What is Play Therapy?

The official logo of Horizon Mental Health says “Sarah Olson, LSCSW, Certified Play Therapist” and I suspect many reading that may wonder what exactly is a play therapist.  I’ve gotten interesting questions and comments since adding that credential to my professional title.  One question was “So does that mean you teach kindergarten?” and comments often are something like “Oh cool.  You get to play with kids all day.  How fun!”  These comments are well-meaning and I don’t take offense.  I’m happy to talk more about it.

First let’s get into why I sought out play therapy training.  I have a master’s degree in clinical social work, meaning I’m a trained and licensed mental health therapist.  For 12 years I worked in public education with clients ages 3-18.  For the majority of the time, I worked in a K-6 elementary school.  In 2016, I completed post-graduate education in play therapy from Mid-America Nazarene University to enhance my work with children.

The Association for Play Therapy’s website defines play therapy as:

“a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play.  Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.” (a4pt.org)

These are some of the kids of issues for which my child clients might come to therapy:

  • Disruption(s) in attachment (such as foster care)
  • Death of a parent or other loved one
  • High level of aggression
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Difficulties with emotion management
  • Parents divorcing or re-marrying
  • High levels of anxiety, including specific fears
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Bullying as a victim or target

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give the reader an idea of what kinds of issues a play therapist might treat.  In addition, I work with the systems in which the child operates.  I may see the child in session one-on-one, but I take what I learn from the child and the skills I teach there and work with parents/caregivers/teachers to carry those skills over to other areas of the child’s life.

In the future I’ll share specific techniques I might use to help children with various issues.  But for now, if your child is struggling and you’ve exhausted all the resources and know-how that you currently possess, I hope you’ll consider play therapy as a way to help your child and your family.

I’ll close with a short video from a professor at John Brown University with an overview of play therapy (click on the title to view):

Overview of Play Therapy

 

 

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