Understanding How Play Therapy Works

Understanding How Play Therapy Works

Amanda ShanebergerAmanda Shaneberger, MA, LPC, a Registered Play Therapist at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic, answers some frequently asked questions about play therapy and its role in treating children.

What exactly is play therapy?

Preschool age girl playing with a toy alongside a friendly child therapistPlay 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 (below) 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 shouldChild playing puppets with adult 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 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 using play therapy for at least 10 years now and, as of this week, I have been a Registered Play Therapist for six years. I am currently working on becoming a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, and I am also enrolled in the Association for Play Therapy’s 2016 Leadership Academy which I will graduate from later this year. I truly enjoy what I do and am grateful to be able to work with so many wonderful families.

For more information, please call 866.852.4001.


Take a Look Inside a Play Therapist’s Office!

shaneberger-amandaAmanda Shaneberger, MA, LPC is a limited licensed psychologist and licensed professional counselor specializing in work with children, adolescents and their families at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic. Amanda is a Registered Play Therapist and has an endorsement in Infant Mental Health, meaning she has experience working with young children and parents making the transition into parenthood. She is an active member of the Michigan Association for Play Therapy and a member of the local Postpartum Emotional Support Program.

Comments are closed.