Transcript: Overview And Vision For The Play Therapy Podcast

Podcast Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Brenna Hicks. Welcome to the very first episode of the play therapy podcast. I am so excited to be with you. Thank you for joining me. This has been a brainchild of mine for quite a while and something that I’ve really had a passion and a heart to pour into. So it’s finally here, and I’m so excited that you are with me. Since this is our first episode, I wanted to spend a little bit of time explaining the mission behind this podcast, the “why” – you know, why this matters, why I’m doing this, what you can expect, what you can learn, what you will get out of this, and why we’re in this journey of being play therapy people together. Thank you for being with me.

I want to dive in a little bit into what my vision is for this, what I hope to accomplish, and what I think you will benefit from being a part of the play therapy podcast with me. I think first and foremost, my goal is to have a practical implementation of play therapy in your practice. In other words: How do you use play therapy effectively? How do you use child centered play therapy effectively? What does it look like practically speaking? We could talk about theory a lot. We could talk about the foundations, philosophies, and the model a lot, but I think sometimes there’s a gap between the learning and the doing. I definitely feel that the practical implementation is a big piece of this.

Of course, I want this to be an exclusively child centered podcast. I know there are many types of play therapy. I know that there are many theorists and theoretical models and orientations all across the play therapy spectrum, but I am exclusively a child centered therapist. So this podcast will focus only on the child centered model, which in turn, means that you get focused training. I think one of the big concerns, issues, or facets that I see is that a lot of play therapists claim to be eclectic. I hear that a lot – when I go to conferences, when I give workshops, when I attend play therapy based types of gatherings. I often end up in conversations with other therapists and other clinicians and I say, “I wonder what your theoretical model is?” or “I wonder what orientation you have?” and I get blank stares. I get “Well, I guess I’ve never really thought about that.” or I get, “Oh, I’m eclectic.” None of those answers are inherently wrong. I don’t have an issue with those answers in practice, but I think that to be an excellent play therapist, there needs to be a focused orientation and model, and that becomes your framework, undergirding, and foundation, so that you know exactly who you are and why you are doing the things that you’re doing therapeutically. So I definitely want this to be a move away from eclecticism in the play therapy field. I think it really stems back to lack of training or poor training. In other words, many universities do not have play therapy programs. Many of us that go to graduate school are not blessed with the access to play therapy training. So we take a course here, we go to a conference there, we read some books, and we digest some articles. It’s easy to take a little bit from here, a little bit from here, a little bit from here, and we become eclectic. It’s just a lack of training and poor training.

I definitely believe that all play therapy is not equal. I think there’s a mindset that play therapy is play therapy. It doesn’t matter what kind of play therapy you do. As a child centered non directive play therapist, I disagree with that model. I definitely believe that all play therapy is not created equal, and I genuinely believe that child centered is the best option. We will talk, through this podcast in future episodes, why I believe that, what in my practice leads me to that conclusion, and how I see it unfold. We’ll really dive into a lot of the beliefs behind child centered being the best.

Here’s another piece: so many people reach out. I’m actually very grateful. I’m very blessed. I have another podcast that I have mainly geared toward parents, but a lot of therapists follow that podcast as well. I have a newsletter that goes out worldwide. I have a CPRT training program that’s worldwide. I have a lot of channels through which people can reach out to me. Many, many people, literally across the world, email me, reach out, and ask for training. They ask for mentorship. They ask for supervision. They ask if I have resources to share with them. They ask me questions specifically to their own clients. Sometimes they give me a case study basically in an email and say, “What do you do when this happens? What would you suggest that I tell this parent? How should I handle this with this child?” It just reminds me how hungry people are for child centered, non directive play therapy. Sometimes there is little to no access to those things. I want this to be the source and hub of that focused centered play therapy coaching from a child centered mindset.

I think probably bigger than any other point I’ve talked about as far as the mission, the why, what I’m hoping this will be as a podcast family, is to carry on the legacy of play therapy giants. What I mean by that is that there are some people in this field that have pioneered a child centered approach. They have created a legacy. They have put in the work, time, and the blood, sweat, and tears, to evangelize child centered play therapy, to make it accessible, to teach, coach, model, train, and speak. There are giants that have already paved the way, and I genuinely desire to carry on that legacy because as Garry Landreth has retired now, as Sue Bratton has retired now, as Dee Ray is potentially retiring soon. These are big names in the child centered field. For those to exit the field, we have an opportunity to carry on that legacy. That is definitely a big piece of my heart in this podcast.

