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Using Axline's Eight Principles of Play Therapy with Mexican-American Children

By Ramirez, Sylvia Z.; Flores-Torres, Leila L. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Using Axline's Eight Principles of Play Therapy with Mexican-American Children


Ramirez, Sylvia Z., Flores-Torres, Leila L., Kranz, Peter L., Lund, Nick L., Journal of Instructional Psychology


There is a paucity of literature on the application of client-centered play therapy to diverse cultures. In this regard, the purpose of the article is to discuss considerations related to using Axline's eight principles of play therapy with Mexican-American children. The principles involve multicultural acceptance and understanding, relationship building, expression of feelings, and issues of control. Implications for play therapy practice with this population are provided.

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Despite the growing recognition of cultural issues in play therapy (Cochran, 1996; Coleman, Parmer, & Barker, 1993; Hinman, 2003; Landreth, 2001), there is a paucity of literature on the application of play therapy theories to children of diverse cultural backgrounds, especially Mexican-American children. The child/client-centered (hereafter referred to as client-centered) approach to play therapy has been recommended when the child and therapist are from culturally different backgrounds (Ramirez, 1999; Trostle, 1988). Specifically, goals of client-centered play therapy have the therapist continually strive to see the child's point of view, understand and accept the child, not impose beliefs or solutions on the child, and work within the framework of the family's values and beliefs to ensure a better chance of cooperation and positive outcomes (Ramirez, 1999).

Axline's (1947) eight principles of play therapy are commonly cited guidelines for client-centered play therapy (e.g., Harris & Landreth, 2001). The principles are the following (Axline, 1947, pp. 73-74):

1. The therapist must develop a warm, friendly relationship with the child, in which good rapport is established as soon as possible.

2. The therapist accepts the child exactly as he is.

3. The therapist establishes a feeling of permissiveness in the relationship so that the child feels free to express his feelings completely.

4. The therapist is alert to recognize the feelings the child is expressing and reflects those feelings back to him in such a manner that he gains insight into his behavior.

5. The therapist maintains a deep respect for the child's ability to solve his own problems if given an opportunity to do so. The responsibility to make choices and to institute change is the child's.

6. The therapist does not attempt to direct the child's actions or conversation in any manner. The child leads the way; the therapist follows.

7. The therapist does not attempt to hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and is recognized as such by the therapist.

8. The therapist establishes only those limitations that are necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his responsibilities in the relationship.

The use of Axline's principles with Mexican-American children has not been addressed systematically in the literature.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss Axline's eight play therapy principles as they may relate to traditional Mexican-American culture. It is important, however, to first define key terms used in this article. Mexican-American refers to individuals of Mexican descent, regardless of their country of origin (the United States or Mexico). Culture is "the ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created and shared by a group of people bound together by a combination of factors (which can include a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and/or religion), and how these are transformed by those who share them" (Nieto, 1996, p. 390). Worldview pertains to the subjective reality of both the child and therapist, and involves their "beliefs, values, and assumptions about people, relationships, nature, time, and activity" in their world (Ibrahim, Roysircar-Sodowsky, & Ohnishi, 2001, p.429). Ethnicity refers to membership in a group that has an historic origin, shared heritage and tradition, and characteristics that set it apart from other groups (Banks, 2003).

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