How therapist Carley Aroldi brings play into her practice

“I think of myself as a play detective… Play, especially for children, is a kind of language. And the more we allow it, the more we can heal.”

Stacie Blanke (Speechless): Let’s start with the basics. How did you become a play therapist?

Carley Aroldi: Well, I was trained in traditional talk therapy, but I knew I wanted to work with kids. And what’s fascinating is that I did years of therapy training knowing I was going to work with kids and no one ever taught me about play. So, I get out into the field and I’m sitting with a seven-year-old asking again and again, “what’s wrong?” And they’re like, “nothing.” I’m thinking back to like the first year of practice and honestly, I just hope those kids are okay [laughs].

It was a year of doing that as a therapist before I said, “you want to play UNO?” Then things started to come out. That’s when I decided to get formally trained in play therapy.

Lindsey (Speechless): So, how does play therapy differ from conventional talk therapy?

Carley: When you’re training in the therapeutic program they’ll you need to hold your body stiller; be a statue. It’s kind of an old-school, Freudian way of thinking, right? Like you are the one with the answers, you are the person that people are coming to to inform or guide them. Like, “I’m going to tell you my dream and you’re going to tell me what’s wrong with me.” And now there’s this understanding of no, it’s about the relationship.

Stacie: What kinds of things can we learn through play?

Carley: Well, we can’t hide in play. As soon as we’re playing and relaxed and comfortable, that’s when kids start to talk about, “oh, this kid at school did this” or “mom didn’t do that.” I think of myself like a “play detective.” I notice what toys they gravitate to. Are they going for aggressive stuff? Are they going for nurturing things?

I’ve done 40-minute sessions where the kid has me in toy handcuffs the entire time. But in that moment, that kid may just need some power. They may not feel like they have power anywhere else their life.

You might ask a kid, “pick out people in your family from my toys.” Maybe the dad is a big dragon and the kid is a little mouse. You learn so much more about their family dynamic and perception than you do sitting for 10 minutes trying to get to their story.

Lindsey: Do you think kids today are play-deprived?

Carley: Yes, particularly unstructured play. So much of our children’s way of being right now is structured. But unstructured time is where they create; it’s where they imagine; where they problem-solve.

Stacie: What advice can you give to parents about holding space for play at a time like this?

Carley: Release the need to do everything perfectly — especially with virtual school. Release the need to make sure they hit every benchmark right now and use this time to allow what might come. Allow your kids to express themselves through their play right now. This is golden time. It’s golden to be able to witness it.

So much of parenting (and therapy) is improv. We don’t always know what we’re going to have to bring out. In sessions, I don’t have a lesson plan. I have to ask, “what do we need in this moment?” What is this, what do we need to do right now?

Stacie: What about just generally, for adults (with or without children)?

Carley: Remember the importance of play for yourself. Make that time. Literally, put it in your calendar. Structured, unstructured time. When we think play, we tend to think, oh, you have to get dolls out or play make-believe. But play is anything that brings you joy; anything that lights you up, that’s play.



FLS+ helps teams and individauls flex their mental muscles through collaborative improvisation and play. Learn more at!

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FLS+ helps teams and individauls flex their mental muscles through collaborative improvisation and play. Learn more at!