About Play Therapists
They do not have a state license from the government. They are not affiliated with psychiatric or hospital services. The profession requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. It is rare to find a therapist who has a Master’s degree, let alone additional certification that ranges from a certified teaching degree to specializing in specific types of therapeutic interventions and strategies.
This profession carries many titles and names, yet they all provide the same service. They have been named rehabilitation, play, community based rehabilitation servicers (CBRS), developmental, and outpatient – therapists. The therapy they provide is not considered investigational, homeopathic or provisional. Providing CBRS typically occurs with the birth to 3 populations that work through the government’s Early Intervention program. The Children’s Developmental Services Agency is the umbrella for all Early Intervention services here in North Carolina. A portion of rehabilitative therapists serves children over the age of 3 on a contractual basis to augment the child’s current therapy through the school system. Therapists can perform in many capacities depending on their experience.
Rehabilitative and play therapists typically have a number of strategies and interventions that are employed, depending on the child’s ability and disability. A Master’s in Education and certification in Early Intervention will teach these types of strategies, but the how-to and step-by-step process will become second nature during an Early Intervention internship.
Play therapists teach children how to play with age appropriate toys. When they teach children skills, the play skills are universal to other activities. For example, pushing, pulling, twisting and turning are motions used to turn on dials, twist a doorknob, open a book, pull on a shirt, push a hand through a sleeve, and press buttons on a microwave. Learning what it means to go up and down, go left and right, teaching children to follow directions, and understanding differences and similarities can be some of the child’s goals.
Teaching children the how-to’s of various abilities, such as fine and gross motor, cognition, communication, social, and emotional skills are essential to retraining the brain that once knew how to do these skills or never learned them. Retraining the brain means creating new pathways to problem solve, prioritize, think, understand and do activities and participate in everyday routines. Fine motor skills are the skills used to button buttons, write, pick up raisins and nails, while gross motor skills are used when to run, jump, walk up hills or stairs and swing a baseball bat. Communication, social and emotional skills are intertwined. They teach children to understand what sad means, by showing pictures depicting the emotion, what it feels like to be sad, making a sad face or communicating that they feel sad. All these skills are taught using sign language, pictures, voice programs, pointing, and touching, to name a few methods.
The industry for play therapists has high turnover and burnout. Several years ago, the average length of service for a play therapist was 1.5 years. Some of these play therapists have gone back to school to attain additional credentialing as a speech or physical therapist.
Many families are turning to play therapists, as they are not able to afford the high cost of specifically trained certified therapists (Applied Behavior Analyst or Relationship Development Intervention therapists). Due to insurance coverage changing and diagnostic criteria being altered, the decisions to cut services by reducing costs have led many families to seek private therapy.