About New Jersey Association for Play Therapy

Definition of Play Therapy (from the national Association for Play Therapy)

Sand Tray Play Therapy with New Jersey Association for Play Therapy

Play Therapy is not the same as regular, everyday play. While spontaneous play is a natural and essential part of the developmental process, Play Therapy is a systematic and therapeutic approach.  Play Therapists are licensed mental health professionals with extensive training, supervision, and education in Play Therapy. Play Therapy incorporates a growing number of evidence-based practices and techniques (SAMSHA, 2014), and should only be utilized by specially trained mental health professionals.

While some Play Therapists do not possess a specialized Play Therapy credential, a Registered Play Therapist (RPT), Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S), or School Based-Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT) are those professionals who have met the stringent standards set by APT to become a credentialed Play Therapist. Ask to see the Play Therapist’s certificate that he or she meets the requirements and is in good standing with the Association for Play Therapy.

Other professionals who work with children/adolescents and incorporate toys into their work, but are not trained Play Therapists, should not represent themselves as such. Learn more about the requirements for credentialing as a Play Therapist, or Find a Registered Play Therapist near you.

Play Therapy Isn’t Just Play

Play Therapy is defined by APT as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained Play Therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
Play Therapy should only be provided by mental health professionals who have met the required education, licensure, and additional specialized training and supervision specific to Play Therapy.

Meet our Board

Wendy Hartmann, MA, LPC, NCC, ACS, RPT

I have been a therapist for less than 10 years, but I am passionate about play as a medium for learning and communication. Most of my work has been with families touched by foster care, adoption, or who are actively in crisis. I have a combination of agency and independent work using play to address normative developmental tasks, family changes, anxiety, and trauma. Currently, I am a clinical supervisor at a local non-profit where I get to combine my love of learning with mentoring new clinicians. I love to see interest in play therapy, and I invite you to connect with us!

Past President
Joanne Dunnigan, MSW, LCSW, RPT-S
I have been a play therapist for 20 years. I practice both directive and non-directive play therapy at About Kids, my private practice in Manalapan NJ.I am a play therapy adjunct at Monmouth University and a founding member of the Play Therapy Consortium of NJ. I am excited to be part of revitalizing the NJAPT.

Lisa Zaffarese NCC, LPC, RPT
Lisa is a Registered Play therapist, and is very excited to be president-elect of the New Jersey branch of APT. She is also a participant in the Play Therapy Consortium of New Jersey. In addition, Lisa is a National Board Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor. She has been in practice for 5 years at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. She began her career as a therapist in a partial hospitalization program providing group and family therapy services to children ages 7-13. Currently, Lisa is an outpatient therapist, providing individual and family counseling as well as facilitating parenting groups in the therapeutic nursery program. As of January 2017, Lisa will be opening her private practice, Profound Insights LLC offering therapeutic services to children, adolescents and families in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Yi-Ju Cheng, LPC (TX & NJ), NCC, RPT
Yi is an assistant professor in the counseling services program at Rider University, Originally from Taiwan, Yi received her PhD in counselor education with a specialty in play therapy from the University of North Texas. Yi’s research interests include play therapy, filial therapy, and diversity related topics in the counseling profession. Yi also tries to stay active in clinical practice and to promote the powers of play by providing free play therapy services in local elementary schools as well as conducting online parenting groups.

Mercedez Ruiz, MA, LAC, NCC

Mercedez is a licensed associate counselor currently working at New Jersey City University as an academic coach. Mercedez’s overall goal is to earn her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision specializing in play therapy. Mercedez has worked as a play therapy intern in the Union City BOE under the supervision of Dr. Yumiko Ogawa. Mercedez is very excited to continue to be a part of NJAPT!

Southern New Jersey Director
Judith Smith, MSW, LCSW

Judy currently works in Southern New Jersey as a social worker/therapist for children and adolescents. She has worked as a social worker for nearly 10 years in various settings including internationally.  With her experience she has had the opportunity to see all aspects of the treatment process, from psychiatric emergency rooms to case management services, she brings an approach that helps link clients to resources and evaluations, advocate and provide sound therapeutic treatment. As the south director, Judy is excited to work on seeing more RPT credentialed providers in the southern part of the state, increased engagement with NJA4PT, and improved access to resources and trainings in south Jersey.