What exactly is play therapy?

Play therapy helps children solve their problems through play. It’s effective because play is the language of children!

I like to show the “Introducing Andrew” video from the Association of Play Therapy to remind parents, in a humorous way, that children aren’t mini-adults. They don’t have the language that adults have to let us know how they feel.

When should play therapy be considered?

Play therapy greatly benefits children during times of transition such as divorce, loss of a loved one, parent military deployment, going to a new school or moving to a new town.  I have seen it help with smaller concerns, such as easing bedtime fears to more significant problems such as not being able to talk with anyone except the closest caregiver(s) like in selective mutism.

What can parents do to prepare their child for the first visit?

You can help prepare your child for their first appointment by being honest. Gently remind them of some of the recent challenges that the family may have experienced and reassure them that there is help to make things better and that you are going to make sure they get it by going to visit a “kid helper” or “talking doctor”. Keep the conversation light and friendly and plan to be available to answer any questions or address any concerns.

Many children worry that they will have a physical examination or have to get a shot (ouch!) when they come to their first session. Some older children may worry that visiting with a “kid helper” means there is something wrong with them or that they are “crazy”.

This is a good time to hear them out and ease their fears. Before the appointment, let them know many children need to visit someone like a “talking doctor” and that many grownups also need a “talking doctor” at times. Everybody has problems, but there is help! Things will get better!

What should a child and parent expect to see during their visit?

Toys! Those are the tools we use in play therapy. They are specially selected and purposefully placed in the playroom to help evoke the greatest therapeutic response. In the play therapy room at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic, we have puppets, playdough, paint, clay, markers, costumes, a sand tray and unique toy figures. The playroom is a warm inviting place that most children want to explore.

Do parents have to ask for play therapy?

If parents are interested in play therapy for their child, they should specifically request it or ask their child’s therapist if they offer play therapy as a treatment option.

Do you offer virtual play therapy?

Yes! Teletherapy can be quite beneficial, especially for clients who have a chronic illness or mobility issues that may prevent them from being able to come directly to the office. Clients can participate in virtual play therapy from their home, school or any safe location that works for the family and has strong Internet access.

During virtual play therapy, children typically use the items they have in their own environment to interact with their therapist. This could be toys, dolls or art materials. We are also able to utilize some carefully selected, age-appropriate online games and videos using screen share or collaborative websites. These games are carefully screened by our clinicians to ensure a safe and beneficial experience for all.

Parents can help prepare kids for their first play therapy session much in the same way they would if they were coming into the office. Children typically are aware that they or their family are experiencing some challenges. Oftentimes they are relieved to know that help is on the way! Some simple things parents can do to help get kids ready include:

  • Double check your Internet connection to make sure it is strong enough to conduct teletherapy.
  • Choose a child-friendly device to use for teletherapy sessions. Freestanding devices with larger screens, such as computers or standing tablets, are preferable because they offer the clearest view and leave hands free for play.
  • Test the device you plan to use for your child’s therapy session prior to the first meeting to make sure it is operating correctly, and make sure your child is familiar with how to operate it. They should know how to adjust the display settings, control the volume, work the mouse or navigate a touchscreen, etc.
  • Create a comfortable, quiet location where teletherapy will take place. The best spot is a distraction-free room or corner with strong Internet connection that allows children adequate space and privacy. Many children prefer to use headphones for at least a portion of their session. However, this is not a requirement.

Do play therapists have any special training or credentials parents should consider?

A play therapist is a mental health professional specially trained in the therapeutic power of play. More specifically, a Registered Play Therapist must:

  • Hold a master’s degree or higher in mental health
  • Be currently licensed to provide mental health care in their state
  • Participate in ongoing training to maintain registration
  • Have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience, including…
    • At minimum, 150 hours of play therapy-specific training
    • At minimum, 500 hours supervised play therapy experience

How long have you been working with kids using play therapy?

I’ve been a Registered Play Therapist since 2009. I am currently working on becoming a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, and I also graduated from the Association for Play Therapy’s 2016 Leadership Academy. I truly enjoy what I do and am grateful to be able to work with so many wonderful families!

Need help for your child or teen? Pine Rest provides compassionate, world-class treatment at all care levels for kids.

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