If you ever have taken a Child Centered Play Therapy course (which I hope you have!), read a foundational text (like Play Therapy: The Art Of The Relationship), or seen a video of Dr. Garry Landreth in CCPT glory you have inevitably noticed the beautiful, pristine, spacious Playrooms. Not a desk or office chair in sight.
If that leaves you with a little Playroom envy, same. There are a lot of therapists who have hybrid playrooms (including me!) or play on the go. The fact that they need a separate Playroom to do "real play therapy" is one of my Top 5 Myths About Working With Children! It’s also the reason I created this course HERE, which you should check out if you need support designing your Playroom!
If you need some ideas about designing a playroom on the go, like now, or are looking for more inspiration for your Playroom check out my FREE resource for The Portable Playroom - full of free downloadable resources and links to all of the categories of toys for Child Centered Play Therapy!
Sometimes Play Therapists can get caught up in having just the "right" space to play in. I remember being so inspired when I read Terry Kottman and Kristen Meany-Whalen’s book Doing Play Therapy where Terry talks about doing Play Therapy in the corner of a secluded hallway. Just a Play Therapy legend, doing her best, meeting kids where they are it - even if it happened to be in the hallway or a conference room!
And at that moment I felt so seen! I had been attempting to hold fidelity to Child Centered Play Therapy in the smallest of offices without a separate playroom for years and to hear that one of our top experts in the field (although not a CCPT) was making Play Therapy work wherever she could access children was so inspiring!
So the real talk about my offices? I have played in the corner of conference rooms with large tables taking up the majority of the room, in an extremely tiny office that housed the custodian’s closet inside of it (like the custodian took three steps through my office to access their cart, which did disrupt play sessions from time to time - but I'll take what I can get!), an office that had floor to ceiling windows looking out at the hallway, and small offices with no windows.
And, I have been grateful for all of these opportunities to see young people. In all of these offices and settings, with toy collections large and small, I have seen immense healing and growth. I have seen children grow into the best versions of themselves - confident and able to regulate.
Children were able to heal just as much next to the janitor’s closet than the biggest office I have ever had. They were able to heal with my Playroom that held probably $100 worth of materials as well as in my Playroom collection (through many years) likely holds thousands of dollars in toys and play equipment.
Here are my top 5 things needed (that you can find nearly anywhere) to do Child Centered Play Therapy:
1. At least some toys from each category of toys in the playroom. Check out the categories HERE!
2. A space that is confidential and private
3. Enough floor space for some movement
4. Enough space to have the toys accessible to the child
I hope this encourages you that you are enough without a fully stocked play room. The relationship you provide to the child is enough. AND that it is possible to have fidelity to CCPT with a small amount of toys and a less than ideal setting.
Now - go play on!!!
AND - I would love to hear from you! What is the most creative or challenging office you have played in? Drop it in the comments below!!
For Child Centered Play Therapy there isn’t really any “session prep” in the traditional sense. No books, activities, topics, or materials to prepare. Preparing involves you authentically showing up as yourself - regulated, open, and willing to support the child through play, CCPT skills, and facilitative responses.
AND sometimes you might find yourself wondering if you should do more. Have a structured session. Engage in another modality of Play Therapy with a child.
I would hope that most Play Therapists are prescriptive in nature, meaning you have several core theories you are trained in and during your intake process you assess what theory, modality, or combination might be right for the child that is presenting in your office.
Sometimes for a client whose parents are getting divorced you might put CCPT aside for a session or two to engage in some Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy or Bibliotherapy around the topic of divorce. The same is true for other things that may happen in a child's life like grief and loss or even a major event like the pandemic. Other times when doing trauma work you may pause the CCPT work and engage in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or combine EMDR with Play Therapy.
Now, Child Centered Play Therapy purists would say that this might rarely need to be done. AND sometimes in our clinical work with children the specific situation a child is presenting necessitates us to go a little (brace yourself) directive.
I wanted to share with you my three tips for when you need to pause the course of Child Centered Play Therapy and engage in a more directive session:
1. Understand the purpose - what are you hoping to accomplish with a directive session or other Play Therapy modality? What are the specific goals you are hoping to achieve and what are the reasons these goals cannot be achieved with CCPT? A great example of this is a child whose parents are divorcing that may not have adequate information about what divorce means and what the process will be. It may make sense to take a session to read a book or do an activity about divorce and psychoeducation.
2. Clearly communicate the session structure - If you are going to dedicate an entire session to another modality communicate that to the child at the session prior (including the structure of the session) as well as right at the beginning of the directive session. If you are going to engage in two modalities within the same session be clear if the child will have the CCPT time at the first or last portion of the session.
