We are looking to hear about the amazing work that Play Therapists in Iowa are doing!! Do you know someone that has inspired you or others to be a better play therapist? Do you know someone that has worked to advance Play Therapy in their community? We want to recognize them for their work! The recipients will be presented with these awards at our annual conference in September.

2021 Award Winners

Play Therapist of the Year – Brigid Christianson LISW, RPT-S

Brigid is one of the most dedicated individuals at promoting and providing play therapy.  Brigid is a licensed independent social worker and has also completed her RPT-S in 2005.  Since that time Brigid has started her own private practice and has enhanced services in her community and around the state of Iowa to ensure therapists are adequately trained and people have access to services.  In addition, Brigid partners with her local school to provide services in the school, which allows for easier access to services. 

Brigid served on the Iowa Association for Play Therapy board for many years and served as the board President for several of those terms. Brigid always goes above and beyond what is expected of her to ensure everyone’s needs are met.  Serving on the board with Brigid, she would always push every board member to generate new and innovate ideas to promote play therapy across the state of Iowa.  Brigid never wanted to become complacent in those areas and always was seeking better ways to engage our members and new individuals interested in the field of play therapy. Being on the board with Brigid she would always ensure every decision was ethically sound and each element was addressed.  In situations where there are questions associated to ethical dilemmas where the answer wasn’t clear, Brigid always seeks advice and counsel to ensure all ethics are upheld. 

After resigning from the IAPT board, she has remained active part of guiding our current board members and volunteering any opportunity that she gets to continue to give back and be involved.  Brigid is deserving of this award due to her years of dedication to the field of play therapy. Brigid is one of the most giving and self-less individuals to both her clients and colleagues. Brigid is a driving force in educating people about play therapy and mental health – whether it’s by her organization of trainings in her community, her long time active membership and leadership on the IAPT board, her support of fellow play therapists or most importantly by her provision of play therapy to her clients.

Rookie of the Year – Michelle Mehrens

Michelle Mehrens is a newly graduated social worker who has eagerly embraced the philosophy and practice of play therapy.  She is steadfast in her desire to be the very best play therapist she can possibly be, and she is extraordinary in her dedication to play therapy and delightful in her practice of play therapy.  (She simply ROCKS with children!) Michelle is in her second year practicing as a play therapist, having graduated from her masters’ program at the beginning of the pandemic.  Because of the timing, she was thrown into learning play therapy AND into learning how to deliver play therapy through a telemental health format (and we all know that isn’t easy). She has shown remarkable resilience and determination to learn as much as she can possibly learn about play therapy and to deliver exemplary services to children, parents, and families. Michelle has devoted a great deal of time, energy, and money to learning more about play therapy by taking classes, getting supervision, and reading about play therapy.  She is working steadily toward attaining her RPT.  Michelle is committed to ethical and professional behavior and abides by the NASW Code of Ethics, APT’s standards of practice, and all other legal standards and requirements for social workers.

Mentorship Award – Debra Brockington, LMHC, MT-BC

Deb has been a Clinic Therapist at Tanager Place for 3 years, and during her time at Tanager Place, she has been an influential therapist for her clients, Tanager Place team member, and mentor for coworkers and interns alike. Deb demonstrates an eagerness to learn and grow in her role and shares that knowledge with others.

In her role at Tanager Place, Deb has shown care and a passion for working with children and families using play therapy. From her interactions in the waiting room to the play therapy sessions she holds, Deb is playful with her clients and their families. Deb speaks about her clients with respect and is often staffing cases in order to be the best practitioner she can be. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb has also adjusted her practice to meet the needs of her clients. She has adapted her play therapy skills to virtual platforms and seeks out trainings and consultation to best use her play therapy skills with clients. Deb consistently seeks to improve her practice as she has received additional training in using Theraplay®-informed practice, EMDR with children, sandtray, PCIT, and using Internal Family Systems work with her play therapy clients. Deb, somewhat uniquely, is also a Board Certified Music Therapist and regularly integrates music into play in the work she does. Deb maintains professionalism, displays organization skills, acts ethically, and exudes confidence in her work.

