The Heart of a Play Therapist

Child playing with blocksSome time ago, I wrote about the spirit of a play therapist—the idea that each of us brings something unique and extraordinary to the play therapy room that is a blend of our own way of being in the world along with the evolving style of play that naturally fits us. As I contemplated this further, I found myself even more in tune with not only the play therapist spirit, but the play therapist heart. I particularly found this while observing my wonderful play therapy colleagues, noticing that there is something quite extraordinary about their hearts, the kind of dedication to children that is unrivaled and awe-inspiring. It inspired me to put together a collection of characteristics typical of those amazing people with whom I have the privilege of being connected. Because they are naturally a playful bunch, I take the approach of a well-known list format, as these attributes range from the inspiring, to the humorous, to the moving. Let’s go:

You might be a play therapist if:

  • You think nothing of blowing your entire work budget (is there such a thing?) on a hundred sand-tray miniatures in one short shopping spree—and come back again for “just one more” tomorrow.
  • Your eyes light up at the mere glance at the stuffed animal and puppet section in your local department store.
  • You visit any toy website and get lost in a time warp where hours have passed since you ate, drank, or slept.
  • You don’t focus on the hours you work, but on the hearts you heal—no matter how many “overtime” hours there are.
  • Your own children ask you if you are ever going to become a grown up.
  • You get that play therapists are not just people who play puzzles on the floor…but you also recognize the inherent value in playing that same puzzle on the floor.
  • You begin to salivate and your eyes glaze over when you walk into the arts and crafts stores.
  • You can be a seemingly endless container to hold the worst horrors imaginable.
  • You willingly lose nights of sleep preparing to bravely and courageously stride into a courtroom to testify and advocate for the safety and well-being of the little one you cradle in your care.
  • You spend countless hours of your personal time reading, studying, and staying current with the most effective and helpful play therapy treatment strategies—and you love it.
  • You can’t remember the last time you read a novel for fun—and you don’t care.
  • You have a creative heart and mind that rivals anyone else’s on earth.
  • You see the entire world as a playground.
  •  Though you love tools and props, you never underestimate the value of a rock, some dirt, a stick, water, or a simple box.
  • Your heart can hold the elements of trauma and hope simultaneously, a ready container for the former and an abundant source of the latter.
  • You have an uncanny ability to speak a child’s language—in a way that they actually hear it.
  • You hold each child you see in the arms of reverence, delight, and connectedness.
  • You find yourself smiling, nodding, laughing, or tearing up in recognition at any part during this list reading.

So, this is in tribute to all of my fellow play therapists out there, those I know well and those of you I’ve never met. I have seen this in you and have been inspired, amazed, and blessed to witness it. I have been honored to share time with you in places where your play therapist spirits and hearts shine! I can only hope to exemplify the same in my own playful practice. Thank you for blessing me, but most importantly, for blessing the young ones who desperately need you!

In the Light of a playful heart,

Cherie L. Spehar

Related articles:
The Spirit of a Play Therapist
Being Mindful of ‘Kindfull’ Play: Empathy-Building Play Therapy
Playful Parents

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cherie L. Spehar, LCSW, CTC-S, RPT-S, therapist in Apex, North Carolina

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 9 comments
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  • April

    April

    March 9th, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    You, Cherie, are so inspiring. I can tell by your heartfelt words that your role as a therapist is about so much more to you than being a job. This is a true commitment that you have on your part to really change the lives of these children who you work with through play and undersatnding. The world sure does need a lot more people like you in the fields of therapy and education, and as parents and role models to today’s children. I know that every day you must face challenges, trying to come up with new and innovative ways to reach these clients. And I have to say I would think that you are a success. You are inspiring!

  • Greta Y

    Greta Y

    March 9th, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    There is something going on with my daughter at school (she is in the 1st grade) that I can’t get out of her, she won’t talk to the teacher, anything. But I just know that there is something? I have tried everything else- how could I go about looking for someone who could do this type of work with my daughter in my area? Anything is worth a try.

  • dolly

    dolly

    March 9th, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    awww that is so sweet!

  • Olin

    Olin

    March 10th, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    Being a play therapist is about so much more than sitting around and playing games with children. It is about coming up with ways to get this child to exhibit to you anything going on in their lives that is hurting them and getting them to tell you about it in a way that is non threatening. This takes something really special. When I first heard of this kind of treatment a few years ago I thought it was kind of a fluke. But now after reading some about it and seing it in action in several cases I fully admit that I was wrong in what I thought. This is something that children who have been seriously hurt by someone can use and heal through, and that is something that can’t be replaced.

  • Julia

    Julia

    March 11th, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    You have to really love your job to be able to hear all that you probably hear as a therapist for kids, yet still be able to separate your private life from your professional life. I don’t know that I could do that, because I am sure that you hear some stories that will keep you up at night.

  • praison

    praison

    March 11th, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    very few jobs provide the kind of satisfaction you speak of…I wish I had such a job.this sounds wonderful and I certainly believe play therapists are doing a great job with the kids that need them the most…

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    March 12th, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    After reading this it kind of makes me want to go back to school and perhaps pursue something in this field. I agree with praison, that it is hard to miss the enjoyment that you take from your work, it really does show through with every word you have written here. I want that kind of career satisfaction!

  • MAry Barry

    MAry Barry

    March 12th, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    Flting the flag for play therapists in Ireland.
    Yes ! Yes ! Yes! to above- brought home a crocoidle cuddly blanket from My holidays in USA last year- I had no room in my luggage for it- but had to have IT!!!

  • Deanne

    Deanne

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    If you have never seen a child experience such pain and sorrow, and then had him or her work with a play therpist and witnessed the remarkable changes that can take place, then you have truly missed out. A therapist like this helped my own child, and I will never forget everything that he did for my family. It was truly a blessing to find him and we are so lucky to have had him in our life.

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