3. Use a transition statement - if you are engaging in two modalities within the same session (ie a CCPT session for the first portion and a CBPT session for the last portion) use a clear transition statement that the Child Centered Play Therapy portion of the session has ended and you are beginning a new modality, technique, or theory. That might sound like “Our special playtime is over for the day, and now we are going to spend the last part of this time being in charge together and reading this book!”. This transition statement safeguards us from using directive approaches during our CCPT time.
And there you have it! These are the three ways that I use when I am utilizing a different Play Therapy modality or approach with a child who has typically only had Child Centered Play Therapy Sessions!
What did I miss? What other tips do you have for having a directive session with the course of Child Centered Play Therapy? Drop them in the comments below!
In Child Centered Play Therapy the intervention is the relationship as well as the specific set of skills that help a therapist know what to say about the play and when (check out my free download of all of the Child Centered Play Therapy Skills HERE).
But….then how do you make sense of it all? What were they actually communicating? How do you know if they are making progress?!
Whew… those are all excellent questions. Let’s start with the great news - you do not need to know exactly why a child is playing a specific way or what their play actually means. We can still be effective therapists by focusing on the relationship and the CCPT skills and facilitative responses within the session.
In Gary Landreth’s text Play Therapy and the Art of the Relationship there are 4 pages dedicated to themes in play therapy in a 403 page text book. In Child Centered Play Therapy by Rise VanFleet, Andrea Sywulak, and Cynthia Caparosa Sniscak there are 14 pages out of a 223 page text.
In short - the thing that I wanted to know MOST about when I started doing Child Centered Play Therapy doesn’t exactly have a ton of information I could dive into. I think over the years of doing CCPT this is why I have gravitated to CE courses, texts, and trial and error to hone this skill in the Playroom as much as I could.
On the other hand, it probably isn’t the best idea to throw the idea of themes out the window completely. That's probably why your reading, right? I am a strong believer that understanding a child’s play themes helps us to be a more effective play therapist by having more accurate and on target facilitative responses.
And at the same time, two children could play out similar play sequences and have it mean completely different things. The two text above are what I have used as my guide as a Child Centered Play Therapist, and from these foundational texts I wanted to share with you 3 ways you can tell in the Playroom if a child is playing out a theme in Child Centered Play Therapy:
There is a sudden change in intensity in the play
A child may shift play to a higher level of intensity or become very focused on the specific play. This is why it is so necessary to be in tune with your nervous system to be able to be present and attuned to the child’s nervous system in the Playroom.
There is repetition of the play sequence
This could either be a repetition between sessions or multiple courses of the same play within sessions. Think battle sequences that repeat or feeling like you are seeing the same moving 1,000 times in the playroom!
Play that continues from session to session
This is when the child comes in and picks right back up where they left off. The amazing part about this is during the pandemic when children had been playing virtual for a year and a half when they returned to my Playroom they picked up the same play they had left off with in our last in office session!
This is definitely not a comprehensive list AND it is also important to note that whatever facilitative responses you are making with the play themes in mind - the goal is to help move the child forward in play!
What other things do you notice that indicates your clients are in a play theme? Drop a comment below!
Child Centered Play Therapy is a theory and modality of Play Therapy that is pretty darn different from other theories. Grab my FREE cheat sheet download of CCPT skills and facilitative responses HERE. Also see the difference between Child Centered Play Therapy and Child Led Therapy HERE!
So one of the biggest defining differences are that the “intervention” is the relationship you hold with the child and the facilitative responses you give during play. No therapist led or directed activities. No therapist led or directed content…well…except for some structuring skills and limit setting - but that’s it!
Centering the child and letting the child fully lead is wonderful, effective, and amazing to watch the process unfold in your Playroom. However, most play therapists become stuck on this one question - How do I know that CCPT is working? When are clients done? Am I doing enough? Am I even being helpful here?
Okay, that was four questions. Fair. But the theme is that you might struggle without the specific skills teaching or activities to know if you are even moving the needle for their therapeutic care.
It can be hard, but with CCPT you really need to fully trust the process or you won’t be able to be authentically present in the playroom in the way the child needs you to be to hold fidelity to CCPT. If you don’t fully trust the process you will likely feel the urge to give it a little nudge. AND this is when CCPT therapists go from having fidelity to CCPT to making it something else that is therapist led.
I wanted to share with you my FREE Downloadable Effectiveness Cheat Sheet to help you understand the top 7 things I look out for to know that I look for to understand how CCPT is working!
Download my FREE Child Centered Play Therapy Effectiveness Cheat Sheet HERE!
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.