What do the game, “Chutes and Ladders” and children’s therapy have in common? You may not think that they are related at all, but play therapy allows for the two to work together to assist children with a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment difficulties. Next June, the Social Work Department will host the third annual Play Therapy Conference, which educates clinicians about play therapy methods.
Carol Schneweis, Social Work Assistant Professor, is one of the organizers of this year’s conference. “The purpose of the conference is to educate as many play therapists as possible and to increase the number of therapy providers in North Dakota,” she said.
Play therapy incorporates therapeutic interventions which allow children to use the language of play to express emotions and resolve inner conflict. The goal of play therapy is for the clinician to allow the child to be empowered and to use play as a means to help them to cope, to express their emotions, and to reinforce behaviors.
The play therapy room is often stocked with toys, dress-up items, games, and puppets and is an atmosphere that helps a child to feel welcome and relaxed. The therapists use the toys to give the children an opportunity to share their experiences in their own words. For example, a child who is acting out in school may work with a play therapist to learn better coping strategies to defer from negative behavior that he or she is currently exhibiting. The therapist could use a game like Chutes and Ladders to reinforce positive behaviors and help the child to better understand their negative behaviors. For example, whenever the child’s game marker goes up a ladder, the therapist could ask him or her for an example of a positive behavior that the child recently exhibited, thus reinforcing that behavior. When the child’s game marker goes down a chute, the therapist would then discuss with the child a time when he or she acted out, and associate the chute with the behavior that they are trying to correct thus helping the child to better understand their emotions.
This summer’s conference will begin with a pre-conference that will focus on the foundations of play therapy to give beginner play therapists the education and tools they will need to participate in the remainder of the conference. The two-day conference will feature Risë Van Fleet, an internationally known psychologist who specializes in Filial Therapy and Animal Assisted Play Therapy. The first day of the conference will focus on filial therapy which is a type of therapy that incorporates parents into their child’s play therapy. The second day, Dr. Van Fleet will teach attendees about Animal Assisted Play Therapy, a technique integrating playful child and animal interactions that capitalize on the human-animal bond to treat the child.
“We are excited to have Dr. Van Fleet serve as the trainer for the conference as her experience with Filial Therapy and Animal Assisted Play Therapy will be beneficial to practitioners. Parental support and guidance is critical to a child’s success, so I’m excited to learn more about the ways in which play therapists can include parents in the play therapy process,” said Schneweis.
In addition to the training, the conference also provides therapists with the opportunity to collaborate through the recently-formed North Dakota Association for Play Therapy, which will hold its first official meeting at this summer’s Play Therapy Conference. The ND Association for Play Therapy was a result of the first Play Therapy conference three years ago. The group is an affiliate of the National Association for Play Therapy and it serves as a network for play therapists to collaborate, increase their training, and support one another.
The Play Therapy Conference, which is sponsored by UND’s Department of Social Work and UND Summer Programs, will take place the fourth week of June in Grand Forks. Schneweis expects around 80 people to attend this year’s conference. More information will be available soon for those interested in attending.