To the surprise of some, but fittingly enough, attendees to the Second Annual Play Therapy Symposium held on June 2013 at the School of Social Work received a can of Play-Doh with their welcoming packet. Play-Doh, which attendees could use at any moment during the sessions, added an experiential component to this symposium focused on the therapeutic powers of play.

Goodyear-Brown Play Therapy
Speaker Paris Goodyear-Brown at the symposium

“Play therapy is a treatment modality that allows a child’s play to communicate to the therapist where the child is in his or her emotional, social, and cognitive development,” explained Lauren Gaspar, a lecturer at the School and Chair of the committee that organized the symposium.

“The therapist honors and witnesses what comes from the play, learns from it, and uses that as a stepping stone to create a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship.”

Through these annual symposia, the School seeks to provide clinicians working with children a low-cost, full day training where they can develop and expand their play therapy repertoire.

During the 2013 symposium, over a hundred and thirty attendees form all over Central Texas had the opportunity to learn from Paris Goodyear-Brown, LCSW-RPT-S. Goodyear-Brown is an innovative clinician and dynamic speaker best known for developing clinically sound, play-based interventions to treat traumatized and attachment-disturbed children and families.

“The speaker offered participants a big bag of different interventions that really reflect thinking outside the box, which is what we want to do when working with children,” said Gaspar.

For 2014, the symposium committee is considering keeping the format of one main speaker providing in-depth knowledge about one specific topic.

Leben Goodyear-Brown Mulvaney Play therapy
Norma Leben, Paris Goodyear-Brown, clinical professor Mary Mulvaney, and Clay Leben at the symposium

“We have discussed bringing some of the prominent play therapy scholars who keep moving the field forward with their research, practice, and writing” said Gaspar. “But we are open to other ideas that the play therapy community may have.”

The Annual Play Therapy symposia are possible thanks to support from The Norma and Clay Leben Endowment for Excellence in Play Therapy Methods.

Norma Leben is a pioneer in directive play therapy and founder of the Morning Glory Treatment Center for Children in Pflugerville, Texas, where she has provided therapeutic foster care, play therapy, and counseling for children and their families for the past 20 years. Leben has been recently honored with the Public Education and Promotion Award from the Association for Play Therapy.

Clay Leben, who received his doctorate from the School in 1985, is an independent consultant specializing in instructional design, content development, video production, and creating training websites that engage learners with interactive multimedia storytelling.

The Lebens chose to set up an endowment at the School because of its reputation in practice and research that benefit social workers working with special needs children.

“As social workers, we’re constantly learning new skills to better our services,” Norma Leben said. “We hope to encourage more professionals to learn play therapy skills so as to expedite the healing and problem-solving aspects of working with children and families in crises. We started the endowment to ensure that future opportunities are available for social workers to study play therapy methods.”