Child and therapist doing play therapy with finger puppets

Play Therapy Helps Children Heal

Children as young as three-years-old dealing with trauma, grief, anger or emotional regulation issues often don’t have the words to explain what they are feeling. In fact, research shows that stress and trauma typically reside in the nonverbal parts of the brain; yet the capacity to process and communicate happens in a different area of our minds. Because of this, children may struggle to express their thoughts or feelings verbally. They may act out, clearly seeking attention, but are unsure or unwilling to discuss the reasons behind their behavior.

Play therapy is a path to healing

To help, behavioral health experts may recommend play therapy, a process through which a licensed mental health professional credentialed as a play therapist uses play through specially selected toys and items—such as figurines or puppets, sand trays, imaginary play or art supplies—to help a child express their emotions and embark on a pathway to healing.

In the state of Indiana, only 17 individuals are registered as play therapists. Fortunately, thanks to support from donors to Community Health Network Foundation, our Behavioral Health team has undertaken an effort to bring play therapy to our continuum of care, more than doubling the total number of Registered Play Therapists (RPT) in the state.

The effort is led by Rachael Fisher, a licensed clinical social worker with Community and Executive Director of Operations at Lutherwood. Fisher joined Community’s team after more than a decade of work in Virginia, where play therapy was common and training opportunities to become an RPT were abundant.

When she arrived in Indiana, she was shocked by how infrequently play therapy was utilized, largely, she learned, due to lack of opportunities to receive the necessary training. In Indiana, Fisher notes, there might only be a few training opportunities a year, and the time commitment can often be a hindrance. In some situations, becoming an RPT could take an individual several years.

Training therapists to be registered play therapists

Thanks to donors, 25 Community behavioral health therapists will receive 150 hours of training needed to become RPTs by the end of 2017. As of the end of April, these 25 individuals have had four, two-day training sessions.

“Overall, this is a great experience for our staff,” said Fisher. “Some may never have had the opportunity to achieve this certification. As a leader, I am thankful for the opportunity to offer this training for our employees and this tool for our clients.”

Throughout the year, as they meet with children in their caseloads, therapists are using play therapy techniques to help children express themselves.

For example, play therapy has been used with a child who had experienced numerous traumatic events including repeated sexual assault, neglect, physical abuse and domestic violence in the home. Now safe from this environment, she has been introduced to play therapy over the course of several months and has gone from sitting with her knees pulled close to her chest and afraid of everything to playing with the toys, drawing on the white board and using puppets to express her thoughts and feelings in a healthy way.

Once they have earned their certification as an RPT, the group will work in local schools, home-based care and outpatient services across Central Indiana to support children who may be suppressing emotions related to trauma.

Of course, this work is all made possible thanks to the compassionate generosity of donors.

“Donors are not something most agencies have,” Fisher said. “In our case, we had a vision and donors have helped to make it a reality. They are all in for our kids, and it’s truly remarkable to witness.”

Would you like to support this important work and play a role in helping more children find hope and healing? Visit bit.ly/CHNFdonate and designate your gift to Behavioral Health Care: Play Therapy.

If you believe play therapy techniques may be beneficial to your child, please call Community’s Behavioral Health services at 317-621-5719.