How to Become a Play Therapist


Many mental health counselors are interested in working with children. You will see their offices full of fun things like crayons, stress balls, and Legos.  And while these offices are inviting and child-centered, the use of the Play Therapy is more than just play. 

The Association of Play Therapy (APT) defines play therapy as ‘the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained Play Therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients precent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development (APT, 2022).’ 

How is Play Therapy Used?

Play Therapy is used by licensed professional counselors to work with children ages three to about twelve and you can find Play Therapy practiced in mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and in private practice.  There is research supporting the effectiveness of Play Therapy across gender, age, and presenting problems.  Further, we see Play Therapy work best with a parent actively involved in treatment. 

Required Coursework for Play Therapists

Among the required graduate courses required for Play Therapists are child development, theories of personality, principles of psychotherapy, child & adolescent psychopathology, legal, ethical, and professional issues, and social & cultural diversity. There is then additional Play Therapy Instruction.  Play therapy should only be provided by graduate- level mental health counselors who have meet the required education, clinical licensure, and specialized training and supervision specific to Play Therapy. 

In Western PA, only four practitioners have met these criteria. One of those counselors is a counselor educator at Carlow University. Dr. Courtney Alvarez is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who is also a Registered Play Therapist (RPT) as well as a Registered Play Therapy Supervisor (RPT-S). Not only does Dr. Alvarez have specialized training in working with children through the use of Play Therapy, but she has also achieved the additional certification to be able to supervise those who are interested in meeting the Registered Play Therapy (RPT) credential themselves. This makes Carlow University one of only two universities that offer Play Therapy courses in Pittsburgh. Learn more about Carlow’s Psychology and Clinical Mental Health Programs here.