Really, I think beyond that, if we carry on the legacy of play therapy giants, we are inspired to be better play therapists. That’s genuinely also another big goal. I want us to all be better play therapists. We do that from focused and centered coaching and training. That’s definitely what I want this to be. Really, this becomes a community. I’m really big on community. I’m really big on the journey and the people that are on that journey with you and what that looks like to have people alongside you supporting and encouraging and walking with you. So this really is designed to become a community, and we will be unveiling some things and rolling some things out in future episodes. We are actually creating an online community that I will make you aware of as it’s finalized. There will definitely be a future home for the play therapy podcast to have an online community where you can ask questions and get support and feedback and have other like minded child centered, non directive play therapists come alongside you, support you, and help all of us become better at what we do. So I am very, very excited about this. This really is designed to equip all of us to be knowledgeable and effective as play therapists, and really to become the best play therapist that we can be. That is genuinely my heart. I’ve been given a lot of really amazing opportunities in the field: to supervise, to teach, and to train and coach. I’ve watched play therapists thrive, grow, develop and really find themselves as clinicians, and that’s really fulfilling for me.
Let me share a little bit about my background, my history, how I have evolved as a play therapist, and kind of my journey into the world of child centered. I started my private practice as a child centered non directive play therapist in 2006. I’m not too far away from the 20 year mark, in three or four years, I’ll be hitting that number. It was a really crazy paradigm shift that I went through. I went into graduate school fully convinced I was going to work with the geriatric population. My mom was a medical social worker and had always worked in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. Her clients were the elderly. I volunteered with her during summers and went to spend time with her residents, and the elderly generation are just the most special, endearing, loving people. I genuinely thought I could spend the rest of my career working with people in their end years. I fully went into graduate school saying geriatric is where I was going with my practice, and I started substitute teaching. What that means is, I needed a job that would let me work around school hours, so substitute teaching was perfect. I started going into elementary schools and middle schools blindly, with no expectations of behaviors of students and no backstory on students.

Every day that I walked into the school, everyday that I stepped into a classroom, I had behavior in children. Then other teachers, other students, guidance counselors, and principals informed me of how labeled that child was. In other words, “Oh yeah, that kid gets in trouble every day.” “That kid’s in the principal’s office every single day by noon.” “Oh yeah, they get sent to time out every single day.” It was this pervasive jadedness, judgment, and label that followed these kids that were struggling to comply with limits and deal with their behavior in effective ways. Interestingly, even though I had no intention at that time of working with children, all I saw in these kids were hurt, sad, angry, broken children. I guess maybe this was because I had fresh eyes or because I was in therapy training, I don’t really know the circumstances. I just know that I remember every day thinking to myself, these are not bad kids. They’re just dealing with their emotions, and they don’t know what to do with them, so they’re acting out. That was before I had any play therapy training whatsoever. So that started it. I had this huge paradigm shift where I said to myself, if I worked with kids when they were kids, maybe they wouldn’t need therapy when they were in the geriatric realm of life. It kind of became this really big career deciding moment for me, where I thought, you know what, maybe I need to work with children.

Parallel that process with the fact that I’m in graduate school, and Jennifer Baggerly (one of my biggest mentors, friends, supporters, encouragers… oh my gosh, Dr. Baggerly, thank you) taught a lot of our classes in our Master’s program and would randomly mention play therapy. She would mention “When I’m doing play therapy with the children at the homeless shelter,” “When I’m doing play therapy at metropolitan ministries,” “When I’m doing play therapy,” so finally, one day after class, I said “Dr. B, what is this play therapy you keep talking about?” Genuinely, that moment was the start of my entire career. She said “Oh my goodness, you need to take the graduate certificate that I offer. It’s a year long training.” I’m just ready to finish my Master’s program, and I’m thinking to myself, you’re telling me that I should do another year of school. What in the world? That is a terrible idea. So she says “No, as soon as you finish your degree, you need to get into the graduate certificate program. It’s three semesters worth of play therapy training.” I was so fortunate, I am so grateful, and it was such a blessing for me to have her there when I was there. She left Texas, came to Florida, and worked at the University of South Florida where I attended. She taught in my program, and then shortly thereafter moved back to Texas. So there was such a small window of opportunity for me to learn from her and train under her, and it was the right time and the right place for me.

I took the graduate certificate program, and from the very first night of that graduate certificate program, my world was absolutely rocked in the best of ways. I felt that this was stuff that, how have I not known that I need this in my life? How have I gone 20 whatever years and never heard of this? This is amazing. It resonates. It makes sense. Of course this is how you should deal with kids. Of course this is how you should talk to kids. Of course this is the philosophy you should use, and I’d never heard of it before. That was absolutely the beginning of my play therapy training. I got my graduate certificate in that play therapy program at USF, and then immediately in 2006 went straight into private practice.

I opened my own private practice as The Kid Counselor in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, very quickly scaled that practice, and I was at capacity. I was seeing 25 kids a week, and it was just me. You know, it was just me in a playroom, in a medical arts building of the hospital of all places. So it was a really interesting start, but I’ve been in private practice my entire career. I have only ever done child centered non directive play therapy. I currently run a Center. We just built a Center last year in 2021, and there are now five play therapists at the Center. We see 125 kids a week. All five of us are child centered non directive play therapists. We all have fully equipped playrooms. We are the preeminent play therapy center in the tri county area around where we live. We always have a waitlist. We have people that drive more than an hour to come see us.

