Michael Day, Interim Dean
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-3145
More than 160 therapists, school counselors, social workers, early childhood educators, graduate students and others convened in Laramie this summer for the fifth biennial University of Wyoming Play Therapy Conference.
Presented by the UW-based Rocky Mountain Center of Play Therapy Studies, the event drew “anyone who’s really interested in working with children and families” for an intensive professional development workshop. Kara Carnes-Holt, UW assistant professor of professional studies and center director, coordinated this year’s conference. The John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Foundation provided major funding support for the event
Headlining the conference was internationally renowned researcher and author Garry Landreth, who led a two-day, two-part workshop on “Healing the Hurting Child: The Necessary Dimensions of Play Therapy.” Landreth is a retired University of North Texas faculty member who is widely considered to be the “godfather of play therapy.” He wrote the seminal text, Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship, now in its third edition.
Psychotherapist Rick Gaskill led a second, one-day workshop titled “Neurobiologically Informed Play Therapy.” Gaskill, clinical director and deputy director of Sumner Mental Health Center in Wellington, Kansas, is an adjunct faculty member in the Counseling, Education and School Psychology Program at Wichita State University.
Carnes-Holt had two learning goals for this year’s conference, which played a role in determining the best speakers for the program. First was the desire to focus on therapeutic relationships.
“I really wanted people to learn how to start and maintain a therapeutic relationship with kids – how you connect with a child, on the child’s developmental level,” she says of one of the primary goals of the conference. “So many times, we’re asking kids to come up to our level, to learn how to talk and converse about things. I wanted people how to understand play and to understand what’s going on with that.”
Her second goal was identifying and understanding the impact of trauma on children’s brain development.
“Sometimes, when kids misbehave, we can take it personally,” she says. “When we can really understand it’s a brain issue for them, it can help us approach them with a more empathic understanding of what is going on.”
Carnes-Holt cited Gaskill in linking the two: “No intervention will work if you don’t know how to have a relationship with someone.”
UW counseling faculty members Michael Morgan and Jane Warren offered two optional pre-conference workshops. Morgan led a session titled “Becoming Better Supervisors: Play Therapy and Beyond.” Warren led an afternoon workshop, titled “Ethics for Counseling Children and Families: Considerations for Play Therapy.” Both sessions offered participants additional opportunities to deepen knowledge and meet ongoing licensure requirements.
Keynote speaker Landreth had high praise for the conference experience and for Carnes-Holt’s leadership.
“The Play Therapy Conference was an exciting time, and the group was so very warm and responsive,” Landreth says. “Their enthusiasm for play therapy was especially rewarding to experience. The Play Therapy Program at the University of Wyoming can be justifiably proud of their innovative program that is fast becoming the largest play therapy program between Texas and the Northwest part of the U.S. Dr. Kara Holt has done a remarkable job in providing the necessary energetic leadership and direction that has made this growth possible. The most important result of this dynamic growth is that more children are now being helped.”While coordinating a large, regional conference is a major responsibility for any one person, Carnes-Holt received significant support from master’s- and doctoral-level graduate student volunteers who served on four event committees. “Some students were involved in every part of the conference, from t-shirt designs to getting continuing education units approved to gathering donations,” Kara says.
Beyond the tangible reward of free conference registration, the students benefited from assuming committee leadership, and learning about event planning and management. They also joined their peers in special events, including a dinner and roundtable with Landreth.
Several conference participants toured the college’s new Counselor Education Training Clinic.
“Some of the people who came for the play therapy conference were alums who wanted to see the new whole clinic,” Carnes-Holt says. “Some had never seen what a play therapy room looks like. Since we now have some of the best, state-of-the art rooms, they were able to see what one would look like – how to set one up.”
Like the remodeled and expanded facilities, Carnes-Holt says the conference plays a role in positioning the UW Rocky Mountain Center of Play Therapy Studies as a leader in the field.
“I want us to be known as a hub for offering high-quality training for impacting the lives of children and families,” Carnes-Holt says.