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  • More Than Play:Benefits of Play Therapy Training for Undergraduates and Implications for Student Affairs
  • Maggie M. Parker (bio) and Ashley N. Stone (bio)

Grounded in Carl Rogers's (1951) personcentered theory, play therapy is built on the belief that children are able to self-actualize and heal the self within a supportive relationship and that children are capable, creative, worthy of respect, and growth oriented (Landreth, 2012). Play therapy provides a differing perspective into how one interacts with, understands, and engages in relationships with not only children, but also people of all ages. The purpose of this study was to explore undergraduate students' experiences in and perceptions of a play therapy course and to examine if the course assisted university students in developing their self-authorship by exploring the research question: How are students impacted beyond the classroom by an undergraduate play therapy course?


Play therapy has been adapted to allow adults important in children's lives to become therapeutic agents; this adaptation is based on the assumption that an adult with a prominent relationship with the child of focus can create lasting change through the use of therapeutic play skills. Although the intent of play therapy is the child's self-actualization and healing, some scholars have examined the effects of play therapy training on the adults who become the therapeutic agents. Landreth (2002) found that after learning about and conducting play therapy, adults experienced more positive sense of self, improved problem-solving skills, better relationships with others, and greater understanding of personal emotions. Parents and teachers who participated in child–parent [End Page 385] relationship therapy (CPRT) and child–teacher relationship training (CTRT) reported increased empathy (Edwards, Ladner, & White, 2007; Foley, Higdon, & White, 2006; Kinsworthy & Garza, 2010; Lahti, 1992; Lindo, Akay, Sullivan, & Meany-Walen, 2012; Solis, Meyers, & Varjas, 2004; Wickstrom, 2009), enhanced child–parent relationships, and strengthened relationships with family members (Wickstrom, 2009) and partners (Lahti, 1992; Wickstrom, 2009). Though few researchers have explored the outcomes of play therapy training for undergraduate students, Meany-Walen et al. (2014) found that those who engaged in an undergraduate therapeutic play course incorporated the skills and understanding of children into their relationships with peers. Students reported increased awareness of others' emotions and more confidence in their own ability to relate to others.


Self-authorship offers a holistic approach to understanding student development (Baxter Magolda, 2008, 2009). This includes students' learning to trust their internal voice and building an internal foundation as they secure internal commitments. Learning to trust their internal voice occurs as students learn to differentiate "between reality and their reaction to it" (Baxter Magolda, 2009, p. 631), helping them take responsibility for how they interpret and respond to reality. In building an internal foundation, students organize and test their choices and commitments as they grow to trust their internal voice.

While personal development between the ages of 20 and 30 happens whether a person enrolls in college or not, institutions of higher education often take an active role in fostering the development of their students. Previous researchers found parents and teachers trained in CPRT and CTRT developed stronger selfawareness (Kinsworthy & Garza, 2010; Lindo, Akay, Sullivan, & Meany-Walen, 2012), and the work of Meany-Walen et al. (2014) offers similar findings for undergraduate students; thus, exploring how play therapy skills could enhance students' development of trust in their internal voice and the building of an internal foundation is warranted.


The play therapy course we studied was offered to undergraduate students of any major at a small private university in the Southeast and was taught by the first author. The course was similar in content to graduate-level play therapy courses and CPRT, focusing on the purpose, supporting evidence, and skills involved in play therapy. The content and practice focused on how the material could be utilized within already established relationships. The course was both experiential and didactic, with students using skills learned through smallgroup activities and opportunities to practice play skills, self-reflect, and increase awareness of interaction cues.

While students learned the theory of play therapy, the majority of the course focused on the key concepts that...


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pp. 385-390
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