Therapists work at play at LTCC |

Therapists work at play at LTCC

Sara Thompson

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

More than 20 people sat in a circle Tuesday around two women standing, with one mimicking the other’s movements like a mirror.

As the women finish mimicking each other, those sitting find partners and mirror each other as well.

This scene was part of a Theraplay training session at Lake Tahoe Community College.

Theraplay started in Chicago in 1967 as a new method of therapy and now has spread around the world and to the South Shore.

Tahoe Youth & Family Services is hosting a national “Introduction to Theraplay” training, which started Monday and will end Thursday.

Nicole Charney, TYFS bilingual therapist and Theraplay training assistant, said this is the first time the South Shore has hosted the event. Twenty-five attendees traveled from all around California, Idaho and Arizona to learn from the three trainers.

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Charney is working on becoming a certified Theraplay therapist so that she can use the technique at her job at TYFS.

Theraplay is structured play therapy between children and parents, and it replicates healthy interaction in relationships. It targets four areas: structure, engagement, nurture and challenge. Different games are used to work on each target areas, Charney said.

Theraplay uses structure to help children who are overstimulated and undirected.

Engagement helps withdrawn or autistic children by focusing on them in an intense and personal way. Theraplay trainer Jessica Mroz Miller said games such as peek-a-boo focus on the child and respond to their appearance and actions.

Nurturing helps children feel loved and valued. Activities such as holding a child or giving a snack demonstrate this, and it helps those who are aggressive or overactive.

Challenge activities are used to target the symptoms of an impulsive child, said Theraplay trainer Marlo Winstead. For example, she would ask the child to stand on a pillow, and when she winks, the child jumps off the pillow. At first, she would wait five to eight seconds, then work up to 10 to 12 seconds. This makes the child feel successful as the time between jumps slowly is lengthened.

“It’s a small thing, but they have to work before moving forward,” Winstead said. “We’re setting them up to be successful, because we want them to feel good.”

Mroz Miller said using play is more effective with children, because they’re experiencing something instead of just listening to what they should do.

Theraplay also helps make new connections in the right hemisphere of the brain, Mroz Miller said. That area houses emotions, movement, tone, touch, language and other body functions. By using play, therapists are able to make connections in that hemisphere, which helps change the neurological connections.

“The language of the brain is not verbal,” Charney said.

To change how people behave in relationships, more than just talking is needed, and that’s where play comes in.

The technique isn’t just for young children. It also can be used for adolescents, adults and even the elderly, Mroz Miller said.

Theraplay also is an international technique, Mroz Miller said. Since not a lot of talking is used, it can work across cultural differences.

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