CHE grad student researching play therapy effectiveness for Latino children

Gustavo Barcenas, a doctoral student in the College of Education at the University of North Texas, knows that sometimes in order to help others you have to play.

Barcenas spent the spring researching the effectiveness of play therapy for Spanish-speaking children.

Through a partnership with the Denton Independent School District, Barcenas has been conducting his thesis research at Gonzalez School for Young Children. He is trying to establish whether offering play therapy to Spanish-speaking children in their primary language is more beneficial than receiving the same therapy in English. The ongoing partnership with DISD serves about 30 to 40 kids each year at multiple schools.

Barcenas said adapting services to the needs of the Spanish-speaking population is important.

“There is a gap there for this community and we are trying to alleviate that by providing services in their school and in their language,” said Barcenas.

Since a lack of Spanish-speaking therapists is another roadblock, Barcenas enlisted the help of other bilingual therapists from UNT.

“We want to bridge the gap between academics and community,” he said.

Play therapy is generally used with young children and gives them an outlet to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided process.

“Children are such a vulnerable group already and then when you add race, gender and economic struggles, they are even more at risk,” said Barcenas.

Felicia Sprayberry, principal at Gonzalez School for Young Children, said she is grateful to have the play therapy program at the school.

“It has allowed our students to receive additional support in emotional and behavioral development, through age appropriate play situations,” said Gonzalez. “The play therapists are also very good at working with families and teachers to provide techniques or resources that can support the child in other environments. I credit the success of the program to Gustavo and the other therapists and the support they receive from UNT.”

Barcenas said that during his work at the school, he has witnessed how important safe spaces are to children.

 “I feel more passionate each time I work with the kids,” he said. “They are in challenging situations, and I see my role as being present. They need a place where they can express what they are thinking and feeling and what worries them.”

Barcenas said that after earning his doctorate degree he plans to continue working with children and families and with play therapy research in some capacity.

 

Pictured, UNT graduate student Gustavo Barcenas works with a local Denton Independent School District student while researching the effectiveness of play therapy for Latino children.