Why a Credential in Play Therapy Matters

I have noted many counselors’ websites stating that they use play therapy. As a parent, I would think that then this counselor would be good then with working with my child.  It is important to note that play therapy is “in” right now.  Many counseling practices are using “play therapy” to bring in new clients.  It is very popular for counselors to claim they offer play therapy when in fact they are not trained.  So parents should be aware of the differences between someone that is learning play therapy skills, is trained in play therapy, and those that took a class in play therapy.  When a counselor goes to a 2-day training where play therapy techniques are taught this does not make a counselor a specialist in the field of play therapy.

By the time I graduated with my master’s degree in counseling, I had already completed 164 continuing education hours in play therapy. It is very unusual for a counselor to obtain that many hours without attending a college program that specializes in play therapy.  I was aggressive in learning play therapy because I knew that

was the lens for how I saw people healing. Becoming a Registered Play Therapist was a major professional goal for me.

There are some important questions you can ask a counselor that states he/she is trained in play therapy. 

1. What is your training in play therapy and expressive art?  

Counselors may take college classes in play therapy.  There is annual state training in play therapy offered by the state play therapy association.  Counselors can attend other training offered by Play Therapy Approved Providers.  There are many professionals that have specialized in play therapy for decades that train aspiring play therapists and counselors about how to work with children.  Training can be one day or more with most training being about two days. Topics of many of the training are attachment, Autism, ADHD, abuse/trauma, sand tray, family play therapy, infants, expressive arts, and technology integration to name a few.  Play Therapy training is very interactive and fun.

   2. What specialties do they have in working with children?

Theraplay, Autplay, TraumaPlay, Child-Centered Play Therapy, Gestalt, Cognitive Behavior, Developmental, Filial, 

Jungian, and Adlerian Play Therapy to name a few.

3. What classes did they take in college to prepare them for working with children?

Play Therapy 101 would normally be the foundational training in Play Therapy which is Dr. Gary Landreth’s work in Child-Centered Play Therapy.  Advanced Play Therapy which many include: sand tray, art, and other modalities.

4. Are you working on becoming certified as an RPT (Registered Play Therapy)?

A counselor working towards becoming an RPT is obtaining 150 hours of additional training in play therapy, has a play therapy supervisor, and is seeing clients.  For more information check out a4pt.org.  When you see that a counselor has an RPT-S designation, you know that that counselor has a minimum of 5 years of experience as a play therapist. 

    5. Do you belong to the Play Therapy Association?  

When counselors invest in the associations affiliated with their degree and specialization it shows dedication to their field and specialization. Importantly, engagement with play therapy associations allows counselors to obtain education, practice, and supervision in play therapy.

Indications of being a Play Therapist or Play Therapist (in training)

Play therapists also structure their offices to accommodate working with children.  Play therapists often have spaces for sand tray, child-centered playroom, art area, puppets, and games. 

When observing a counselor’s office, what do you see? Do you see a designated corner for a few things to engage children? Or do you see a therapeutic playroom, art supplies/area, sand tray, puppets, dollhouse, and other therapeutic tools i.e. toys for children to tell their story?  Does their office look like a fun place to be? If the answer is yes, more than likely then the counselor is committed to the field and practice in play therapy. 

Another indication of appropriate professional preparation is the counselor’s biography, typically found on the agencies’ website. Does the biography list the training the counselor has attended?  Do you see specializations listed or working towards?  If they are a new counselor (LPCA), are they under supervision for play therapy?

I love play therapy.  Children are able to use toys in a therapeutic way to tell their story.  I am able to see and hear how they are feeling, how their family gets along, and what is important to them.  I am also able to see how children are quick to quit when the going gets tough and beagle to encourage them to keep trying.  

My journey into the world of play therapy began with the attendance of my first Play Therapy Conference in 2011, with Dr. Eliana Gil, where I learned about how families can use play therapy to overcome their issues and heal. I was hooked.  I loved the idea that clients could communicate their experiences through metaphors and themes in their play, through puppets, and through the use of sand trays. Over the years, I have seen amazing results using these, and other, play therapy techniques.

I hope this helps you see the difference between a play therapist and a counselor that engages in play therapy.  Please choose wisely and make sure you are informed.  Remember that an important part of the intake is you interviewing the counselor to see if she or he is a good fit for you and your child. 

Go to the Association for Play Therapy for more information.  http://www.a4pt.org/?page=PTMakesADifference

Disclaimer: This blog is my personal opinion and soapbox 🙂

Written By: Lisa Parsons, LPCC-S, NCC, RPT-S