In my last posting (Play Therapy Series Part 1: Practising in Singapore), I shared the challenges in practicing play and expressive arts therapy in Singapore. With this posting, I will highlight the historical development of play therapy in Singapore based on the best of my knowledge. This will give you an overview of the practice and development of play therapy in Singapore – the pioneers, and their journey.
In Singapore, the development and utilization of Play Therapy pales in comparison to that of Art Therapy. Before play therapy reached Singapore, overseas experts first introduced the mental health profession to expressive and creative arts therapy. The first wave of development comes from a supportive friend of Singapore –Mr. Mark Pearson. In 2001, Mark Pearson, an Australian, Expressive Art Therapist and Trainer offered one of the first structured certification training in Expressive Therapies for children and adolescents in Singapore. Mr. Pearson’s workshop and that of the use of symbolism and expressive arts brought a bout of fresh air to the community that were dominated by talk therapies – the traditional method of exchange and therapy. The expressive art and creative approaches attract a steady group of practitioners who are keen to focus more on different expressive styles and interventions.
Play therapy in Singapore first started with the use of therapeutic play as a means of engagement and intervention for children with chronic illness. The medical social workers have been providing young patients in some major government hospitals with therapeutic play services as they deal with their medical conditions and procedures. It was not until 2010, in part from the initiatives of local private service providers such as Creative and Experiential Therapy Institute (CRAETI) and Bridging Talents (BT) that the practice and development of play therapy began to gain some momentum. These organizations invited overseas trainers who can offer Association for Play Therapy (APT) approved workshops. APT was then one of the overseas societies that offer formal processes for registration of play therapists. This offered local practitioners the opportunity to attend workshops locally, instead of going overseas, and used these continuing educational hours to work towards getting their certification with APT.
BT collaborated with Professor Karen Stagnitti and Dr. Alicia Pon to train local practitioners in their Learn to Play program and certification courses such as Foundations, Intermediate and Advanced training in Play Therapy. These trainings provided local practitioners the relevant and experiential learning opportunities in child and play therapy. As a result, practitioners who are working with young clients are exposed to more specialized child therapy approaches to meet their needs. In the span of 6 years, more play therapy specific trainings and practices began to develop. CRAETI in collaboration with Ms. Felicia Carroll, from West Coast Institute of Gestalt Play Therapy conducted structured training in Gestalt Play Therapy, and Play Therapy International Singapore was also set up to meet the needs of practitioners who are keen to take up structured and specialized training in play therapy. It is not surprising that there were many other in-house play therapy trainings that were not publicized but were offered to practitioners who were working with young clients. Indeed, the influx of training opportunities had given local practitioners more choices to upgrade and update their skills and techniques in child and play therapy. However, it is important to note that some of these workshops can be on an ad-hoc basis and gave local practitioners little visibility on their long term, on going training, supervision, and certification process.
Besides the expansion of educational opportunities for practitioners, there is also an expansion of the private sector in doing child-related counseling work. As a result, more and more people from the family service centers, volunteer welfare organizations, schools and private settings see the need for play and therapeutic play to support their child clients. Notably, many of the hospitals use a range of holistic approaches when working with children including play therapy. In the big local hospitals such as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, play specialists continued to be actively involved in the care and support of children during hospitalization. The Child Guidance Clinic with Institute of Mental Health and Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children’s Medical Institute had also began to offer a multidisciplinary approach including play therapy to treat and support children and adolescents under their care. It is heartening to note that since 2010, Children Cancer Foundation hired 2 Certified Play Therapists to support affected children in their care. In addition, the organization continued to offer regular case consultation and continuing education for exiting social workers and play therapists to keep up their skills. The organization also offers internship opportunities for play therapist-in-training. With these new initiatives, mental health professionals who are curious and interested in learning and practicing the play therapy modality can finally have some solid platform for development.
More and more people from the family service centers, volunteer welfare organizations, schools and private settings see the need for play and therapeutic play to support their child clients. Notably, many of the hospitals use a range of holistic approaches when working with children including play therapy.
In the last decade, play therapy, as an effective intervention approach for working with children, has been getting popular among mental health professionals in Singapore. Though training opportunities need to be more regulated and structured, we are seeing more mental health professionals receiving specialized child and play therapy training in this area. In addition, the general public is more aware of the importance of play in a child’s overall development. Indeed, the opportunities to develop play therapy into a mainstream intervention approach for children and adolescent are bountiful. In my final segment, I will highlight the opportunities to facilitate the further expansion of play therapy in Singapore.
Please contact Dr. Alicia Pon (E: firstname.lastname@example.org) for references and questions for this article.
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About The Author
Dr. Pon is a Registered Play Therapy – Supervisor (RPT-S: S1618) for both the Association of Play Therapy (US) and Play Therapy International (HK). She supervises social workers, psychologists, counselors, and psychotherapists for licensing in Play Therapy for both the Associations. Dr. Pon is also an Approved Play Therapy Provider (APT Provider: 10-279) and have presented in numerous international conferences, and conducted workshops in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
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