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UNCP to offer play therapy curriculum


To further address the mental health needs of children and adolescents in the region, the College of Health Sciences at UNC Pembroke has added a new play therapy curriculum.

The Department of Counseling will begin offering the graduate courses this fall. Current students pursuing a degree in a mental health-related field, such as counseling and social work, are eligible. Practitioners and counselors across the region can also utilize the new program to become a registered play therapist or school-based registered play therapist.

“As the College of Health Science’s mission is to respond to the holistic health needs of this community, we are hoping to grow the number of play therapists because we know this will help children and their mental health,” said Dr. Jonathan Ricks, a professor in the school counseling program and registered play therapist.

Play therapy is a method of meeting and responding to the mental health needs of children and is considered by experts as an effective intervention promoting positive brain development. Children ages two to 12 are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems and help them cope with difficult emotions. It provides a way for them to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process.

“In play therapy, we see that play is a child’s natural language and toys are their words,” Ricks said.

“Cognitively, they may not be able to tell you what’s on their mind, but if we put toys there, they can play out these emotions and these experiences through toys.”

With a high rate of investigated reports of abuse and neglect among children in the region, coupled with the disproportionate number of play therapists, Ricks said the curriculum is much needed. There are 12 registered play therapists in the university’s service area, covering 14 counties.

Dr. Todd Telemeco, dean for the College of Health Sciences said play therapy is an example of a transformational program that was intentionally developed and implemented to meet the needs of the communities that College of Health Sciences at UNCP serves.

“The College is excited about bringing play therapy education to our current students and practitioners to address the need for interventions designed specifically for children, one of our most vulnerable citizen groups,” Telemeco said.

The graduate courses will delve into the history of play therapy, theories and techniques and will train students to work with families and parents. The classes will include a clinical component, giving students a chance to practice their skills in local schools and other community agencies.

Currently, UNC Charlotte is the only institution in the state that offers a play therapy curriculum.

“We are really excited to bring play therapy to southeastern North Carolina.”

Anyone interested in the program should contact Ricks at