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Joliet counselor incorporates play into therapy

Jennifer Planing uses board games, coloring and toys when counseling

Jennifer Planing of Joliet, a licensed clinical professional counselor, recently earned the registered play therapist (RPT) credential conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).
Jennifer Planing of Joliet, a licensed clinical professional counselor, recently earned the registered play therapist (RPT) credential conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).

JOLIET – Jordan Willner of Joliet started seeing therapist Jennifer Planing when he was 12 years old to help deal with his autism.

But they didn’t talk, not at first. They played Monopoly.

“As we played, I would start opening up a little bit more to her,” said Willner, now 22. “to the point that where one day I was just, ‘Can we not play the game today and just talk?’ ”

Children communicate through play, Planing said. Planing is a Joliet licensed clinical professional counselor. She recently earned the registered play therapist credential conferred by the Association for Play Therapy.

“It’s their language, how they talk and work through things,” Planing said. “We can use that for the time they don’t have words to talk about what is going on, or they don’t want to talk about what is going on, or when they’re not sure what is going on.”

Advantages of play therapy is that it helps children explore their feelings, modify their behaviors and develop problem-solving skills, Planing said. At the same time, play gives therapists clues on how the child is faring.

For instance, a child running around the playroom with a toy gun is using the toy as intended. But what if the same child is pretending every toy is a gun? Or the child who is throwing dolls around?

One young client, while playing with cars, often crashed his into Planing’s – enough to send it flying off the track, she said.

“But as he worked through his situation, he’d send an ambulance and rush me to the hospital to make sure I was OK,” Planing said.

Kristy O’Malley of Joliet said her 10-year-old son, Jacques O’Malley, began play therapy with Planing five years ago. Kristi said Jacques was coming from a less than ideal environment and needed to learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways to deal with past trauma.

Jacques would share quite a bit during a simple game of Candyland.

“I really think it [play therapy] really fosters kids to be able to open up without even knowing they’re doing so,” O’Malley said. “There’s not that pressure they sometimes feel around adults.”

Planing occasionally uses play therapy as a tool to help adults relax and “be in the moment,” Planing said. As with children, Planing can glean information from the way adults play, too.

For instance, one adult would not color outside the lines. If she accidentally strayed, she started over on a brand-new page, Planing said. Grass was always green – never magenta.

“That’s how much control she needed,” Planing said. “Things had to be a certain way or she could not handle it.”



Licensed mental health professionals, school counselors and school psychologists use play therapy theories and techniques in developmentally appropriate ways to better communicate with and help clients, especially children, according to a news release from the Association for Play Therapy (APT).

To become a registered play therapist, applicants must have earned a traditional master’s or higher mental health degree from an institution of higher education. They must also have 150 clock hours of play therapy training, two years and 2,000 hours of clinical experience, 500 hours of supervised play therapy experience, and be licensed or certified by their state boards of practice, the release also said.

The APT is a national professional society formed in 1982 to advance the play therapy modality and serve the research, training, and credentialing needs of its member counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychologists and social workers.

For information, visit


Jennifer Planing earned her master’s degree from Governor State University with a specialty in marriage and family counseling in 1999. She began incorporating aspects of play therapy into her practice about 10 years ago, Planing said.

Planing sees patients at the Summit Center for Mental Health in Joliet. Her dream is to have a large room stocked only for play therapy. For information, visit or call 815-773-077 ext 514.

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