In May of 2021, the Association for Play Therapy (APT) released their voluntary practice guidelines for play therapists. This guide outlined key recommendations for conducting safe, effective, and ethically-appropriate therapy sessions. We’ve included our 5 main takeaways from the APT guide, so that you can better assess your level of clinical competence.
The Child is your First Priority
If there was one consistent message in the Association of Play Therapy’s (APT) Voluntary Practice Guidelines, it would be to put the child first. Sensitivity to the unique goals, cultural background, personal history, family structure, comfort level, and agreeability of each child you see in the therapy room is critical. Play therapists actively guide the counseling process and must understand how chronological and developmental age affect the clinical picture. Individual and group differences should be respected to ensure the client remains your clinical priority.
A Touchy Subject
According to the APT, appropriate touch can be a beneficial intervention for play therapists (with important caveats!). Before you consider incorporating touch into sessions, it’s best to acquire advanced training on clinical techniques, informed consent, and effective documentation related to play-therapy practice. Positive touch can help redirect a child and teach age-appropriate behavior. But before implementing appropriate touch, play therapists should consider power differentials, treatment goals, and the client’s emotional state and trauma history.
The Freedom to Choose
Since children are typically the client in play therapy, legal considerations should be thoroughly assessed. Developmental and communication limitations can make it difficult for a child to express their preferences. Because of this, the APT has described a child’s inability to select therapeutic activities as an ethical consideration for play therapists. Therapists should, to the best of their ability, create an environment where children can pursue their own therapeutic goals within a supportive atmosphere. Keep the freedom to choose at the front of your mind when planning a course of treatment for your client.
Use your Credentials with Precision
The APT has encouraged play therapists to advertise their credentials carefully. For play therapists, there are two levels of specialty credentialing: Registered Play Therapist (RPT) and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S). In order to ethically market yourself as a specialist who offers play therapy, your educational background should match the service you are providing. Therapists should always defer to their most applicable counseling degree or certification when corresponding with potential clients, engaging in outreach activities, or speaking about professional work. Don’t make the mistake of misleading prospective clients or their families!
Play is an Inalienable Right for All Children
The school environment is one of the primary settings where play happens. At school, children begin learning from peers and build prosocial behaviors. But sometimes, an educational program is a poor fit for a particular set of circumstances. When a therapist facilitates a discussion around educational placements, the APT has emphasized that the temperament, physical limitations, ability, passion, aptitude, level of socialization, and other child-specific needs should always be considered.
Bringing It All Together
Bringing the family system together can be a wonderful, unifying experience for counselors and their clients; but as the APT has highlighted in their voluntary practice guidelines, the child client’s welfare remains the focus of treatment. When combining play therapy with telehealth, the same etiquette applies. Professional groups like the APT and state licensing boards should be a therapist’s first stop for verifying current practice standards before accepting clients for play therapy.
Association for Play Therapy. (2012). Paper on touch: Clinical, professional, & ethical issues.
Association for Play Therapy. (n.d.). Voluntary play therapy practice guidelines.