Deb has formally acted as a mentor and advocate for the advancement of the field of play therapy in many ways. Deb has served and supported many interns. She has had the opportunity to teach individual and family play therapy techniques and modalities with a range of interns and with her coworkers as well. Many of her coworkers seek out Deb to consult on play therapy cases. Deb has recently taken on a new role of Lead Clinician at Tanager Place, in which she has the opportunity to support her coworkers in their training and by providing additional times for consultation. Deb has presented at the Great Lakes and Mid-West Regions of the American Music Therapy Association about working with kids on the Autism Spectrum as well as serving individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder. Deb regularly participates in advocacy at the state level as well. I will never forget about the day that Tanager Place went to the Capitol to do

We provide services to children and families that inspire, empower and heal.

Friend of Play Therapy Award – Judge Linnea Nicol

Judge Nicol has served as a Guardian Ad Litem and now serves as a Family Court Judge in the Northeastern region of the state.  As a Guardian Ad Litem, she advocated significantly, not only for the wellbeing of children, but more so for permanency and attachment security.  As a judge, she has creatively addressed the needs of very young children by seeking out play therapy, helping to create and utilize what I now provide to many counties, A Parent Child Relational Assessment (using parts of TheraPlay) to offer court involved cases ways to assess the attachment needs, relational functioning and overall needs of children and their caregivers.  Judge Nicole has helped to make this funded by court approved funding, allowing it to be accessible and non diagnostic (again valuing the relational dynamic in a family (family systems) rather than problem focused. Judge Nicol is direct and confident in her understanding and the benefit of play therapy, play based assessments, and attachment needs when working with families.  She is a strong ally in the play therapy community.

2020 Award Winners

2019 Award Winners

Play Therapist of the Year – Kate Haberman LISW, RPT-S

Kate Haberman was chosen and awarded the IAPT Play Therapist of the Year award 2019. Kate has an outstanding amount of qualifications under her belt. She has been working with Wartburg College to provide classes to increase understanding and promote play therapy to college students. Kate is a foster and adoptive parent and is on the Allison Area Foster Parent Association Board of Directors. Kate facilitates psychoeducation and community education opportunities at the agency she owns, Monarch Therapy Services. She has provided several trainings to increase education in the field of play therapy to therapists, the Department of Human Services, attorneys, teachers, foster and adoptive families, and many others. Kate is an RPT-S and provides supervision and consultation for therapists to help them receive their RPT. Kate attends local trainings and assists Juvenile Court with assessments and referrals for children needing play therapy and other resources. Kate is now pursuing Theraplay to continue to help more families in need and has a passion for working with children that have experienced early childhood trauma and disrupted attachment. She is always willing to collaborate on cases and go the extra mile to advocate for children and families to receive services they need.

Rookie of the Year – Amber Cook LMFT

Amber Cook was chosen and awarded the IAPT Rookie of the Year award 2019. Amber has worked for Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids for ten years, primarily as a music therapist. She recently returned to school and received her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy last year. Amber has demonstrated an intense passion for play therapy and is working toward obtaining her RPT. Amber is frequently sought out in the clinic and has developed a reputation as one of the best therapists at Tanager. Amber recently started a social play group for children aged 4-7. When Amber isn’t at work, you can find her at home with her five children, including her five-year-old triplet daughters!

2018 Award Winners

Rookie of the Year – Alexandra Skinner Walsh, T-LMHC

I would like to nominate Alexandra Skinner Walsh, T-LMHC (therapist Life Connections Davenport) for the Rookie of the year award. She has been practicing for 2 years and is working on her RPT certification and is a member of IAPT. She enjoys play therapy and working with children. As her supervisor, I can attest to her knowledge and skills. She is eager to learn new techniques and approaches to assist her clients and families. She volunteers for Safe Schools in the Quad Cities, helping promote safety and acceptance for LGBTQ+ youth in school and community environments. Her practice is ethical and professional.

