Therapist renovates bus into mobile children’s play therapy center

PRINCETON, WV (WOAY) – A play therapist is going around Southern West Virginia in a renovated therapy bus to help children cope with psychological trauma. 

Beth Hughes grew up in the coal fields of Boone County, and eventually moved out to Alabama to start a private practice for children’s play therapy. Now, she’s come back to Southern West Virginia to bring therapy to kids on a mobile scale.

According to her, play therapy is an essential service for traumatized children, but it just isn’t as available as it should be in West Virginia. 

“When children are traumatized, they stop cognitive development, emotional development, social development. Everything stops for a while because all of that process is used for survival. And what play therapy does is allow children to get back to that development,” Hughes said. 

Play therapy is the concept of getting a child who has been the victim of crime to open up about what happened to them and process their emotions. Unfortunately this needed service is hard to come by in Southern West Virginia. And according to Robert Noone, an adoption attorney, there are only a handful of licensed play therapists in the entire state. 

“In West Virginia we have about 6,500 kids in foster care, but we only have about ten registered play therapists. That’s one for every 650 kids,” Noone said.

According to Hughes, many children can only communicate with someone on their own level. Having a trained therapist interact with a child in a way they’re comfortable with, like play, may be the only way to get them to open up. 

“Sitting down on a couch like a normal therapist and talking heavy talk therapy is not going to be productive for that child. What is going to be productive for them is the language of play. That’s what they understand.”

The bus is fully mobilized, Hughes can take it anywhere that it’s needed to reach a child in need. As well, she’ll help train social workers, other therapists and counselors on how to incorporate play therapy into their routines. For now she’ll be operating the bus in Mercer and McDowell Counties, but that area may grow in the near future.