The Art of Play

What is there to be learned when a child plays with an action figure or a tiny truck on a table filled with sand? A great deal, in fact, as sandtray therapy, one form of practice in the expanding field of play therapy, allows children and even adults to explore aspects of their unconscious. Sandtrays, along with dress-up clothes, dollhouses, toy pots and pans, Legos, and the occasional rubber snake will be among the resources found in Nazareth College's Play Therapy Center for Children and Families. Stephen Demanchick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College's Creative Arts Therapy Department and a registered play therapist, founded the Center in May 2009. More recently, the Center was approved by the state of New York to offer an advanced certificate for professionals seeking post-graduate specialization in play therapy.

Demanchick, who serves as the Center's director, stresses the importance of play therapy. "If you or I were to go into counseling, we would sit down and talk about what is going on and discuss our thoughts and feelings," he said. "But children, particularly those between 3 and 9 years of age, are at a developmental level where they can't necessarily verbalize. Play is therefore a perfect modality by which to engage children in therapy. It is developmentally appropriate, allows children to express both comfortable and uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, and gives the therapist valuable insights into the child's world."

The Center was designated an Approved Center for Play Therapy Education by the Association for Play Therapy (APT). Nazareth is one of only thirteen such approved centers in the nation and the only one in the East. These approved centers are focused on generating more play therapy research, publications, instruction, supervised clinical experiences, and producing more credentialed faculty and practitioners. "We have known about Dr. Demanchick and his work for a long time, and feel that he is the right person for this," said Bill Burns, executive director of the Association for Play Therapy. "We are confident that, under his leadership, the Center will significantly advance our growing field and serve those who counsel clients, particularly children, in schools, public agencies, private practices, and other venues."

The Center focuses on four primary objectives. It provides low-cost counseling services to the community. It offers instruction to those who wish to become play therapists. It introduces members of the public to the possibilities of play therapy through one- or two-day training workshops. Last, but certainly not least, it fosters research in the burgeoning field of play therapy.

"Nazareth is really a perfect place for this," said Demanchick. "With our already established Wellness and Rehabilitation clinics on campus that include the art therapy clinic, music therapy clinic, speech therapy clinic, and the physical therapy clinic, we are doing some exciting things around play therapy. For instance, we teach a play therapy course at the Strong Museum of Play and are now introducing canine-assisted play therapy."

Clearly, between claiming a nationally renowned museum of play, integrating the use of animal-assisted therapy, and an approved advanced certificate in play therapy, Rochester is firmly establishing its identity as a magnet for anyone who wants to study this basic and important human activity.

For more information on the Nazareth College's Play Therapy Center for Children and Families, contact Steve Demanchick at 585-389-2545 or