Knowing that this month’s cover story was going to address the important topic of therapeutic play from the perspective of counselor practitioners specially trained in play therapy, I wanted to look at play from a personal perspective and share how it has manifested itself in my life.

When I first considered the topic, I thought, “Isn’t all play therapeutic?” But after some time, I concluded that, no, it really isn’t. Having played numerous sports throughout my life, even into my adulthood with competitive tennis, I have seen the “ugly” side of play as well.

Personally, I have been so driven to win that, I am ashamed to say, even small children have fallen victim to my competitive spirit. I remember very vividly playing basketball with my nephews once and beating them badly. One of them turned to me and said, “Aunt Marcheta, do you always have to win?” I paused for a moment before turning to my nephew and responding, “Yes.” Of course, now being over 50, I realize that physically, my best days are behind me … but I still have a pretty good jump shot if I’m standing still (smile).

Anyway, back to the topic of play’s therapeutic qualities. I have learned the importance of play throughout my life. For me, play means the ability to walk away from the daily grind of work to experience a physical and mental release. There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than simply getting out and playing with my husband, children or friends. This is when a lot of laughter and fun occur.

Whether engaged in a physical game or even a board game, you can learn quite a bit about someone’s personality through play. During the holidays, I sometimes purchase puzzles for our family to complete. It is amazing to see how each family member responds to this challenge. One child will work and work until the task is done. Another becomes frustrated after a short period of time and walks away. I have the “drive-by” child who will walk up, put a puzzle piece in place and then quickly move on to something else. Yet another child won’t even try because the fear of possibly not being successful is too great. Despite all these differences in personalities, our time together at play is somehow bonding and quite rewarding.

One of my other great joys is attending our branch, region, division and national conferences. Yes, these are prime times to network and to secure those valuable continuing education units that we all need to stay relevant and current with our profession. But these are also times to get refreshed and to enjoy one another. As president of the American Counseling Association, I have been afforded the opportunity to attend several conferences this fall where I have truly enjoyed participating in yet another version of “therapeutic play.” To be given the chance to connect with individuals whom we may see only once a year, to catch up on what is happening in the lives of our friends and colleagues, is so gratifying.

If you have not attended any of your conferences recently, I strongly urge you to do so. It will bring a smile to your face and give you back that competitive edge. Attend one of the receptions or dances, and you’ll likely get a good opportunity to do the Electric Slide. This is where counselors laugh, play and dance the night away! So I’ll hope to see you this March at the Opening Party dance at the ACA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

On a more serious note, it is important to remember that even “fun” can be perilous if we are not protected. I recently had an opportunity to write a letter supporting the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act. Congressional hearings are currently taking place regarding this legislation, which could help prevent play-related brain injuries among young athletes. No one supports the idea of play more than I do, but we must always be conscious of potential risks and dangers.

Before closing this column, I want to acknowledge the upcoming holiday season. As we prepare with our families, I encourage you to find some time for therapeutic play with each other. Be sure to let your family know how much you enjoy your time together, then let the laughter begin. Time is so precious, and we want our family members to know how important they are in our lives. There are times when we give so much to our students and clients that, at the end of the day, there is not much left. We are exhausted. But we must always remember to refresh ourselves by making time for play and embracing that special time with family. This is something we all know, but I just wanted to remind you to value the short time we have on this earth with our loved ones.

As I finish my first few months as president, I want to say how thankful I am for all of you who have taken the time to contact me. I received more than 50 e-mails about my column in August that focused on the lack of men in counseling. I will be following up with additional research on this important topic. So please stay tuned, and thank you for your continued support.