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New podcast takes play therapy training beyond the classroom

Clinical Mental Health Program introduces new podcast “Play Therapy Across the Lifespan”

Kalli Groce  | 

Podcast 1

Denis´ Thomas is passionate about play therapy. As an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Family Science as well as the lead faculty in Lipscomb’s Play Therapy Specialization and the faculty director at the Center for Play Therapy and Expressive Arts, this passion serves her well. Now, she and several students and graduates from the Clinical Mental Health Program are reaching audiences outside of the classroom with the new podcast “Play Therapy Across the Lifespan.”

The podcast is designed to help counseling professionals and students use play therapy to facilitate deep healing. It’s a place for learning, growing and being real. Thomas and her team believe that play therapy is not just for kids, so they talk about using play therapy with adolescents and adults to deepen their therapeutic experiences, too. Episodes are released every other week. In Season One, the podcast focuses on the basics. Season Two, which will be released in the spring semester, will be about incorporating expressive arts.

Thomas knows exactly why this podcast has a space to fill. “First, play therapy professionals love information and inspiration to sharpen their skills,” she explains. “The first season focuses on the basics for those who are newer to using play therapy and shares current research. Second, the podcast helps professionals connect with others who use this specialized treatment modality. It's helpful to listen to others who do what you do. Third, we hope the podcast builds excitement and enthusiasm for play therapy that translates into higher job satisfaction. We need highly qualified professionals to stay in the profession.”

The podcast offers helpful information for students and professionals, including specifics about training options, current research on play therapy–related topics and recommended resources for play therapy information. It also provides practical advice that listeners can use right away, such as what to include in a mobile therapy kit, how to set up a space for play therapy and how to adapt play therapy to adolescents and adults by using age-appropriate tools.

“You might be surprised to learn that there are many approaches to play therapy,” explains Thomas in Episode 1: Getting Started. “Some are completely child directed, and some are therapist directed. Many are a hybrid of the two. … There are lots of great options for doing play therapy.”

Thomas has certainly seen the benefits in real life. “I absolutely love play therapy, and I can't imagine doing therapeutic work without using it,” she says. “It is incredibly helpful for working with children, as it gives them a natural way to work through their problems, and it doesn't require them to verbally process trauma and big feelings. With adolescents, it gives them tools to express complex emotions that they may not be developmentally able to articulate with words. Adults, too, may be limited by trying to wrap words around complex tangles of opposing feelings simultaneously. Play therapy provides a way for clients to externally show what is happening internally.”

She continues, “My favorite thing about play therapy is when I get to watch big aha moments happen with students in class or clients in session and watch a resolution to the problem begin. Often, you can see peace settle around them, and they physically look different. I love that.”

She adds, “One thing I really enjoy about teaching play therapy is when students begin the class with uncertainty about whether using play therapy will really work for them. Then, just a few days later, they have experienced how it works personally, so they are as excited as I am about it.”

Thumbnails of play therapy podcast episodes

Getting Started
“I love to teach, and I love listening to podcasts, so combining them made sense to me,” says Thomas of the moment inspiration struck. “I've wanted to start this for a few years. I just picture my students and share things I want to teach them. Also, we have great things happening with our play therapy specialization, so I want everyone to know.”

This podcast is the result of the hard work and dedication of a talented team that includes Thomas, as well as several students and graduates from the Clinical Mental Health Program. Together, they have collaborated, created and produced an exceptional end product. 

“I mentioned wanting to start a podcast in an Internship class last fall, and one of my soon-to-be-graduates, Sheldon Clark, immediately said, ‘I really want to help with that.’ His background is in audio engineering, but he was working on the play therapy specialization in the clinical mental health program. Who better to help with the podcast? He is the reason it sounds so professional,” says Thomas. “Then SaraBeth Geoghegan, another student, wrote an original song, ‘Firefly,’ to capture her experience in the play therapy class, and she played it on the last day of class. It’s beautiful, and she provided it and the music soundtrack, which you hear on the podcast. Another student, Rachel Sellers, got really excited about the research in this field, and she agreed to write and record that segment, which grounds the podcast in the current literature. Finally, I have an incredible student, Cara Allison, helping with a lot of the behind-the-scenes work. She has added content to the website, created the cover for the podcast, set up the show notes and even added transcriptions … and made it look amazing.” 

The Power of the Podcast
Thomas enjoys a good podcast and has several favorites of her own. “One of my favorites is The 5 AM Miracle with Jeff Sanders (husband of our own Tess Sanders, who is a professor in education),” she says. “I also like You’ve Got This (a podcast for academics), Optimal Health Daily, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and the Organize 365 podcast. A podcast that inspired my sabbatical RV Trip was the RV Entrepreneur, and for homeschooling (and parenting) I like Wild + Free.”

No matter what approach you take, Thomas notes that it is critical for professionals to stay current in their field. She suggests going to conferences and talking to presenters and attendees about what their experiences. “I think it is important to read professional journals and publications, as well as books that are contributing to the field,” she adds.

“It is essential to stay current in your profession, but that doesn't mean trudging through difficult-to-understand empirical research studies. It’s possible to get the main idea quickly, and in doing that, you hone your skills for determining quality research and learning the results,” she notes. “I hope to encourage students to quit fearing research and start looking at it as essential credibility and ethical, evidence-based treatment … even in a field where we play with toys to help clients heal.”

Thomas has co-written a book to be released in 2020 with Melanie Morris of the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Family Science. It is called “Creative Play Therapy with Adolescents and Adults: Moving from Helping to Healing” and is being published by Routledge Publishing. She will be using it in her Advanced Play Therapy and Expressive Arts course, so it's everything she wants her students to know. 

Much like with the podcast, that was the intention: To start a conversation in which they can pass on the information they want students and other professionals to know about play therapy. 

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