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2011 News | College of Education

UW launches Play Therapy Center

Though the University of Wyoming College of Education has long offered play courses and training opportunities for graduate students and mental health practitioners, recent recognition by a national accrediting body is raising visibility – and expectations - for the new Rocky Mountain Center of Play Therapy Studies.

The Association for Play Therapy (APT) has awarded “Approved Center of Play Therapy Education” status to UW’s program, housed in the College of Education’s Department of Professional Studies. Kara Carnes-Holt, assistant professor of counselor education, will serve as the center’s first director when it opens in May. UW is now one of only 14 approved play therapy centers in the country.

Faculty members in UW’s counselor education graduate programs have offered two required courses in play therapy for several years. They also coordinate the biennial Wyoming Institute for Play Therapy, a summer workshop focused on training mental health providers with information and skills. Achieving “approved” status through the APT was a logical next step, according to Carnes-Holt.

“To be an approved center of play therapy education takes it to another level,” she says. “It sends a clear message that this is an aspect of the counselor education program that we’re really committed to – in research, in training, in supervision.”

Centers receiving the APT designation must commit to a rigorous schedule of offering required coursework in play therapy, professional development programs for mental health practitioners, and a strong tradition of research and publication.

Much of the core elements already are in place. For example, UW’s counselor education graduate programs require that all students take two courses, “Introduction to Play Therapy” and “Counseling Children and Adolescents,” that are electives in other counseling programs. The Wyoming Institute for Play Therapy represents another foundational component of programming required for APT center status. It provides an opportunity for accessible professional development on play therapy for practitioners from a wide range of disciplines that serve children.

The work of the Rocky Mountain Center of Play Therapy Studies enjoys external support from the John P. Ellbogen Excellence in Early Childhood Education Fund.

Carnes-Holt credits fellow counselor education faculty member Michael Morgan has played in creating and sustaining those core elements of the play therapy program. Morgan established and taught the “Introduction to Play Therapy” course and has played a lead role in coordinating the Wyoming Institute for Play Therapy. The continued strong support from faculty will help make this center a success, she says.

While the institute represents the cornerstone of post-graduate professional development, Carnes-Holt says, plans for the program go further.

“Our goal, ultimately, is to develop a post-master’s certificate program under the center,” she says. A certificate would expand UW’s capacity to provide advanced professional development opportunities for the state’s mental health practitioners.

Location of an APT-approved center in Wyoming is particularly critical for the Rocky Mountain region, according to Carnes-Holt.

“In rural areas, research shows that there is a higher need for mental health services, there are fewer mental health providers in rural settings, and they don’t have opportunities to get to training that would allow them to become specialized in a particular areas,” she says, especially for services targeting children and families. UW’s program has the potential to model effective program delivery for all rural areas.

College of Education Dean Kay Persichitte welcomes news of the APT designation for UW’s new center.

“At a time in our history with such emphasis on testing, measuring student achievement, and focus on children meeting ‘learning standards,’ this national recognition of our faculty research and teaching around play and play therapy is a great reminder that education of our children takes many forms,” she says. “I am excited about the future of this work in the College of Education.”

Department of Professional Studies head Kent Becker notes the importance of the designation to advancing the college’s counselor education programs’ reach in Wyoming and beyond.

“Being designated as an Approved Center of Play Therapy Education puts us in an elite league,” Becker says. “This designation directly supports our academic goals our commitment to research, instruction and training in play therapy.  Dr. Kara Carnes-Holt’s and Dr. Michael Morgan’s leadership in the area of play therapy continues to open doors for our program, department and students.”

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