School Counselors Do Whatever It Takes to Provide Play Therapy

Play therapy is widely recognized as an effective therapeutic approach for children who are unable or unwilling to communicate their psychological distress. Elementary-aged children represent an especially vulnerable segment of the population when it comes to mental health barriers. First, it is during these formative years that behavior patterns are set. Children who have psychological problems early on tend to have higher rates of substance misuse, aggression, risk-taking behavior, and academic challenges than their peers. Additionally, many young children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress, autism, or other difficulties may have significant academic challenges and can benefit greatly from effective and meaningful in-school therapy.

But believing in the viability of play therapy and delivering it are two different things. Many school counselors report significant barriers to play therapy. Christine Ebrahim of the Department of Counseling at Loyola University in New York wanted to take a closer look at the barriers that counselors faced and how they overcame them. Ebrahim enlisted 359 elementary school counselors from the American School Counselor Association and had them complete online surveys regarding barriers to play therapy. The participants reported barriers such as time, space allocation, financial resources, and administrative and parental support. However, nearly all the counselors who cited these obstacles also described how they overcame them. For instance, they used their own money for supplies when they could not get funding, moved sessions to alternative locations when space was limited, and provided education about the benefits of play therapy when administrative and parental support was lacking.

One barrier was more difficult to surmount: the limited availability of play therapy training. “In looking at the data, most counselors identified specifically a lack of training as their primary problem,” Ebrahim said. Play therapy courses are not part of the curriculum at all colleges. Therefore, counselors are forced to learn through textbooks or online, or they must pay for training out of their own pockets. These results are promising in that they suggest that counselors are willing to do whatever it takes to offer play therapy to students in need. However, Ebrahim believes the findings clearly demonstrate that elementary school counselors are in desperate need of more professional play therapy training.

Ebrahim, C., Steen, R. L., Paradise, L. (2012). Overcoming school counselors’ barriers to play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029791

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

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  • Sullivan

    October 9th, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    Yay for these counselors who are advocating more for the acceptance and usage of play therapy in cases where children could so cleraly benefit form the results. I am sure that when this issue is mentioned there are probably a lot of schools and principals who thumb their mose at the use of this method, saying instead that it is not a valuable use of time or that it could actually be rewarding bad behavior. I think, and obviously there are many others far more credible that I, who believe that this mindset is wrong. Play therapy is rewarding, yes, but only in that it often provides us with those answers that we have been looking for when treating a student who so clearly needs help and guidance but does not have the ability to put into words what is going on and what their needs are. This gives them an outlet that they may not have been provided with before and I happen to think that if this is the way to reach them, then that can be a wonderful thing.

  • grif

    October 9th, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Most parents just want an easy answer to incredibly difficult questions, and somehow for them this does not involve play therapy.

    That for them is seen as a diversion something to keep yu away from the real issues when for many children this is the only and best ways to get them to trust you and to communicate to you want is going on with them.


    October 9th, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Now that play therapy has proven to be so beneficial and useful,it is time they make its training a part of the curriculum in college. Most issues with regard to health are either due to finances or availability of trained professionals. While money can be pumped in or generated through various means, trained professionals cannot pop up all of a sudden. It needs time and effort and the sooner we begin the better it is!

  • Lena P

    October 9th, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    The most important aspect of any sort of treatment is availability to those affected.And that seems to be lacking in case of play therapy.We need to have a roadmap about all this because schools can really provide a good platform for something like play therapy because many parents would not know of it and thereby would not seek out play therapy otherwise.

  • Dr G

    October 10th, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    I would say that my own school principal would be very reluctant to allow me to experiment with play therapy with our students.
    She has always struck me as a just the facts kind of person, and might not look too kindly on play for children who have been misbehaving and who are causing a problem in the classroom.
    So maybe there are others like me who might be a little cautious about exploring this territory in a school setting?

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