Watch an interview with Brunetti online!
For UM graduate student Chaley Brunetti, helping improve the lives of children and their families has always been a calling. But in 2011, that desire came into fruition for the Cleveland native when she came to Ole Miss to begin her graduate studies in counseling and later found work at UM’s Child Advocacy and Play Therapy Institute.
Play therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy in which mental health professionals can identify sources of stress and trauma in children and help improve behaviors by observing their play. In 2012, UM became the first university in the nation to offer a degree in play therapy when it unveiled an online Specialist in Education (Ed.S.) degree in the field. “Children are such a special population and play therapy can be challenging at times,” said Brunetti, who is currently enrolled in the Ed.S. in play therapy program. “But at the same time, it’s so rewarding to actually get to see how much you can help children and make their lives better. Sometimes, within just a few sessions you’ll see behaviors change dramatically.” Brunetti, a nationally certified counselor and alumna of UM’s Master of Education in community and mental health counseling program, will receive her second graduate degree from UM in August. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in child development from Delta State University. Through the online program and her work, she has been able to network with current and aspiring play therapists from around the country. “Traditionally, I’m not an online education kind of person,” she explained. “But once you get used to the format of the program you begin to see that you can meet so many people and learn so much from the videos that show how real therapists are helping children with specific issues. It’s been very beneficial.” During her time at CAPTI, she has worked with dozens of children with a variety of issues and will qualify to become a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor by the Association for Play Therapy—a national accreditation organization—upon completing her studies and receiving her professional counseling license next year. “Chaley has done an excellent job of working with children,” said Dr. Marilyn Snow, director of CAPTI. “But also, she goes past what she has to do with children to work with parents, as well. She really has made a major contribution to our institute.” Brunetti plans to continue working for CAPTI in the immediate future with the hopes of continuing a career in play therapy in Mississippi. “I feel like I’m here to allow children to be themselves,” she said. “It’s really important that you give them the opportunity to make connections and show them that they are safe and how they can be successful in life. I’m so fortunate to be here doing something that I’m so passionate about.”