We specialize in kids 3-14, only child centered non directive play therapy. It’s been so amazing to bring on these other play therapists with different degrees of training and different degrees of education and play therapy. Most of them have moved from out of state to join me at my practice because Florida is not really rich with a whole lot of child centered, non directive play therapists. All but one of them have moved from out of state, and it has been a really incredible process for us to watch the Center grow, to watch families and children come, and watch children change, grow, heal, and become happy and healthy. That has been a really amazing piece of this journey for me. The Center that I run, because we specialize, we are sought after. It is reminding me of how desperately our state, our county, our community and really, our world are in need of people who are well trained to work with kids. There are a lot of therapists that will take on a child as a client, but they have no specialized training and no understanding of what a child needs developmentally. They have no understanding of how kids will use toys as their words.

It really is a crucial point, I feel, in the mental health, counseling, and therapy field. There are so many families and kids that are in desperate need of us. We have to be at our best. We have to know how to serve them well. We have to have the skills. We have to have the foundation. We have to have the undergirding, framework, and training so that we can best serve our clients. That is what this play therapy podcast is about. When I completed my PhD program, I was the only student interested in play therapy. There were no professors on my dissertation committee, or in my program as a whole, that knew anything about play therapy. So I was definitely the lone fish swimming upstream, but they supported me in choosing a play therapy based dissertation project.

I was able to research Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT), which is Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton’s filial therapy training. If some of the things that I’ve mentioned on this podcast you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, I promise you that I will circle back in later episodes because these are all child centered non directive people, curriculum, and training that I’m mentioning. So hang with me. I promise I’ll circle back, and you’ll have a better understanding of these things. But CPRT is a 10 week filial training program, and it had only ever been conducted in person, face to face. It had been proven wildly effective in in-person sessions, but my dissertation was the efficacy of child centered CPRT, which is a child centered approach, with parents virtually. Was it just as effective? My dissertation proved that yes, it was. People liked the freedom and flexibility of being able to do it online, rather than having to do it in person. I was able to pioneer taking CPRT online.

We currently, as a Center, offer this course worldwide. We have facilitators that are offering CPRT worldwide to people. We have used our term “in home play therapy program,” and it is using the CPRT curriculum. It has really given me a platform to evangelize play therapy, and to take play therapy to the masses. One of the families that I worked with was in a rural town in South Africa. I literally have had parents participate all over the world. I had a Norwegian family. I had someone in London. I had several people in South Africa – all over the country. I’ve had people from everywhere that have participated in CPRT, but there was this one family in particular, in a rural town in South Africa. It was such an amazing experience. Can I just share with you? I watched their play sessions – that’s part of the training, and she speaks Afrikaans in the home. They speak English fluently, but their native tongue in the home is Afrikaans, and they conducted their play sessions in Afrikaans. She subtitled the play sessions for me in English. So I got to listen to them doing the session in Afrikaans, and then I could read the english subtitles. It was such an absolutely rich, rewarding, and incredible experience for me. That family in particular told me at the end of the program, “We live in this tiny, rural village in South Africa. We would have never known about play therapy if it wasn’t for your CPRT program. Thank you for offering this to us on the other side of the globe.” That’s what this is about, y’all. I want us to be such a community, to be so well trained and equipped to evangelize, educate, and disseminate this to the world. That people all over the globe can learn about the value, the beauty, and the wonder of child centered play therapy.

I’ve been given a lot of opportunities. I’m so grateful. I’ve been able to speak at play therapy conferences. I teach the CPRT course for the University of Wyoming. I’ve been able to work with interns, and students who are in their graduate programs, and train them with some play therapy training. I’ve really been given incredible opportunities because I’m a child centered play therapist. That is what I want to see more of. I want people to love what they do. I want people to love being a play therapist. I want people to love being a child centered play therapist. In my opinion, it’s the best approach to working with kids.

Now you know the whole picture of this podcast. This is going to be an incredibly amazing journey that we’re going to take together. As kind of a real quick broad picture, we’re going to talk about why play is so important, why we approach children with a play therapy model, the history of play therapy, the principles, techniques, skills, themes, and parents. We’re going to cover it all. There’s so much to come, and I’m just really excited. I think this is going to be such an amazing opportunity for us to get to know each other, help, support each other, and most of all, encourage each other to be better child centered play therapists. I hope that you are as excited as I am. I really, really am looking forward to making so many memories together and having all of these episodes to look forward to. So thanks for coming along on the ride with me. I can’t wait to spend some more time with you in future episodes. We’ll talk soon. Bye.