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Play Therapy Inst. Prepares For Growth

Photo Courtesy of University Communications
Photo Courtesy of University Communications

Move to Insight Park grows institute’s child advocacy, education missions

By: Andrew Mark Abernathy, Ole Miss News Desk

Nearly a year-and-a-half after opening its doors, the Child Advocacy and Play Therapy Institute at the University of Mississippi has moved to a new facility, allowing the institute to significantly increase the number of children it can reach with play therapy services each week.

CAPTI’s move from Guyton Hall to the university’s new Insight Park grows the center from two playrooms to four and increases its capacity for play therapy sessions to as many as 120 per week. Each week, the institute’s counselors and graduate students help more than 50 children experiencing emotional distress and trauma.

“Play therapy is a way for children to talk about the issues they’re experiencing,” said CAPTI director Marilyn Snow, who also serves as chair of the board of directors of the Association for Play Therapy, or APT, the governing body for play therapists in the United States. “Children are not as verbal as adults, but when you bring them into a playroom, you give them the opportunity to play out what they’re experiencing and help them.”

An APT-approved center for play therapy education since October 2011, CAPTI maintains a no-turn-away policy for all children and their families and offers its services on an income-based scale and can accept health insurance. Some parents pay little or nothing for sessions and clients travel from far away as east Arkansas and east Tennessee.

In the past year, the institute has set milestones in the growing mental health field, including offering the nation’s first degree in play therapy. Last summer, CAPTI unveiled an online Specialist in Education degree for licensed mental health professionals. The program’s first cohort of nine working clinicians comes from around the country and is expected to graduate in August 2013. All should qualify to become registered play therapists by the APT upon graduation.

“In private practice, issues constantly came up that I couldn’t have imagined,” explained CAPTI counselor Kathryn O’Neil, who is also a member of the specialist degree’s charter class. “I wanted to make sure I had the education to serve children best, for instance, I’d never taken a class on play therapy with autism. CAPTI has given me the chance to do just that.”

O’Neil was a counselor in Mandeville, La., before coming to Ole Miss in January 2012 to work with CAPTI. Although she was already a registered play therapist, she said the CAPTI curriculum was an attractive way to diversify her education while working to help children. O’Neil and eight other licensed mental health professionals in the cohort have a chance to collaborate online to address specific issues ranging from clinical practice to ethics and law.

“I think the thing that helps the most is that we study video of actual play therapy cases,” she explained. “We’re all licensed clinicians; we can all watch, analyze and communicate about different issues as we learn and relate it back to our own cases.”

Snow, along with CAPTI counselors and graduate students specializing in play therapy, have also made strides in therapeutic uses of technology by incorporating iPad and tablet technology into play therapy this year. For children who feel too old for toys, the iPad can be a new avenue for play therapy.

In a recent article in APT’s journal Play Therapy, CAPTI staff found that for some children, the use of iPad technology can create a less-threatening environment in counseling.

“For me, I found it helpful when dealing with a client with autism,” said CAPTI counselor Lacy Crumrine, who is writing a dissertation on play therapy and autism. “He was 15 but developmentally about 6. Allowing him to play a game on the iPad opened him up and made him feel more comfortable with me. After that, he became much more interested in the rest of the playroom.”

With its new space, the institute is also strengthening its mission to advocate for the rights of children in the legal system. The institute offers expert witness consultation services for attorneys around the country in cases involving children, including child abuse, child testimony, guardian at litem and more. Snow hopes to develop new services to advocate for the rights of children.

“Right now, we receive calls from multiple attorneys each week,” Snow explained. “We hope to open a whole new arm of the institute dealing with custody in divorce mitigations to advocate for what’s best for children. I think this next step will mean huge growth for everything we do here. We will help more children.”

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