Play Therapy students posing for picture at High Sky Children's ranch
The community collaboration between the UTPB Counseling Department and High Sky Children’s Ranch will help counseling students absorb a richer experience while strengthening ties with a possible internship and work site in the future.
The UTPB Counseling Department launched the Play Therapy Certificate Fall of 2023 with ten students in the cohort. Dr. Maria Avalos helped institute the certificate, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson helped develop and manage the play therapy curriculum and instruction.

Dr. Cynthia Anderson, UTPB Assistant Professor of Counseling teamed up with Amanda Lopez, Director of Therapeutic Services for High Sky Children’s Ranch to provide a therapeutic, hands-on expressive arts and play therapy field experience for the class this Spring.

Two play therapy students setting up room at High Sky Children's Ranch“It has been rewarding to see all of the syllabi, curriculum, and programming come together so well in actual practice through University course in collaboration with a community partnership,” Anderson said.

The therapeutic center at High Sky Children’s Ranch houses two art rooms, a music/puppet theater room, a teen room, a play therapy room, a sandtray/play therapy room, a sandtray room, and a sandtray/play therapy supervision room with observation deck rooms between with two-way mirrors to monitor sessions.

Immense planning and preparation occurred between UTPB Counseling and High Sky Children’s Ranch for a rich, organized, and informative experience that was exciting for the graduate counseling students and the children who were served.

The counseling students prepared the rooms at High Sky Children’s Ranch prior to the children's arrival and worked directly with children from the shelter and community on an expressive arts exercise on the first night.

Each therapy room had an observation area with two-way mirrors so that the counseling students could be monitored throughout the process. Dr. Anderson described the UTPB graduate counseling students as patient, professional, and polished.

The community children created puppets in their own image, which is a play therapy activity thatKids in the room at High Sky with UTPB play therapy students UTPB counseling students learned to do in the Basic Play Therapy course. Puppets allow children to express themselves more fully in a projective way that enables them to share thoughts and feelings in practice.

Before working with children at the shelter, the UTPB students were given instructions that could help them to be most effective. Play therapy skills such as listening, tracking, reflecting, returning responsibility, and limit setting were reviewed.

On the second night of the play therapy field experience, the counseling students brought in children from the community with parent/guardian permission and conducted mock sessions.

The play therapy students have been exposed to various play therapy theories such as Child-Centered, Adlerian, Jungian, Gestalt, Cognitive Behavioral, Solution Focused, Psychoanalytic, Filial Therapy, Theraplay, Family Play Therapy, Experiential, Group, Ecosystems, and Release Play Therapy. The students also received copious information on the history of play therapy, methods, skills, and social & cultural factors. They are well versed as student counselors in helping to meet the child where they are and to provide services that will be best suited for each individual child.

The students immersed themselves in and studied the rooms before the children arrived. This allowed counseling students independent time to explore and feel comfortable in each of the rooms. They handled the toys and studied the categories needed in a playroom such as realistic, nurturing, aggressive, fantasy, creative, sensory, and building toys. This helped to bring to life the academic learning they experienced in class.

UTPB play therapy students discussing after therapy time with kidsAfterward, the UTPB counseling play therapy students discussed their experience and reviewed the feedback given with Dr. Anderson. Amanda Lopez helped to keep the operations running smoothly and safely throughout both nights so that everyone’s needs were cared for in a thoughtful manner.

The knowledge gained through this play therapy certificate will not only help UTPB students to be competent as child counselors but will also provide the University curriculum content they need to work toward becoming a Registered Play Therapist under the auspices of the Association for Play Therapy.

The community collaboration between the UTPB Counseling Department and High Sky Children’s Ranch will help counseling students absorb a richer experience while strengthening ties with a possible internship and work site in the future. A special thank you to Amanda Lopez, Director of Therapeutic Services, and Kelsee Jones, Director of Programs at High Sky Children’s Ranch.