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What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is more than just “play.” It heals children in their own language.

What is Play Therapy?

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?

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, supervision necessary to ensure play therapy is being practiced ethically and theoretically appropriate.

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.

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.

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

Here is what to look for to ensure that the licensed 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 course work 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™): This is a clinician with an RPT-S™ 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 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 vise-versa, but often they go hand in hand.

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

You don’t have to be alone.

Clinicians trained to work with children are also trained to help parents, encouraging healthy relationships. Finding a clinician for your child can be beneficial for the whole family.

Many play therapists are able to use Telehealth to provide services to children unable to come into a clinic. Children are digital natives and have really 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 that outlines the steps to take to support your child and their mental health with a therapist at home, school, or while at care providers. The power of play really can transmit through a screen.

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

Whatever your reasons are for bringing your child to see a play therapist, telling them what to expect can be challenging. Parents often ask us what they should say, what they should call us, and how to prepare their child for taking the next steps. So we've created a handout for parents to give to their child before the first session.

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!

And what about Tweens & Teens, can play therapy work for them too? Yes!

Play Therapy is called an Expressive Arts Therapy that continues to support 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 in high levels. Parents can learn ways to communicate, support, and provide mental wellness strategies at home. Understanding brain development and current life experiances is key to empowering your child in todays stress filled world.

You can learn parenting skills such as these on our Playful Wisdom Parenting platform.

Play Therapy is an amazing 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 find a Play Therapist in Washington state here.

To schedule or learn more, click here.

Happy National Play Therapy Week!


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