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How Do I Become a Play Therapist?

K. Testa
K. Testa

To become a play therapist, one generally has to earn a graduate degree in psychiatry, social work, or a related field. In addition to having a general background in counseling, someone who wants to become a play therapist typically completes advanced training in areas such as child development and family therapy, for example. Furthermore, play therapist training often includes an internship or related practical experience. Although these professionals work primarily with children, many play therapists are also qualified to treat older patients as well, using a combination of play therapy and other methods.

Play therapy is a specific type of psychotherapy used to help patients deal with traumatic events and other mental health issues. It can be used for both diagnosis and treatment, and the play session is not usually directed. Rather, the therapist allows the patient to play with toys or express himself in the manner that he sees fit. Play therapy utilizes different tools, such as dolls, games, music, drawing, and other forms of creative expression.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In order to become a play therapist and earn a license in the U.S., states generally require students to earn master's degrees, at minimum. Relevant academic fields can include psychiatry, psychology, and clinical social work. Further training, usually in the form of a doctoral program, is typically required in order to practice as a licensed psychiatrist. In addition, paid or volunteer internships are usually a significant component of most degree programs.

Certificate programs in play therapy are also available in many locations, wherein a person can become a play therapist after completing a certain number of training hours. Some people attend seminars at a play therapy training institute, while others complete coursework at a traditional university. Some universities offer play therapy certificate programs through their schools of education, for example.

Someone hoping to become a play therapist must normally possess certain personal traits, such as empathy and a desire to help other people. Typically, therapists also have good listening and problem-solving skills. The ability to make a patient feel safe and comfortable while playing is deemed important as well. Prior experience working with children can be beneficial since the majority of a play therapist's patients are young children or developmentally delayed older individuals. Therapists frequently meet with parents to discuss their children, so a grasp of common children's issues and family dynamics is usually helpful in this regard.

Some additional skills directly related to play therapy include the ability to interpret a patient's nonverbal actions and responses, as play therapy is frequently used with young children or adults who might not speak. Certain play therapist careers might involve additional specialization in a particular area, such as working with older adults. In this case, play therapy can often be combined with reminiscence therapy, for example. Depending on the specifics of a case, another therapist might employ other combinations, such as animal-assisted therapy and play therapy, when working with different patients.

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