Whether it’s solving the world’s biggest problems or investigating the potential of novel discoveries, researchers at UCF are on the edge scientific breakthroughs that aim to make an impact. Through the Research in 60 Seconds series, student and faculty researchers condense their complex studies into bite-sized summaries so you can know how and why Knights plan to improve our world.

Name: Dalena Dillman Taylor
Positions: Associate professor of counselor education, director of the Center for Play Therapy Training and Research, and senior implementation director for the UCF Marriage and Family Counseling Institute

Why are you interested in this research?
I am passionate about helping children find their voice through play to overcome struggles and challenges that may be hard to put into words, especially when their cognitive capacity is still developing. Further, there appears to be misconceptions about children and their needs to thrive in our world. My interests are grounded in advancing the field of play therapy to understand the mechanisms that bring about change through the process of counseling young children. I find my research a balance of curiosity and advocacy for a population who tends to be overlooked in our society regarding their social, emotional, and behavioral well-being.

Who inspires you to conduct your research?
Children. In particular, my own three kids who continuously help me to be a better mother, educator and researcher. Through my interactions with them, I grow in curiosity and see the value in play. I want to share that same passion and dedication of growing this field of research with future counselors in efforts to provide comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, research-driven child counseling services for all children who may need the extra support and encouragement.

Are you a faculty member or student conducting research at UCF? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your research at bit.ly/ucf-research-60-form.

How does UCF empower you to do your research?
I am fortunate over the past eight years to have mentors and encouragement to expand my research through the development of the Center for Play Therapy Training and Research (2015), hosting annual conferences that bring in passionate play therapists from across the Southeast region of the United States, and to establish the PLAY Lab in the College of Community Innovation and Education (CCIE). I was awarded CCIE seed funding to develop a patent for an advanced system that connects the video, audio, and physiological data that is captured during a play session to note patterns of changes across the child’s behaviors and physiological responses before and after a therapist’s responses. This expansion has allowed me to collect pilot data that will be used in several upcoming grant proposals.

Why is this research important?
Yogman and colleagues (2018) noted the therapeutic powers of play in the child’s developing brain. Yet, there is still a lack of understanding of appropriate mental health interventions services for young children, if they receive services at all. With over 50 million children in public schools in the United States (CDC, 2013), approximately 20% of these children exhibit signs of mental health diagnoses and nearly 80% will not receive any intervention (NFFCMH, 2017; Padilla, Grant, Aydin, & Aguilar-Gaxiola, 2014). Recent metanalyses showed the importance of play therapy in helping children improve their behavioral and emotional outcomes (e.g., Lin & Bratton, 2015; Ray et al., 2015). However, researchers do not yet understand the mechanisms within the therapeutic process that brings about change. Understanding this process is important to advocate for and provide the most efficacious treatment modalities for young children.

How to Get Involved with Research at UCF

  • F-LEARN @ UCF: A living-learning community for STEM students entering UCF from high school that provides hands-on early research opportunity for academic success.
  • Getting Started Workshops: The Office of Research hosts workshops that inform students about how to get started in research and find a faculty member to work with and the first steps on getting started in research.
  • Honors Undergraduate Thesis: Over the course of two to four semesters, students work closely with a faculty committee to research, write, defend, and publish an original thesis that serves as an honors capstone product of their undergraduate career.
  • Introduction to Research and Creative Scholarship Opportunities (INTRO) Mentoring Program: A semester-long immersive, classroom experience offered in fall and spring semesters that provides students ways to get connected to research opportunities. This program is available in person or online.
  • Office of Undergraduate Research: OUR is dedicated to cultivating and supporting world-class research at UCF. Students can connect with the office for any questions they may have about research or to find opportunities.
  • Peer Mentoring: This program connects students with experienced undergraduate researchers who will provide guidance on how to get started and get support through research experiences.
  • Research Positions Database: This online resource allows students to discover research opportunities with UCF researchers across various disciplines. Please note faculty contact information is password protected, but students can gain access by attending a peer mentoring session, completing the Research Roadmaps webcourse, and through other engagement opportunities.
  • Research Roadmaps Webcourse: The is an online, non-credit, self-paced course that introduces students to research opportunities at UCF. It provides the same information as peer mentoring sessions or a workshop, but at your own pace. Completion of this course also provides you access to the Research Positions Database.
  • SONA: This is a research participation system that allows students who are looking to become participants in studies, usually in exchange for course credit, to find opportunities. The College of Health Professions and Sciences, College of Business and Department of Psychology are among some of the units at UCF that list opportunities here.
  • Summer Research Academy: A three-day event in July that’s designed to support UCF undergraduate students across all majors who are interested in participating in research and creative scholarship. This is an ideal opportunity for students who want to begin research in the fall.
  • T-LEARN @ UCF: A living-learning community for first-year, transfer students at UCF who have already earned an Associate in Arts degree. T-LEARN provides a select group of students interested in STEM hands-on learning experiences by helping them engage in research.

Are you a faculty member or student conducting research at UCF? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your research at bit.ly/ucf-research-60-form.