Play Therapist of the Year – Amber Bennett

Amber Bennett is a LMHC and RPT and currently works at Covenant Family Solutions. She received training from Dr. Terry Kottman, and even received a letter of recommendation from her pertaining to Amber’s talent and magical way she is able to work with children using play therapy. Amber received her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling Psychology from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago and her Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Minor in Psychology from Wartburg College. She promotes positive change through a variety of therapeutic approaches including: play therapy, Autplay, CBT, Trauma Informed Care, and Solution Focused Therapy.
She has been with Covenant Family Solutions for a little over a year and in that time has dedicated her work primarily to play therapy. Logging close to 1500 play therapy hours. Amber has often gone the extra mile for those she works with, at times starting at 7:00 am and ending at 6:00pm to ensure availability and minimize impact of children being taken out of school. There have even been times when Amber has come in to work with children and families on weekends.
Amber has been a huge advocate for her patients and has a deep love for working with patients and families diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Amber has created groups for patients with this diagnosis to support with social skills and opportunities to engage with others in a supportive environment at Covenant Family Solutions. She exhibited at the Corridor Autism Expo. She has also supported families struggling to access resources and funding for treatment through wraparound offered in Linn County. She has also reached out to several different local pediatricians, doctors offices, and other professionals to support in community understanding of play therapy and Autism awareness, support, and resources.
Amber continues to attend trainings and continuing education opportunities to support growth as a play therapist.  She abides by the code or Ethics and holds a high standard for best practice protocol and procedures. She is independent, driven, and never says no to a chance to teach, collaborate, or consult other professionals or students both in the general community and in the mental health field.
To summarize, Amber is amazing and magical. She is deserving of recognition for her dedication in the field of play therapy.
Amber Bennett is a LMHC and RPT and currently works at Covenant Family Solutions. She received training from Dr. Terry Kottman, and even received a letter of recommendation from her pertaining to Amber’s talent and magical way she is able to work with children using play therapy. Amber received her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling Psychology from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago and her Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Minor in Psychology from Wartburg College. She promotes positive change through a variety of therapeutic approaches including: play therapy, Autplay, CBT, Trauma Informed Care, and Solution Focused Therapy.
She has been with Covenant Family Solutions for a little over a year and in that time has dedicated her work primarily to play therapy. Logging close to 1500 play therapy hours. Amber has often gone the extra mile for those she works with, at times starting at 7:00 am and ending at 6:00pm to ensure availability and minimize impact of children being taken out of school. There have even been times when Amber has come in to work with children and families on weekends.
Amber has been a huge advocate for her patients and has a deep love for working with patients and families diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Amber has created groups for patients with this diagnosis to support with social skills and opportunities to engage with others in a supportive environment at Covenant Family Solutions. She exhibited at the Corridor Autism Expo. She has also supported families struggling to access resources and funding for treatment through wraparound offered in Linn County. She has also reached out to several different local pediatricians, doctors offices, and other professionals to support in community understanding of play therapy and Autism awareness, support, and resources.
Amber continues to attend trainings and continuing education opportunities to support growth as a play therapist.  She abides by the code or Ethics and holds a high standard for best practice protocol and procedures. She is independent, driven, and never says no to a chance to teach, collaborate, or consult other professionals or students both in the general community and in the mental health field.
To summarize, Amber is amazing and magical. She is deserving of recognition for her dedication in the field of play therapy.

2017 Award Winners

Lifetime Achievement Award – Terry Kottman Ph.D., RPT-S, NCC, LMHC

Because she has been the light and guide for many of us on our own play therapy path it only makes sense that the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award is, Terry Kottman. Terry has been referred to as the “god-mother” of Adlerian Play Therapy. She is the founder of The Encouragement Zone where she provides play therapy training and supervision, life coaching, counseling, and “play-shops for women.” She is an international speaker, author, and I am told a “wonderful” theater actress. I could go on listing her accomplishments but Terry is much more than her accomplishments.

Play Therapist of the Year – Jen Alexander MA, NCC, SB-RPT

The recipient has shown a strong and steady dedication to practicing and promoting play therapy for more than 15 years, devoting her professional career to helping children in her role as an elementary school counselor.  She has encouraged many of the masters’ students placed with her for internship and practicum to follow in her footsteps as a school counselor who is also a play therapist.  She has continued to engage in learning opportunities throughout the past twenty years, taking classes, teaching classes, learning and teaching.  She recently finished writing a new book–a book designed to help teachers and parents understand the importance of supporting children who have experienced trauma.  She is Iowa’s first School Based-Registered Play Therapist.

Rookie of the Year – Jessica Pladsen MA, LMFT

This year’s recipient is passionate about utilizing play therapy techniques and is finishing up her supervision to become an RPT-S.   She is constantly seeking new information and education in the field of play therapy in order to expand on her ability to the treat the children in her practice.

