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Happy International Play Therapy Week 2024!


Play therapy transcends mere play; it's a healing process that communicates with children in their primary language. Think about the sense of understanding children experience when someone connects with them in their language! Ok, let's learn more!


"Play Therapy" is what exactly?

Imagine a bridge, one that connects the world of children with the complex realm of mental and emotional health. Play Therapy is that bridge. It's not just an activity; it's a guided process deeply rooted in evidence and theory. It's about using play, the most natural form of expression for children, to navigate and heal from life's challenges, whether it's everyday stress or more profound trauma. Play Therapy is an evidence-based practice for working with children to improve their mental and emotional health. Play Therapy uses the natural language of children and the therapeutic powers of play to help children process their feelings and experiences. For both prevention and healing from trauma and stressful events.  Why Play Therapy?


Play Therapists don't just 'play' with kids. 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."


They are the credential body for clinicians to obtain the Registered Play Therapist designation, denoting achievement of the education and supervision necessary to ensure play therapy is being practiced ethically and theoretically appropriate.


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 with 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. 


All trained play therapists will be able to tell you their theory and practice model of play therapy when working with your child. They may also have Registered Play Therapist™ (RPT™) after their name. This shows you they have met the requirements to meet this designation per the Association of Play Therapy. These designations aren't just fancy titles but badges of extensive training and commitment to the craft.


Play Therapists have specialized education and training in a variety of subjects, including:

  • Therapeutic Powers of Play

  • Theoretical Orientations of Play Therapy

  • Child Development 

  • Brain Development 

  • Neurological Benefits of Play 

  • Effects of trauma on brain development 

  • Family Systems 

  • Parenting Skills 

  • Neurodivergence






Here are the credentials to look for to ensure the provider is a trained Play Therapist.


  • Play Therapy Course Work/Training Completion: 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 CE completion or completing graduate-level coursework in Play Therapy.


  • 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. The Association for Play Therapy is the designated credentialing body for Play Therapists. 

  • Registered Play Therapist Supervisor™ (RPT-S™): A clinician with an RPT-S™ designation has also completed all required education and hours needed to supervise other play therapists working toward full licensure and their RPT™. 

  • School Based-Registered Play Therapist™ (SB-RPT™): This credential is for professionals who practice as school counselors or school psychologists and utilize Play Therapy. 

  • Child Mental Health Specialist (CMHS): This designation is given to a mental health professional in Washington state 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 vice versa, but often they go hand in hand.


Think of Play Therapy as a Swiss Army knife for mental health. It's versatile, adapting to each child's needs. It helps them communicate in their language- through play. Whether it's a troubled child struggling with emotions or a teen navigating the complexities of adolescence, Play Therapy offers a spectrum of approaches, from sandtray to art therapy. It's not just about coping; it's about thriving, about empowering these young minds to face the world with resilience. 

 

Parents should seek help when they are stressed with parenting or feel 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, gets angry all the time, or has tantrums often, then you may want to seek help from a professional. These are all things a clinician trained to help children can help with. 


Finally, when you embark on this journey with your child, remember that you're not just addressing a symptom. You're nurturing their entire emotional and psychological well-being. And in today's high-stress world, that's as crucial as their physical health. 


You don’t have to be alone in your parenting journey.


Many play therapists can use Telehealth to provide services to children/teens who cannot come into a clinic. Children are digital natives and have shown us how they will use every opportunity to use play to express and heal themselves, even using technology to do it. 


Parents, there are some things that you can do to help make play therapy at home successful. Here is a handout outlining the steps to support your child and their mental health with a therapist at home, school, or while at care providers. The power of play can be transmitted through a screen. In part because it is the formation of a relationship between the therapist and the child where the magic happens.


I've found a play therapist. Now, what do I tell my child? 

Whatever your reasons for bringing your child to see a play therapist, telling them what to expect can be an exciting challenge; parents often ask us what they should say, what they should call us, and how to prepare their child for the following steps.


So, we've created a handout for parents to give to their child before the first session. 


And what about Tweens & Teens, can play therapy work for them too? Yes! Play Therapy is called Expressive Arts Therapy, which supports the brain integration and development of tweens and teens. While toys might not be used in the same way, methods such as sandtray play therapy, art therapy, and psychoeducation using bibliotherapy, solution-focused, and narrative therapy to support and process the stressors experienced today.


Tweens and Teens are very stressed, experiencing anxiety and depression at high levels. Parents can learn ways to communicate, support, and provide mental wellness strategies at home. Understanding brain development and current life experiences is critical to empowering your child in today's stress-filled world. You can learn parenting skills such as these on our Playful Wisdom Parenting platform. 


Play Therapy is a fantastic form of treatment for children of all ages and can be beneficial in helping children work through difficult emotions and experiences. If you believe that play therapy would be helpful for your child and want to find a Play Therapist in your area, you can visit the Association for Play Therapy here. To schedule an appointment with us, click here. 


Let's celebrate the power of play, the language of our children,

and the art of healing it brings.


Happy International Play Therapy Week!



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