Professor Aims to Bring Play Therapy to Mississippi Teachers

Inaugural UM Faculty Laureate hopes to provide courses, instruction for counselors, teachers

A woman stands with her arms crossed in a children's classroom lined with toys.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi professor Amanda Winburn is a believer in the power of play therapy, in which children work through feelings and experiences using toys. She hopes to instruct teachers and counselors across the state about play therapy and its long-term benefits.

Winburn, associate professor of leadership and counselor education, was recently named one of the university's inaugural Faculty Laureates, a new program that supports academics who want to make a difference in Mississippi.

"These play-based activities will facilitate stronger relationships between students and their teachers," she said. "We know that, at that young age, if the students have stronger relationships with their teachers, there's going to be immediate and long-term impacts on not only academics, but also behavior."

Before a child learns to speak and understand complex emotions, they learn to play. Play therapy is a proven tool to help students – and their educators – better understand a child's worldview, she said.

Play therapy generally involves a child using toys, but it's not just for fun.

Amanda Winburn

"It's through those toys and materials that children are able to articulate and communicate, whatever it is that they've experienced, whether that be a trauma, whether that be a loss, any life situation that might be bringing them stress or anxiety," Winburn said.

"They're not at a place developmentally where they can engage in talk therapy like you and I could if we were experiencing a difficulty in life. You have to have a different approach and that approach is play therapy."

Through the Faculty Laureate program, Winburn hopes to partner with school districts from around the state to train and implement the method.

"I'm hoping to use this opportunity to develop networks or collaborations with not only school counselors, but with school districts," she said.

"And to use that as a tipping point to offer professional development to school counselors, and to come into their school districts and develop partnerships with those teachers in their classrooms."

Winburn joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2013 after completing her doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision in the UM School of Education. She has since served as president of the Mississippi School Counseling Association and is involved in the American Counseling Association, the American School Counseling Association and the Association for Play Therapy.

It was at Ole Miss that Winburn first learned about play therapy.

"It was kind of that reaction of, 'Where it has this been my entire career as a teacher and school counselor?'" Winburn said. "I immediately had that reaction of, 'Oh my goodness, I've been doing this wrong. Why have I not been utilizing this type of technique and intervention my entire time working with children?'

"That was really kind of a real pivotal turning moment for me."

In 2016, Winburn became a credentialed play therapist and has since taught classes and completed research on the subject.

Franc Hudspeth, clinical associate remote professor of leadership and counselor education, met Winburn while she was a doctoral student and said she was and is clearly passionate about play therapy.

"Even though play therapy has been a thing in Mississippi for almost two decades, it's still not well known," Hudspeth said. "The best way to get things out there and have it better received in the state is to get it to the teachers and let it trickle up to admin in school districts and things like that. That's what Dr. Winburn is doing."

The Faculty Laureates program is developed and managed by the Mississippi Lab and underwritten by the Daniel W. Jones Endowment for Faculty Support.


Clara Turnage


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May 01, 2024