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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