Newswise — For therapists, knowing how to talk to their patients and understand them is critical. When a roadblock occurs between an adult patient and their doctor, it can be easy to work through, but for kids, it's much more difficult. Many can't express themselves in ways that adults understand; they might lash out, cry or withdraw entirely.
A core group of therapists say that this is because children speak their own language " the language of play. These mental health professionals are trained to observe how children play in a safe environment with the toys they choose, to reveal their deepest wishes, fears, and hopes.
"Play therapists use play as a way to help children who are experiencing difficulties return to a state of balance," said Jean Camberg, RPT-S, an instructor of play therapy at Temple University Harrisburg. "It is this skill in understanding play as language that sets the trained play therapist apart."
Unfortunately, Camberg says, there is a shortage of these properly trained play therapists. "One of the biggest threats to the field is the number of people who call themselves play therapists, but have only had a few trainings or read a book or two," she said.
Temple is trying to help fill that void of certified, excellently trained play therapists through its post-graduate certification program in play therapy, currently based at Harrisburg and offered by the College of Health Professions and Social Work. The program, open to those with at least a Master's degree in a behavioral health field, helps prepare students for credentialing by helping them meet the 150 hours of play therapy-specific education required by the Association of Play Therapy (APT).
"This program is currently the only University-based one in Pennsylvania, and it represents an opportunity for Temple to fill an educational need among students and professionals, and a treatment need among children and families in this community," said Lynn Notestine, assistant director at Temple University Harrisburg.
Camberg says the requirements for credentialing by the APT are rigorous, and for good reason. "If the therapist is not educated on the presenting problem, the child's issues will not be addressed.Parents can be given incorrect information. Particularly among therapists who are non-licensed, there could be risk for ethical and boundary violations," she said. "The list could go on and on."
To ensure their play therapist is legitimate, Camberg advises parents to look in the office for a certificate issued by the APT, with a current registration sticker. Parents should also always ask the therapist if he or she is registered.
"Children's problems have grown more complex and difficult over the last 15 or so years, and now more than ever, this calls for therapists who are trained in play therapy and who know what they are doing," said Camberg.