Are you getting a real play therapist?

By Mandi Meléndez

Therapy with young children is fundamentally different from therapy with adolescents and adults. While older teens and adults may be able to express themselves verbally, children younger than 10 may struggle to do so. Consider this scenario. You have worked to learn a complex language different than any you already knew – Russian, perhaps. You may have worked on it for several years and be capable of communicating well, but you often have questions about vocabulary, and use or pronounce words incorrectly. You certainly don’t understand the subtle shades and nuances of words the way you might in your native tongue. Now attempt to express your already confused and confusing feelings in that language. Difficult, right? And certainly distracting from the work at hand! This is why play therapy is treatment of choice for younger children.

Language is fairly new for even a very articulate child, so a competent therapist must be trained to use alternative routes for providing support and creating change with younger children. In play therapy, the child has access to toys, games, puppets, art materials, a sandbox and more. These mediums allow for expression in a ‘language’ that is natural and developmentally appropriate for a child. A trained play therapist can facilitate exploration and personal growth using these tools in much the same way a therapist for adults would use language.

Finding the right play therapist

As with finding a therapist for an adult, finding the right play therapist is the key to your child’s success. A Registered Play Therapist (RPT) is a state licensed mental health practitioner who has completed child-specific coursework, undergone 150 hours of play therapy instruction, 500 direct client contact hours and 50 hours of simultaneous play therapy supervision with a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor.

Becoming a RPT identifies the therapist as a true specialist in therapeutic work with children. While other mental health providers may legally work with children, and may even say they “do play therapy,” they have not dedicated their time and resources to this specialty. Some parents have likened this to the difference between taking your child to a pediatrician versus taking your child to your general practitioner. Either may be competent, but only one has the specific knowledge, training and passion to work with children. Nurture Family Counseling currently has three Registered Play Therapists who are passionate about children’s health and dedicated to effectively supporting your child in the most developmentally appropriate manner.

To learn more about Registered Play Therapists and play therapy in general, explore the Parent’s Corner at the Association for Play Therapy.

Mandi Meléndez | Nurture Family CounselingBy Mandi Meléndez

I believe the ways in which we think, feel and behave are dramatically impacted by our relationships with others. By helping you make sense of your family experiences as well as your own beliefs, I hope to empower you to move toward a more fulfilling personal and family life.