Play therapy is subject of two new Rider graduate courses

Courses will eventually contribute to requirements for a Registered Play Therapy credential
Keith Fernbach

Two new graduate-level courses are designed to give students in Rider’s counseling program experience in the rapidly growing field of play therapy. “Introduction to Play Therapy” debuted last spring and “Parent-Child Play Therapy” is being taught for the first time this fall.

Play therapy is a form of counseling in which practitioners help children build self-esteem, explore themselves and learn socially acceptable behavior through the context of play. It is an important therapeutic modality for counselors because it enables them to communicate with young clients in a way that they can’t through traditional means, says Dr. Yi-Ju Cheng, an assistant professor in Rider’s Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, and Counseling who created both courses.

“Developmentally, children do not have the capacity to articulate themselves through words as we adults do,” Cheng says. “However, all children play. Through play, they express their feelings, wishes, and wants; they reveal their experiences, and they share their perceptions about those experiences. Play is children's language and toys are their words. Therefore, we use play therapy to work with children and to understand their world.”

The “Introduction to Play Therapy” course teaches the basic philosophy, concepts and skills required to professionally work with children through play therapy. “We also do a lot of role-playing and experiential activities to really help students understand how play therapy works,” says Cheng.

In addition, the course covers different theoretical orientations, with a primary focus on an approach called child-centered play therapy, which Cheng says is the most researched and developed model in the field.

Feedback from students who took the introductory course during the spring semester was overwhelmingly positive. One student called it their favorite class at Rider, and another wrote: "Thank you so much for bringing play therapy to Rider. I enjoyed every minute of it."

In the “Parent-Child Play Therapy” course, students build on the concepts taught in the introductory class and use them to help parents — as well as teachers and other caregivers — build a stronger bond with their children.

“The goal is that by parents utilizing these skills in their daily interactions with their kids, it will lead to a better relationship between them,” says Dr. Cheng. “The main purpose of the course is to tell students how to work with the primary caregivers in the child’s system to promote a more holistic change in the child’s life.”

In addition to in-class role-playing, students will organize a group and conduct at least 10 mock sessions of parent-child relationship training over the course of the semester.

These two courses are the first in a three-course sequence that Cheng is creating that will enable Rider students to meet the requirements for a Registered Play Therapy (RPT) credential.

“I want to develop a more holistic and comprehensive training that will fulfill the educational requirements as well as the clinical requirements,” she says. “That’s where I see our program heading.”