Risë VanFleet

Finding a play therapist


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I sometimes receive emails from parents looking for a play therapist for their children.  This segment discusses ways to find a play therapist.  Credentials, finding a play therapist in your geographic area, and determining if a play therapist might be a good “match” are discussed separately.


Many play therapists are also licensed in another mental health field, such as psychology, social work, counseling, and so on.  Licenses in the United States are determined on a state-by-state basis, although many require passing a national examination.  Internationally, credentialing processes are determined on a country-by-country basis. 

Generally speaking, licenses usually permit a  professional to practice independently.  Mental health counselors without licenses usually practice under the direct supervision of a licensed professional or within an agency.  In general, it’s desirable to find someone with a license or someone who is regularly supervised by a licensed professional.

There is another credential that play therapists in the United States can achieve called the Registered Play Therapist (RPT).  This credential is provided through the Association for Play Therapy.  It requires the play therapist to have at least a master’s degree and license in a mental health field, to complete a substantial amount of play therapy training, to have extensive clinical experience, and to have received play therapy supervision.  Registered Play Therapist-Supervisors (RPT-S) must be licensed, have had supervisory training, and have achieved even more experience in play therapy.  If you’d like to know more details about the requirements for becoming an RPT or RPT-S, visit the website for the Association for Play Therapy, then click on Registration. Other countries may have their own forms of credentialing for play therapists, but this is a relatively new development in the field overall. For example, in the United Kingdom, Qualified Play Therapists have undergone extensive training and supervision specifically in play therapy (for more information on this visit The British Association of Play Therapists).

There are also specialty credentials in play therapy.  Because there are many different types of play therapy, some therapists concentrate their training in one area to become more proficient.  These credentials are called different things.  For example, the Family Enhancement and Play Therapy Center offers a credential called a Certified Filial Therapist.  This is awarded to individuals who have achieved advanced levels of training and experience, and competence in filial (parent-child) therapy (see description in the article in our Parents’ Pages).  If you have questions about one of these specialty credentials, ask the potential therapist to share the requirements for that credential with you. 

Some of these play therapy credentials have been developed only within the past decade or so.  If you can’t find a play therapist in your area with an RPT or RPT-S, look for one who is working toward becoming an RPT.  There are many fine play therapists who are currently in this category. 

Finding a Play Therapist in Your Area

In the United States, the Association for Play Therapy maintains a directory of its members, approved RPTs, and RPT-Ss.  Most states (in the U.S.) have their own branch of APT.  Your local branch would be a good source of information about play therapists in your area.  Visit the Association for Play Therapy site (click on Find a Play Therapist), or call them at 559-294-2128 (in California), ask for the name of the contact person for your local branch, and contact that person. 

Determining if a Play Therapist is a “Good Match”

Once you obtain the name of a potential play therapist or two, feel free to call them and ask a few questions.  It’s fine to inquire about their credentials, what type(s) of play therapy they do, and what types of problems they typically handle.  Ask them to explain anything you don’t fully understand.  A quality therapist won’t mind answering these types of questions. 

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the therapist you choose.  Although details about play sessions are usually kept confidential so children feel free to express themselves fully, your play therapist should keep you informed about general issues and progress, and work with you to handle various parenting questions that arise.  If Filial Therapy, described above, is appropriate for you and your child, you would be an integral part of the sessions.  If you are uncomfortable with your play therapist for any reason, it’s best to raise your concerns with your therapist directly before deciding to switch to someone else.  Sometimes simple misunderstandings can easily be resolved with some open communication. 

The key is that you trust the competence of your play therapist, that your child likes the therapist, and that you develop a collaborative relationship with your therapist.  Play therapy and filial therapy can be very rewarding and useful experiences for children and parents.  Although I can’t guarantee that these ideas will work for you, I hope this helps you find a good play therapist near you!

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