Ever considered making play therapy your private practice niche? Do you wonder if it is really worth the energy or investment of time and resources? As a social worker, my initial training was as a generalist. I am qualified to work with literally ANY population on the planet. But, one of the best pieces of advice I got early in my social work career was to find something that I was really interested in and become an expert in it. Specialize to thrive! For me, it has proven to be good advice. Consider if play therapy will be a good niche for you by reflecting on your personal and professional goals.
Who Makes a Good Play Therapist:
- A person who likes kids (at least a little). Many of my former students were not interested in working with kids until they learned about play therapy, so it is certainly not a steadfast rule.
- A person who has a high tolerance for messiness (clean up is typically the job of the therapist, not the child).
- A person without control issues and who is able to let the child lead the session and trust the process!
- A person who is able to trust and respect the role of the parents and caregivers in the child’s life.
People who feel like play therapy might be a good fit will then consider if it is worth the time and energy to become a Registered Play Therapist. Keep in mind, many people advertise that they use play therapy as an intervention, but are not Registered Play Therapists. Identify whether or not that distinction matters to you. I would argue that any form of play therapy is better than none, but the more you study something, they more skilled you become. When I make referrals, I look for Registered Play Therapists first.
Requirements to Become a Play Therapist:
- Become licensed as a mental health professional in your discipline (or more recently a school-based counselor).
- Graduate in coursework in child development.
- Complete 150 hours of Play Therapy Specific instruction (either in graduate courses or through CEU’s).
- Complete 500 hours of supervised play therapy experience.
- Complete 50 hours of play therapy supervision.
If you get your supervision from a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, the play therapy experience hours and supervision hours are reduced to 350 and 32, respectively. You can begin accumulating your 150 hours during your graduate program or anytime before you are licensed. You just can’t submit your final application until you are licensed in your state. The details of the requirements are available at The Association for Play Therapy’s website.
The Investment in Play Therapy:
Let’s not include the costs of graduate school, or the requirements for your state licensure, as that is required regardless of any specialty. Just consider the investment into play therapy:
- 150 hours of training: I have found that the average continuing education course is about $10 per hour of training but can range upwards of $30 per hour depending on the source. So between $1500 to $3000 for training.
- 50 hours of supervision: you might get lucky and get this for free through your employer. As of this writing, your supervision does NOT need to be obtained from a Registered Play Therapist. Outside of that, average supervision ranges from $75-$150 per hour. So another $3000-$5000.
- Playroom Supplies (toys, art, games, etc): Anywhere from free to $1000. Used toys are usually best!
- Application Fees: $153 for members, $295 for non-members. You would be a member if you are this far into the process. The membership is worth it!
- Maintenance: Continuing education costs (free up to $1000).
- Renewal fees for the play therapy credential ($55).
So let’s just call that about $5000. You might find it for less or you might end up spending more.
The Return on Your Investment
People often ask me if I can charge more for play therapy? Like most things, my answer is, “it depends.” First, if you are billing insurance companies, they will sometimes allow for the play therapy add-on code. This adds a few dollars to each visit. Every little bit helps, right? After that, I can set my rates based on my expertise and the demand in my area. I have noticed two trends here:
- In areas with few or no play therapists, it increases your rates and your demand as you become “the” expert in this area in your town. So, you maintain a busy practice with your ideal clients.
- In areas with lots of play therapists, it might not help your rates, but it will definitely decrease your referrals if you are not one of the people with this credential.
You can search for play therapists on the Association for Play Therapy website to see which category you fall into for your area.
In Cordova, Tennessee, there are some play therapists. Not a ton, but some. Many of them are working for a non-profit agency and are not my direct competition. More and more often, pediatricians are telling parents to “find a play therapist.” Often, I am the only option in my area. The result is that I have a busy private practice filled with my ideal clients (little ones aged 3-11), and then a bunch of teens who like to do art and play in the sand. In addition, it has opened up opportunities to teach play therapy graduate courses.
Was it worth the investment? For me, I believe that it was. Play therapy aligns with my personal values and my professional beliefs. The courses were fun and engaging and the supervision has helped me provide better services to my clients. It has opened doors for teaching and public speaking that might not have been available otherwise. And, as an added bonus, I get to buy cool toys and games and they all qualify as business expenses. How cool is that?
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org