Mentorship Award – Lindsey Swales LISW, CTP

The recipient has demonstrated the utmost professionalism with her clients, and works hard to advocate for them and represent them in any way that she can. In her role as a therapist, she exemplifies the ethics of our field, and demonstrates strong role-modeling skills for clients and parents. She works hard to help transfer her skills to other practitioners.  Her experiences and willingness to share them with others sends a positive message to the therapists she mentors, as well as the other providers with whom she coordinates care. Her attention to detail, and her willingness to take the time to teach others in the way they best understand sets her apart.

Award Descriptions:

Lifetime Achievement Award –

This award is to be given to an IAPT professional member in good standing that has been a leader in the field of Play Therapy in the state of Iowa. If retired, has been an APT/IAPT professional in good standing. This is an award given as long as there is a suitable candidate. Member nominations due beginning of June with it awarded in September at the Iowa annual conference.

Criteria

1. Professional Scholarship – Therapist has contributed to research or other scholarly work through endeavors such as presenting at conferences, published research, or other publications (ie: newspaper articles).

2. Trainings – Provided substantial quality and or quantity of play therapy undergraduate and/or graduate instruction, continuing education, and/or supervision that advanced the field of play therapy.

3. Advocacy – Therapist has advocated for the health, wellbeing and protection of children and adolescents.

4. Advancing the Field of Play Therapy – Therapist has conducted substantial quality/quantity of public education or promotion that significantly advanced the field of play therapy.

5. Mentorship & Supervision – Has encouraged and assisted others in exploring interest in play therapy and achieving their RPT/S status.

6. Community Involvement – Therapist has been involved in making their community a better place for children and adolescents.

7. Currently in Practice – Therapist has carried a caseload over the last year that emphasized the use of play therapy.

Has abided by the Code of Ethics, standard of practice and all other legal standards and requirements promulgated by those authorities by which nominee has been granted license or certification.

We encourage nominator to include letters of support of the nominee for this award.

Play Therapist of the Year Award

This award will be given on a yearly basis to a RPT/S that has shown leadership, passion, and promotion for the field of Play Therapy in the state of Iowa. Nominee is currently an IAPT member in good standing. This award is given as long as there is a suitable candidate. Member nominations due beginning of June with it awarded in September at the Iowa annual conference.

1. RPT/S who shows dedication to promoting play therapy.

2. Has carried a caseload over the last year that emphasized the use of play therapy.

3. Engages in learning opportunities such as supervision, workshops, and reading professional literature to better him/herself as a play therapist.

4. Has encouraged assisted others in exploring interest in play therapy and/or achieving their RPT/S status.

5. Provided play therapy undergraduate and/or graduate instruction, continuing education, and/or supervision that advanced the field of play therapy.

Has abided by the Code of Ethics, standard of practice and all other legal standards and requirements promulgated by those authorities by which nominee has been granted license or certification.

Rookie of the Year Award

This award will be given on a yearly basis in recognition of a new play therapist that has demonstrated passion, commitment and excitement for the field of play therapy in the state of Iowa. This award is given as long as there is a suitable candidate. Member nominations due beginning of June with it awarded in September at the Iowa annual conference.

1. A therapist who is in their first 3 years of practice as a play therapist.

2. Has demonstrated passion for play therapy.

3. Has a genuine interest in helping children, adolescents, and families.

4. Commits to ethical and professional behavior.

5. Engages in learning opportunities such as supervision, workshops, and reading professional literature to better him/herself as a play therapist.

6. Is working toward their RPT/S or has received it.

Has abided by the Code of Ethics, standard of practice and all other legal standards and requirements promulgated by those authorities by which nominee has been granted license or certification.

Mentorship Award

This is award is given on a yearly basis to an Iowa therapist that has demonstrated support of RPT/S and those working toward RPT/S status; models advocacy, ethical behavior, and professionalism. Encourages other play therapist and play therapists in-training to become better practitioners. This award is given as long as there is a suitable candidate. Member nominations due beginning of June with it awarded in September at the Iowa annual conference.

Has abided by the Code of Ethics, standard of practice and all other legal standards and requirements promulgated by those authorities by which nominee has been granted license or certification.20