National play therapy pioneer featured at counseling conference

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Play therapy is a rapidly growing specialty with few training opportunities in Tennessee

Lipscomb University’s Department of Counseling, Psychology and Family Science hosted a unique opportunity for local counselors, social workers and mental health workers to learn firsthand from the premiere expert in play therapy, a technique used by family therapists to enhance development and work through emotional issues in children.

The Center for Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Conference, held Feb. 24-25, featured Garry L. Landreth, founder of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, the largest play therapy training program in the world. It was a name many of the participants knew well as they had studied textbooks and watched training videos by Landreth in their academic courses, said Kate Wolf (’14), a counselor at the Stewart-Beavers Institute in Nashville.

“We’ve learned all of our play therapy techniques from Landreth, then we took it out and used it with clients. So to be able to see him in person and discuss how it’s used is an opportunity we really appreciate,” said Wolf.

The two-day workshop focused on Child Parent Relationship Therapy, or filial therapy, a technique used to train parents to be therapeutic agents in their own children’s lives. Using didactic instruction, demonstration play sessions and supervision, parents are taught basic play therapy principles and skills.

“There is a huge need and interest in play therapy in this community,” said Denis Thomas, assistant professor of psychology and director of Lipscomb’s play therapy programs. “It’s a specialty area that has experienced growing momentum for the last several years, but to date there is not a play therapy center in Tennessee and only 11 in the Southeast. So this type of training is rare in our area and of great value to any professional who works with children, counselors, social workers and mental health workers.”

“If I were president of the United States, I would require all parents to receive filial therapy training and within two generations we would change the country,” said Landreth, who described play therapy as a way that children can discuss and work through their problems in their natural language—that of toys, imagination and play. “If every parent would carry out a 30-minute special play time with their child once a week, it will change the life of the child.”

There are not many situations where a child gets to be in charge, Wolf said. Play therapy does that for a child and allows them to learn about their own motivations and emotions, she said.

Lipscomb’s conference was a practical “how to” workshop including treatment outlines for 10 sessions and information on how to teach play therapy skills, toys and materials needed, techniques for involving parents in the learning process, meeting parents emotional needs, utilizing group dynamics and supervision. The event provided counseling professionals and students with 16 continuing education hours.

The conference was also valuable as a networking opportunity for play therapists, said Jamie Langley, president of the Tennessee Association of Play Therapy. Both counseling students and professionals benefit from getting to know each other and hearing from the top expert in the field, she said.

“I tell all my colleagues, when you get stuck and don’t know what to do, go to Gary Landreth,” said Langley.

Landreth is internationally renowned for his work and publications advancing the practice of child-centered play therapy. He established the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, which has become the largest play therapy training program in the world.

He has authored more than 150 journal articles and his books include the award-winning “Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship.” Other recent books include “Child Parent Relationship Therapy: A 10-Session Filial Therapy Model” with the accompanying “Child Parent Relationship Therapy Treatment Manual.” His Child Parent Relationship Therapy Model, the subject of this conference, received the Parent Education Best Practices Award.

Lipscomb currently offers a specialization in play therapy and the new Lipscomb Family Therapy Center includes a play therapy lab where marriage and family therapy and counseling students practice their skills with clients. Future plans include becoming an approved play therapy center through the Association for Play Therapy, which could be a first in the state of Tennessee.

 “I think (Lipscomb) is poised to become one of the largest play therapy centers in the Southeast,” said Landreth.