The fourth year student had an opportunity to gain practical experience with play therapy during her nine-month practicum placement with Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago.
Play therapy involves watching the interactions children create between toys, which can be reflective of a child’s emotions and relationships, says Longhurst. Play therapy can be especially useful for children who aren’t yet able to express themselves verbally.
“We step back and observe and imagine what the interactions might mean for where children are at,” says Longhurst. “It’s a cool thing to see how they interact with other children before and after. It was rewarding to be a part of it.”
Erie Neighbourhood House’s mission is “to promote a just and inclusive society by strengthening low-income, primarily Latino families through skill-building, access to critical resources, advocacy and collaborative action.” One of the ways they do this is by partnering with graduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago to offer a play therapy program for preschool children ages 2-5. Longhurst assisted teachers as needed and observed the play therapy process. She also spent part of her practicum as an assistant teacher.
Longhurst says she was able to see the theories she’s studied in the classroom be put into practice at Erie Neighbourhood House.
“As a student, the practicum instilled in me this was important work and it does make a difference,” she says. “I have more energy behind my education now because I’ve seen what it can do. It makes me want to develop more because I’ve seen that it really works.”
At the same time, Longhurst says the placement wasn’t without its struggle. “Kids are my happy place,” she says. “Can I get into a profession that might open me up to their suffering and pain?”
It was hard to see children experiencing some of what she’s studied but seeing the progress children made as a result of therapy helped Longhurst stay motivated in her work.
The challenge was one aspect of what made the practicum so valuable for Longhurst. By having the opportunity to experience and practice what is studied in the classroom, she says the practicum is a way for students to know what they may experience in their career.
“I’m a full enthusiast in putting academic and experiential learning together,” she says. “One of the most important things a student can do is to get out there, to go and see for themselves instead of people just telling them what it is.”
Each of CMU’s Bachelor of Arts programs has a practicum component, allowing students to gain hands on experience in their program.
Longhurst says the practicum experience made her feel more confident in her choice of a psychology major and that she feels “more comfortable in graduating with it.”
As for what’s next, Longhurst expects she’ll pursue a master’s degree with the ultimate goal of working in play therapy.
“Anything that lets me work with kids until I get there is fine—whatever leads me there is going to be great,” she says.
Ellen Paulley, Writer and Social Media Coordinator at CMU
Learn more about CMU’s practicum program