Play therapy pioneer Garry L. Landreth addresses mental-health professionals Thursday at the Appalachian Center for Play Therapy conference, held at the Center for Rural Development.
SOMERSET, Ky. – Tasha Miller of Pikeville, Ky., didn’t know a lot about play therapy at the start of this week.
But by the end of Thursday, the Lindsey Wilson College human services and counseling senior thought she might want to incorporate play therapy into her career as a mental health professional.
“It’s something that I’m going to consider using because I want to work with children after I graduate,” she said.
Miller was one of more than 160 people from seven states who attended the first sponsored conference of the Lindsey Wilson Appalachian Center for Play Therapy. The two-day conference, which was held at the Center for Rural Development, featured Garry L. Landreth, an internationally known play therapy expert, who discussed play therapy and its benefits.
“Play therapy gives a voice to children by using their play,” said Landreth, who is the the founder of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, the largest play therapy training program in the nation. “The play therapist ‘listens’ to the meaning in the child’s play, just as the therapist listens to meaning of an adult’s verbalization. So while they are in a playroom setting, their toys are viewed as being like a child’s words and play is the child’s language.”
‘Child’s Play Language’
The task of the play therapist is to understand the “child’s play language,” Landreth said.
“And that’s not as difficult to read the play language as you might initially think because play is a universal language,” Landreth said. “Children all over the world play similarly, just the items they play with differ. ... Give a child in South Africa a pile of sand and they play in it the same children in Kentucky play in the sand.”
Play therapy as a discipline was first discussed in the 1940s, but Landreth is responsible for popularizing it over the last 40 years, said Lindsey Wilson Associate Professor of Human Services & Counseling Jodi M. Crane.
Landreth has published more than 150 journal articles, books and videos. His award-winning book Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship has been translated into several languages.
Landreth’s articles, books and videos are among the reasons play therapy has become one of the fastest-growing areas in the mental-health profession, Crane said.
“The mental-health profession is finally recognizing that it’s not effective to sit children down in big chairs and tell them what they need to do or give them instructions about how to live their lives – it doesn’t work,” Landreth said. “We need to give them a chance to communicate at their level, the same way we give adults an opportunity to communicate verbally. That recognition is slowly catching on.”
Despite efforts to promote play therapy, Landreth said the subject is taught as a separate class in just about 30 percent of the U.S. counselor-education programs.
‘Struggling with Lack of Recognition’
“We are still struggling with the lack of recognition of the child’s ability in their own way to solve emotional issues,” he said.
Central to play therapy is for the therapist to see the child as a person, not as a junior version of an adult.
“Children are people, they just happen to be younger people,” Landreth said. “They are persons worthy of respect, as any person is worthy of respect. They just happen to be 3, 4 or 5 years old. They possess the same capability of helping themselves emotionally that adults possess. In fact, sometimes it’s harder for adults to help themselves because their minds get in the way – they keep thinking about all the things that didn’t work.
“I love the child’s approach and view of their world – they approach their world with newness. It’s new, eager, creative and willing to explore.”
Appalachian Center for Play Therapy
In addition to exposing more than 160 mental-health students and professionals to play therapy, this week’s conference was also something of a coming out part for the Appalachian Center for Play Therapy. Founded early this year by Crane, a nine-year veteran of the LWC faculty, the center’s goal is to help educate and train mental-health professionals and others who work with children about the benefits of play therapy.
“The center makes it possible to train greater numbers of people in how to use play therapy,” Crane said. “Otherwise, it’s sort of hit or miss as to where that training can be found in this region of the United States.”
And Landreth said he was “very impressed” with the center’s first conference.
“It took me longer to get to where Jodi is now than it has taken her to get where she is is today,” he said. “In less than 10 years, she has started a play therapy program, is building a center for play therapy and has held a conference for play therapy. That’s very impressive, and it also speaks of the tremendous need this region has, as evidenced by the fact that it attracted professionals from seven states.”
Connie Stallard of Clintwood, Va., was among those who attended the conference and hopes to become a licensed play therapist. A 30-year veteran of special education, Stallard said she sees numerous possibilities for integrating play therapy into her work.
“I’ve seen such a need for this service in helping young people,” she said.
To learn more about play therapy, go to the Association for Play Therapy Web site.
Play therapy pioneer Garry L. Landreth (left) chats with Aaron Meriwether of Columbia on Thursday at the Appalachian Center for Play Therapy conference, held at the Center for Rural Development.