This article is written by contributor and guest author, Althea Simpson, MBA, LCSW, RPT-S who is experienced with providing online play therapy services and is now inspiring and helping therapists who are finding that they now must provide services online due to current pandemic. You can connect with Althea for consultation on her website or through her Facebook page here.
One of the major benefits of providing online play therapy is having the ability to support clients therapeutically, especially in times like the pandemic we are currently facing. Online therapy allows greater access so clients can continue to work through issues, like experiencing increased anxiety.
I initially began providing online play therapy in 2018, as a part of a plan to help a client maintain therapeutic gains while being away from their primary residence for the summer. When the parent asked if I could do the sessions online, I was a little hesitant because I didn’t have any interest in providing tele-mental health. But, the child was all for it and I reluctantly obliged. That experience turned out to be quite successful and it paved the way for me to continue offering online play therapy with clients who temporarily can’t be physically present in the office, whether due to changes in a parent’s schedule or extreme weather conditions.
A primary function as a therapist is to help clients identify, express and process emotions. It has been my own experience that this most certainly can be done online.
I have found that directive play therapy modalities are most effective in my online sessions. With planning, structure and creativity it is absolutely possible to provide effective online play therapy.
The structure of my online sessions begins with an informal parent/caregiver therapeutic check-in to give the parent an opportunity to discuss and concerns, progress or setbacks since the last session. I typically do not allow therapeutic check-ins to go over 15 minutes and if a parent requires longer, I schedule a separate session.
The child has the option to be present for the check-in. I begin each session inviting the child to share a positive and a negative feeling or experience they would like to tell me about since our last session. It might be they had a playdate with a special friend or that they dropped their favorite cupcake and couldn’t get another one.
The session then moves to asking if the child wants to share what they hope for in this session. I incorporate a lot of craft and coloring activities, so it is easy to accommodate their desired focus for the session. In my office most children prefer to sit at the table or down on the floor for activities and this easily translates to online setting up their computer or tablet for our session so we can see each other. After I finish my time with the child I typically meet with the caregiver briefly to discuss scheduling and any at-home activities I recommend between sessions.
Tips to for Implementing Online Play Therapy
- Check your state and licensure requirements for providing tele-mental health treatment.
- Ensure the client resides in the state(s) where you are licensed to practice (although you may wish to check with your licensing board as there may be new temporary law changes to accommodate needs of current pandemic).
- For insurance-based practices be sure tele-therapy is covered and all protocols have been followed prior to conducting a session.
- Use a HIPAA compliant platform and private internet services.
- Ensure parent/caregiver signs a tele-mental-health-specific consent form.
- Use the resources clients have in their home for crafts and other activities. You might use a stuffed animal and transform into a puppet for therapeutic storytelling for example.
- Email activities several days before the scheduled appointment, so parents can have supplies prepared.
- Obtain training in ethical tele-health services. Some states require a certification in tele-mental health and best practice is to obtain training regardless of whether required or not.
- Seek professional supervision or case consultation as needed. It is always helpful to have someone more experiences and seasoned with whom you can discuss your online play therapy cases.