What Makes A Good Play Therapist?

Learn What It Takes To Make A Good Play Therapist:

All children in therapy have the right to have access to a trained play therapist. If you work with children you need to know how to use play therapy with kids!

Play Therapist Dr. Michelle Stangline


Dr. Stangline and Play Therapy Bully Wolf Puppet

What does it take to make a good play therapist?

A good play therapist builds a rapport with the child and knows how to appropriately get on the child’s level.

They do not talk down to children with baby talk, or act like an authoritative figure by looking down at the child. They are not frightening to the child.

However, they know how to be appropriate (not immature) and at the same time connect with the child in a way other adults do not.

A good play therapist generally likes children and is patient with children, especially those children who are in need or have been traumatized in the past.

A good play therapist will trust that children have an inner strength and want to behave and be socially unacceptable.

They know that the child has the ability to use this strength and holds the key to the solution to the problem. They do not try to force the child into conforming to the therapist’s agenda.

A good play therapist knows that the way a child behaves is a form of communication from the child. If a child is acting out they are trying to say something.

Behavior is “talking” in the world of a child. They look and listen to the child’s communication on all levels. They listen to the behavior of a child and understand that it is a form of communication.

A good play therapist has learned not to take things a client says or does personally. They realize the client is in pain and is actually reaching out to them for help. They get past the “personalization” and move forward to help the client heal.

A good play therapist knows that all children grow and develop at their own pace. They will not be forced to grow from parents and systems set up on a time frame based on age.

A good play therapist knows that a child cannot go from a range of 2 to a 22 overnight. They celebrate the small successes of the child and promote this to the parents and child.

A good play therapist respects that children have the right to play and have fun every day and are advocates for children and natural play. They teach parents that children need natural play time each day.

A good play therapist will always put the child first, even if it means going against the will of another adult. An example of this is when a call to DFACS is needed to protect the child.

They do not allow other adults to lead them when it comes to the safety and protection of a child. Even if it means risking the relationship between the adult or child.

A good play therapist will accept that they will not like every child they encounter, but will always respect the child and give them their best without the child ever knowing the negative feelings.

They will always have hope that the child will become more likable in therapy and that not every child needs to be “liked” to matter.

A good play therapist knows that every child has strengths and weaknesses. They will work with the child, family, and teachers to promote the child’s natural strengths while working on helping the child with their personal weaknesses.

A good play therapist will always instill hope, especially at the end of the therapy session to the child and the parents or guardians.

A good play therapist will understand that they need to know themselves and their issues if they are going to help children with issues.

They seek supervision and training when needed and continue to grow as a therapist throughout their career. They keep themselves healthy and happy by following their own advice that they promote to clients.

They also know that they need to work on their own personal healing and that sometimes client issues will drag out deep forgotten issues of the play therapist’s childhood.

The play therapist should never let this get in the way and affect the child.

A good play therapist will spend time on their own inner child and know this child well. They practice the value of play every day with themselves and their own families. They like to play and promote play to clients.

A good play therapist is authentic with children. They know that children can see through false and insincere people better than anyone else.

A good play therapist will use their imagination, as well as the training and tools they have.

A good play therapist is directive when they need to be by planning the therapy session well in advance and maintaining safety in the therapy session.

However, they know when to be non-directive and allow the child to lead them and trust that the child knows where to go in the therapy session.

They know that both directive and non-directive therapy is needed at different times in order to help the child grow.

A good play therapist will give great thought to the toys they allow in the playroom. The playroom is orderly and all toys are useful to the healing of the client.

The play therapist does not have a room resembling a “hoarder” and they do not go into debt purchasing toys. They make their own toys in addition to purchasing toys.

They know that children will often prefer the “made toys” over the “store-bought toys.”

A good play therapist will set limits in a clear and consistent manner and offer choices to children and parents whenever possible, but will still maintain a positive relationship with the child and parents.

A good play therapist will know that at times they must use gentle confrontation with children and their parents and are not afraid to do so in a kind, professional, and caring manner.

They do not allow their “personal stuff” or “personal fears” to get in the way.

A good play therapist will self-disclosure only when it truly can benefit a child or parent and never at the beginning of the relationship. They will build trust in the relationship before they share personal information to help the client.

A good play therapist knows that they are the catalyst or tool in therapy as well as the toys and tools in their playroom. They know how to put their training into motion to fully help a child grow and heal.

They realize that great toys do not make a great therapist. However, they have the appropriate supplies ready and available to help the client.

A good play therapist packs two brief cases or bags every day before work. They pack one for work when they are the play therapist.

This one is filled with the proper tools and items that are needed in play therapy sessions. The other bag or brief case is packed with the play therapist’s issues and problems. The play therapist only takes the brief case or bag with the work tools to work.

They will leave the bag with the personal issues and problems at home and never bring it to work.


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