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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