Applying the Therapeutic Power of Play

“Toys are their words, play is their story,” says Cary Hamilton, Director of the Play Therapy program.

Child playing pretend in firefighter costume

Using the therapeutic powers of play, certified Play Therapy mental health professionals invite children and adult clients into an expressive world based in foundational language.

For children and teenage clients, Play Therapy offers a unique client-led setting where play is the entry point for trust-building in the client-therapist relationship.

In a typical session, the therapist is there to witness and provide insight into the client’s play. As a non-directive child-centered modality, the child can play with the toys provided however they want, with these exceptions, “You can’t hurt me, you can’t hurt yourself, you can’t hurt the toys,” says Hamilton.

Unlike in expressive art therapies, for adult clients, Play Therapy provides a methodology that does not carry with it the temptation to develop a professional skill. As a trauma-oriented therapy, the treatment has been found to effectively aid adults with PTSD. Through the use of, for example, sand trays, a client is able to depict external projections of the trauma and make previously unrealized psychological connections.

In the program, which is open for concurrent enrollment for Antioch University Psychology Masters students, as well as for already-licensed mental health professionals, students meet on the Seattle campus for one weekend each month for a year. With an average of around twenty students per cohort, the licensed clinicians and current Masters students offer each other a rich balance of insight.

“This program is especially beneficial to those working with children who fall through the cracks of conventional verbal therapies,” graduate Kim says. “The class on the neurobiology of play is particularly helpful because it explains empirically the importance of play in the context of healing and growing. Additionally, the classes on sand tray therapy demonstrate the power of play for both adults as well as children.”

Antioch University Seattle is one of the only West Coast-based Play Therapy certificate programs approved by the Association of Play Therapy.