DSU offers unique therapy for children
by Courtney Warren
Apr 29, 2014 | 3064 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"The entire state of Mississippi is considered a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area, which of course includes Bolivar County. There seems to be even fewer clinicians working with children and adolescents. Therefore, having a program which focuses primarily on children and adolescents, particularly in the Mississippi Delta, where services may be limited and demand is high, can be an amazing asset to the community," said Misti Barnes, assistant professor of Delta State University's Division of Counselor Education and Psychology.

Delta State has the only Play Therapy Training Institute in the area.

Barnes said children and adolescents do not have the same language skills, the same ability to reason and rationalize, or the ability to apply reason.

Research has shown play therapy to be successful and a preferred treatment modality in the treatment of anxiety, depression, developmental delays, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Selective Mutism, aggressive acting-out behavior, anxious and/or withdrawn behavior, behavior problems, grief issues, social problems, abuse and/or neglect, chronic or terminal illness, ADHD, divorce, family violence and other family problems, foster care and/or adoption, homelessness, hospitalization, natural disasters, Autism Spectrum Disorder, adjustment to military deployment, sexual abuse, trauma, witnessing violence, attachment disorders, and more.

“For children and adolescents, play therapy is their equivalent to talk therapy for adults. Children will use toys and other creative media as their words and their play and creative expression as their language. Children, even talkative children, can express themselves more fully through play. Emotions are difficult enough for adults to understand, for a child, trying to understand a divorce or a death, for example, along with the feelings which accompany these events, as well as express these feelings in an appropriate way, is almost impossible without assistance,” said Barnes.

Play provides a non-threatening way to express oneself.

In the therapy room, toys, games, and other activities are used like words. Children and adolescents are provided material, which enable them to say, with the toys or other expressive media, what they have difficulty saying with words.

“They can use dolls, puppets, pains, or other toys to say what they think, how they feels, what they have experience, or what they need. They do this with a trained clinician assisting them as they process their experiences, finding better alternatives to their behaviors, learning new coping strategies, learning how to regulate their behaviors, and finding more healthy ways to express themselves,” she said.

The program at DSU is the only one of it’s kind in the Delta area and Barnes said upon her arrival she realized there was a great need.

“As to why the program itself is so important, soon after arriving in Cleveland, I was overwhelmed with the number of requests I began receiving asking that I work with children and adolescents, sometimes from as far as 75-100 miles away,” she said.

Barnes continued on to say the Play Therapy Training Institute has a purpose of increasing access to mental health services to the children, adolescents, and families from disadvantaged and medically underserved areas of the Mississippi Delta.

“Our first goal is to provide free mental health treatment to the children, adolescents, and families who come to us seeking services or those who are referred to us by teachers, physicians, family friends, or anyone else,” she said.

Barnes said the second goal to help fulfill this purpose is to provide the training necessary for others to also provide mental health services to the children, adolescents, and families in the Mississippi Delta.

“At Delta State University we offer classes in Play Therapy, Advanced Play Therapy, we host a two-day summer conference, as well as host and/or co-host workshops throughout the year. Additionally, we provide an internship training experience to students completing their Master of Education degree, with a focus on providing treatment to children and adolescents. Finally, I also provide credentialing assistance as needed, to encourage others to work toward credentialing in the field of play therapy; furthering their training and experience in working with children,” she said.

Since the PTTI opened its doors in 2012 it has been 100% fee free.

“We have been very fortunate in that we never had to charge for our services,” said Barnes.

Barnes said she understands that because of the poverty level in the Delta, many clients will never be able to pay for services.  

“As we are in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area, we recognize there are not enough mental health practitioners to serve all those who need assistance, particularly in the area of play therapy. Additionally, many individuals do not have medical coverage, they may have high deductibles or co-pays, or there may not be a local clinician who accepts their insurance,” she said.

“Our purpose, from the very beginning, has been to increase access the children and adolescents of the Mississippi Delta have to mental health services, specifically play therapy. To ensure that happens, we have always functioned as 100% fee free, and we hope to be able to keep it that way,” said Barnes.

Despite the fee being free, the PTTI still gets enough funding to be successful.

The College of Education and Human Sciences at Delta State University provides space for the program to provide services.

Additional funding has come in the form of grants, as they do not charge any fees for their services to the children, adolescents, and families of the community.

“In 2011, we received our first grant from the Baxter Foundation, allowing us to open our doors in August of 2012. This grant provided the seed money for us to get started, allowing us to open up a fully prepared play therapy clinic. In 2013, we received a grant from the USDA Delta Health Care Services Grant Program,” said Barnes.

“This grant has allowed us to build upon our services and provide advanced training, including an additional training program for 19 Internship students. Our USDA grant concludes September 23, 2014, however. At this time, we have no additional funding secured,” she said.

Barnes said there are two basic formats for play therapy, depending upon the theoretical orientation and the age of the client.

In a typical non-directive play therapy session, which is typically used with children 12 and under, a child is invited into the play therapy room and is told this is a safe place to do many of the things he/she may need to do.

Barnes went on further to say throughout the session, the child utilizes the objects in the room to communicate with the clinician, with the clinician responding in ways that encourages the child to expand their ability to communicate feelings, to understand those feelings, to process experiences, to be able to express themselves, to develop a deeper level of self-understanding, to develop more self-control, and more. Now, this may not be what it ‘looks’ like is happening to someone watching, but this is what is occurring through the process.

“Remember, the same way an adult may ‘talk about’ what has happened, a child may do the equivalent with the toys in the room, and may ‘play it out.’ As clinicians, we help them process the experience, the same way a clinician would with an adult – we simply use a different language – play,” said Barnes

“A more ‘directive’ session is more appropriate for children and adolescents 12 and above, and sometime younger, depending up on the individual. When they will enter the room, the clinician will have already decided what activity or work will be completed that day, depending upon the needs of the client. The clinician might begin by checking in with them on how things are going, and may then introduce the activity. The activity will be directly related to their needs, and will usually be really fun,” she said.

Barnes also said that makes play therapy, play therapy, in addition to the unique way in which clinicians communicate with their clients, is that they are using creative ‘tools’ to work with our clients, whether it be a game, a toy, art materials, sand, music, an iPad, or whatever else might be suitable for their needs.

In the process of growing up, children often experience difficulty coping at some time, whether is be at home, at school, with divorce and separation, with other children, the death of a parent, with trauma, or other things, or they exhibit behaviors, which concern their parents, teachers, a doctor.

Barnes said, generally, if a parent, a teacher, or pediatrician is concerned about a child's behavior, difficulty adjusting, or just feel a child needs the opportunity to have a safe, nonjudgmental environment in which to express themselves freely, play therapy may be the recommended approach.

For more information on the Play Therapy Training Institute visit www.playtherapytraininginstitute.com.