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Neuroscience in the PlayRoom – Why It Matters

May 26, 2012

Thanks to APT playmate, Cherie L. Spehar, LCSW, CTS, CTC, for contributing this informative blog about neuroscience and our work in the play therapy room.  Cherie is a Play Therapist, Certified Trauma Specialist and CT Consultant and, my valued colleague and friend. 

I hope you enjoy her thoughts and get yourself and some playmates signed up to attend the VAPT workshop, Becoming a Brain-Wise Therapist: Using Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Across the Lifespan, to be held June 18 and , 2012, in Harrisonburg, VA.  See more information and register at

CE’s (12!!) are offered from APT, APA, NBCC and NASW. We have participants coming from Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia!  Do not miss this very affordable opportunity to learn and play with Bonnie Badenoch, author of Becoming a Brain-Wise Therapist and also to shop again with the Self Esteem Shop, right on-site!
Anne Stewart, VAPT President

Take it away, Cherie… 

If you are a play therapist, I am certain that by now you have been hearing about the ongoing practice points related to neuroscience and psychotherapy.  As well, there is much activity in the field about how this specifically applies to Play Therapy.   Isn’t it exciting to see the brain-based research to support what we have seen in our play therapy rooms for so many years?
Sometimes, though, teasing out the most relevant practice points can be daunting.  Here you will find a brief synthesis of the most important ways that the integration of neuroscience and play therapy can aid your practice and ultimately the growth and resilience of the young ones in your care.
First, one of the most important aspects of understanding the neuroscience of play is that it will directly enhance your understanding of trauma.  We are now aware of how the brain and body respond to emotionally overwhelming events.  Trauma creates neural pathways that keep the brain in a constant state of hyperarousal.  The neuroscience of play based interventions directly works to counteract a revved up nervous system and supports the development of healthy, meaningful, and long-lasting coping responses.
Another overarching benefit to bringing brain science into your play room is that we now have concrete information to support our therapeutic process.  This is particularly important for engaging parents and caregivers.  For example, I can teach them that, because play is not only the child’s language, but the brain’s language, that their child is forming vital neural connections that strengthen his resilience.  I can share that play therapy is a way of untangling brain pathways that are causing their child distress, and that it directly helps the creation of healthy new connections.
Aside from the umbrella of these practice points, here is another list I share with my play therapist supervisees:
• It informs our practice in an entirely unique way.  Just by observing the characteristics of play, we can better assess which part of the child’s brain is at work when distressing symptoms are present.
• By understanding the brain science of play, and a child’s brain development in general,  we can provide accurate and spot on practices and suggestions for parents to use at home.
• By providing psychoeducational guidance on the neuroscience behind play based interventions, we can build credibility with parents and families for the work we are doing and the results they can expect to see.
• We can help the child choose appropriate sensory regulators that will maximize his relief in between sessions.
• Play has the inherent component of honoring private logic while simultaneously helping create a new trauma narrative.
• Repetitive body conditioning happens during play – which is exactly what is needed for self-regulation.
Play is an essential component of our existence.  This is true for adults and children alike.  The neuroscience of trauma and play fits well with all play therapy approaches and is not only respectful of the various processes, but it enhances them. 
May your own learning be enhanced and nurtured as you “grow brain” and play it out!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2012 8:09 pm

    Thanks for writing this concise and informative post Cherie, I really believe this is very important information that supports our work. Learning more and more about this relationship between neuroscience and expression through play, continues to enhance my understanding of the critical opportunities that we offer children in play therapy. Loved you directing our focus to the benefits of what we do. Best, Eliana

  2. May 27, 2012 11:15 pm

    Eliana, having learned from you from the very beginning of my career and following your outstanding work for so many years, I deeply appreciate your wisdom and thoughts about this blog! My sincere thanks for taking the time to send those along – I am thrilled to share this passion for ongoing learning together as we realize more fully the integration of the “science and art” of play. Smiles and warmest wishes, Cherie

    • June 10, 2012 12:11 am

      Thank you, Cherie – What a beautiful and succinct summary of the benefits of play seen from the perspective of neuroscience. And what a great warm-up for the conference coming up in less than two weeks! I am so excited to build on what you’ve shared here, particularly in regard to how the brain’s circuitry is rewired through play in an interpersonal setting – at all ages. Hope to see many of you there! Warm thoughts, Bonnie

  3. Mary Langtrand permalink
    May 28, 2012 8:03 pm

    Cherie- nothing less then amazing from you.
    I love to read your blogs. :))

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