Hands-On Play Therapy Course Helps Therapists and Children

Play therapy is a useful tool to help children express themselves and gain a better understanding of events and experiences through creative action. This approach has been shown to be an effective form of treatment for children who struggle with various mental health issues and have difficulty responding well to other forms of therapy. Counselors who use play therapy undergo specialized training to gain the skills necessary to provide this type of treatment to children and their families. Training is delivered through textbooks, seminars, workshops, and, more recently, hands-on experience. Practicing play therapy in schools directly with children allows therapists in training to develop their teaching skills as well as obtain feedback from supervisors and children. A new play therapy course, designed by Sondra Smith-Adcock and her colleagues from the Department of Counselor Education at the College of Education at the University of Florida, was used as a pilot program in a recent study.

The program, entitled Play Buddies, was used by 21 therapists-in-training in a low-income public elementary school. The therapists were supervised as they interacted with students for 30-minute sessions five to six times over one semester. They were supervised with feedback and monitoring provided by advisers, family members, and students. The therapists were then asked to complete a paper detailing their experience with Play Buddies and how it affected their attitudes, knowledge, and competence. At the end of the semester, the students reported that Play Buddies allowed them to apply their knowledge of play therapy and immediately see the effect in their students. This, combined with supervision, gave the students the opportunity to hone their techniques and skills throughout the semester.

The students also reported having more confidence about their ability to deliver play therapy at the end of the semester than they did at the beginning. The importance of a therapeutic relationship was acknowledged by the students, and most commented that the Play Buddies experience gave them insight into what types of play to use and how to work intimately with children to explore and understand the issues addressed during therapy. Overall, Smith-Addock believes that the purpose of Play Buddies, to enhance the therapists’ knowledge and understanding of play therapy through hands-on practice, was accomplished as evidenced in the therapists’ own words. Smith-Addock added, “They faced their personal struggles, became attentive play partners, and were amazed by the changes they saw in children and in themselves.”

Smith-Adcock, S., Davis, E., Pereira, J., Allen, C., Socarras, K., Bodurtha, K., & Smith–Bonahue, T. (2012). Preparing to play: A qualitative study of graduate students’ reflections on learning play therapy in an elementary school. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026931

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  • Millie

    March 27th, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    While I think that play therapy can be so valuable to countless children, it is imperative that the therapist handling the play be fully trained to not only help the children involved in the treatment to fully express their feelings, but they should also receive guidance as to how to handle the information that is imparted via said play. There are many ways that the children could be trying to express themsleves, and if the counselor involved is not equipped to adequately interpret the information that they are given then you do not receive half the benefits of the therapy that you could get out of it.

  • Sammi

    March 28th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    What a huge leap in this type of care. I always wondered how much course work a therapist would ave to do in order to be supervised to handle specialized areas such as play therapy. It is comforting to know that with course work such as play buddies, there are some good programs available for those who wish to make play therapy an integral piece of their therapeutic offerings.

  • Jonathan F

    March 28th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    This is something that would be good to introduce to classroom teachers too.
    I know that they are not trained counselors, nor should they have to be, but sometimes they are going to be the onyl caregiver that many children will see over the course of a day.
    And think about all of the opportunities for learning that this teacher has to really get to know a child.
    If they were given some of the tools to know at least what some forms of play could mean and whether or not this should be taken seriously, then if something bad is going on at home or in that child’s life they will at least know how and where tp report that to.


    March 28th, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    SO how exactly is play therapy conducted? Is it a special kids-only form of therapy, does it include fun activities? Im interested in knowing more about its working.

  • Grey

    March 29th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    What a sense of accomplishment this must give these providers, to not only know that they are enriching their own lives but the lives of the children that they are dedicated to helping!

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