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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 1 month ago

Child's play: Specialized treatment gains traction, leads to expansion

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Growing demand for services prompts child play therapy specialist to open a $1 million new facility in Odessa.

Child play therapy has been gaining prominence as a clinical technique to help young kids work their way through emotional and mental health issues. The practice emphasizes the use of playtime and toys as vehicles for expression.

“Developmentally, it’s not appropriate to expect a detailed conversation with a child,” says Dr. Brenna Hicks, an early advocate of child play therapy who now owns and operates Kid Counselor Center in Odessa. “Play is their language; toys are their words. Play therapy accounts for kids not being rational, cognitive or verbal.”

Hicks recently worked with her lender, American Momentum Bank, to secure a $1 million loan to buy land and build a new 4,780-square-foot headquarters for her clinic, which had been based in leased space in New Port Richey. With its new, larger footprint, the company now employs three of the five Pasco County therapists certified in child play therapy. The property, 15123 Ogden Loop, cost $380,000 to acquire and the budget for the clinic was $570,000.

Hicks tells Coffee Talk she plans to hire a fourth therapist in January, and a fifth later in 2022. Her clinic also provides therapy for adults, and she expects to have 10 therapists on staff when the new facility is fully up and running.

Kid Counselor Center doesn’t work with health insurance reimbursements, Hicks says, because insurers require a child to be diagnosed with a specific mental health condition, such as anxiety, that can stay in their medical records for life. “It’s a slippery slope,” she says.

Requiring out-of-pocket payment doesn’t seem to be an impediment to Hicks’ business: She says parents are driving up to an hour and half — one way — to have their kids treated. Sessions range from $125 to $295 per hour, and a typical course of treatment for a child is 20 sessions. At the end of 2019, Hicks and her team were seeing 75 patients per week — today, there’s a 60-patient waitlist.

Playing the long game is paying off for Hicks, who opened her first child play therapy clinic in 2006, when the practice was conducted almost exclusively in academic settings.

“I feel that it is gaining momentum,” she says. “It has gotten traction in some states. Courts, lawyers and guardians ad litem are starting to recognize its value. But everyday people just don’t know enough about play therapy — people don’t write books about it for parents.”

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