. Each child is different and unique, full of character and life, so where do you turn to for guidance? Once you have decided to seek out this help how do you know where to turn? What do the letters after someone's name mean? What kind of training do they have? How will I know they are the one for me and my child? These are all questions parents ask. So we created a cheat sheet to help you know the basics.
What is Play Therapy?
Play Therapy is an evidence-based practice for working with children in mental health.
Play Therapy uses the natural language of children and the powers of play to help children process their feelings and experiences.
The Association for Play Therapy (APT) 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."
What this means is that Play Therapy is not the same as regular, everyday play. While spontaneous play is a natural and essential part of the developmental process, Play Therapy is a systematic and therapeutic approach.
Play Therapy should only be provided by mental health professionals who have met the required education, licensure, and additional specialized training and supervision specific to Play Therapy.
How do I know if my provider is a trained Play Therapist?
When looking for a therapist for your child, it’s hard to sort through all the credentials and specializations listed on bios. Some professionals write in their bios that they “do play therapy” with children. Professionals who work with children and adolescents may incorporate toys into their work, but are not trained Play Therapists, and should not represent themselves as such.
Play Therapists have specialized education and training in a variety of subjects, including:
Neurological benefits of Play
Effects of trauma on brain development
Here are the credentials you need to look for to ensure that the provider is a trained Play Therapist:
Play Therapy Certificate: This means the clinician has completed all required hours and education to become a play therapist, and they are working toward full licensure. Some clinicians, will complete their educational training via CEU completion.
Registered Play Therapist (RPT): This means the clinician has completed all required hours and education to become a play therapist, as well as completed all the supervised hours to achieve licensure.
Registered Play Therapist Supervisor (RPT-S): This is a clinician with an RPT designation who has also completed all required education and hours needed to supervise other play therapists working toward full licensure.
School Based-Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT): This credential is for professionals who practice as a school counselor or school psychologist, and utilize Play Therapy.
Child Mental Health Specialist (CMHS): This designation is given to a mental health professional who has completed the required education and supervision of specialized training devoted to the study of child development and the treatment of children. A CMHS does not have to be a Play Therapist, or vise-versa, but often go hand in hand.
Parents should seek out help when they are stressed with parenting or you are feeling helpless because “nothing works.” If a child appears to be different than their peers, struggles with social interactions, appears more emotional or hypersensitive, appears to be worried or down, struggles to play, and/or gets angry all the time, tantrums happen often; these are all things a clinician trained to help children can help with. You don’t have to be alone. Clinician’s trained to work with children are trained to help parents as well encouraging healthy relationships. Finding a clinician for your child can be beneficial for the whole family. Taking care of a child's emotional and psychological world is just as important as caring for the health of their body and teeth. Ensuring that your child is developing healthy mentally and emotionally is extremely valuable in our current world of high stress and high expectations. Just like with other parenting concerns, the earlier you seek treatment the more helpful it can be!