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SHU Introduces NE's First Approved Center for Play Therapy Education

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Sacred Heart University will offer a certificate of advanced study in play therapy in New England’s first Approved Center for Play Therapy Education in the fall of 2021 through its Isabelle Farrington College of Education. 

According to the Association for Play Therapy (APT), Approved Centers for Play Therapy Education, “are designated to generate more play therapy research, peer-reviewed publications, instruction and supervised clinical experiences at universities.” The center at SHU is called the Institute for Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Education and Research. As an Approved Center for Play Therapy Education, the institute will offer play therapy training through its certificate of advanced study program.

The online, two-year, part-time play therapy program prepares students to work with children and adolescents in a culturally responsive and developmentally appropriate manner. The program is open to students enrolled in master’s-level licensure preparation programs such as counseling, social work, couples and family counseling, and professionals who already completed a master’s degree in these areas. Students will take an introductory course, as well as seminal theories of play therapy and play therapy in the school setting and clinical mental health settings, among other courses. There is a clinical portion to the program and a three-day, on-ground, residency. 

“This will be the first Approved Center for Play Therapy Education, on ground or online, in the entire New England area,” said Rebekah Byrd, associate professor of SHU’s clinical mental health counseling program and director for the institute. She is also a registered play therapist and supervisor (RPT-S). “SHU has the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of these training needs. This certificate program will meet the post-master’s educational requirements for the registered play therapy credential as detailed by the APT.”

According to the APT, “Child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the ‘language’ of the child: play. Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages 3 to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.”

“You need to have training; you need to have the skills to administer play therapeutically. It’s not the same as regular play,” said Franc Hudspeth, associate professor and director of SHU’s clinical mental health program.

Hudspeth is an RPT-S and editor of the International Journal of Play Therapy. He was instrumental in establishing the University of Mississippi’s play therapy program and is enthusiastic about bringing play therapy to Sacred Heart, as the program aligns with SHU’s mission. “SHU believes in social justice and appropriate treatment for all,” Hudspeth said.  

Byrd and Hudspeth believe play therapy is the best way to work with children and adolescents, and there is plenty of evidence and research to support this. “We’re using a child’s preferred way of communicating, which is play, instead of talking,” Hudspeth said. 

According to the APT’s website, “Play therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and client, one in which the latter may freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.” It goes on to say that mental health agencies, schools, hospital and private practitioners “utilize play therapy as a primary intervention or as a supportive therapy for behavioral problems, such as anger management or grief, and behavioral disorders, such as anxiety or depression.”

The certificate of advanced study play therapy program meets the post-master’s educational requirements for the RPT credential as detailed by the APT. Once students complete the program and all clinical and supervision requirements, they have the opportunity to apply to become an RPT.  

For more information please contact Rebekah Byrd, director of the Institute for Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Education and Research or Kathleen Farmer, director of graduate admissions.

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About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2020 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre. www.sacredheart.edu

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