Supervision of Basic and Advanced Skills in Play Therapy

By Ray, Dee | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview
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Supervision of Basic and Advanced Skills in Play Therapy

Ray, Dee, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Effective play therapy supervision requires teaching, modeling, and encouragement of basic and advanced responsive skills. This article presents a detailed description of non-verbal and verbal basic skills, as well as advanced skills, in play therapy. In addition, the author provides information to supervisors on how to help supervisees implement these skills in play therapy. The article offers the Play Therapy Skills Checklist (PTSC) as a tool for supervisors to use when working with play therapists in training.

Supervision of Basic and Advanced Skills in Play Therapy

The use of play therapy is based on the developmental understanding of children. Piaget's (1962) theory of cognitive development recognize the differences between the way that children understand and process information from the way that adults function. Most children at the elementary level function at two stages: Preoperational (2-7 years) and Concrete Operational (8-11 years). These stages are approximately identified with chronological ages, but it is generally accepted that development is specific to the individual.

At the Preoperational Stage, a child is acquiring the skill of language where symbols are used to mentally represent objects; his or her thinking is rigid and limited to how things appear at the time. Magical thinking in which children create implausible explanations for things that they do not understand is often present, while children's play becomes increasingly imaginary and unassociated with reality. Gradually, play increases in complexity from make-believe to emerging cognitive patterns. The child improves understanding and knowledge, but lacks the ability to communicate this enhanced understanding. However, through play the child is able to naturally communicate this internal awareness of self and others (Piaget, 1959).

At the Concrete Operational Stage, children are able to reason logically and organize thoughts coherently. They are able to manipulate ideas and accept logical society rules. However, they can only think about actual physical objects and are unable to maneuver abstract reasoning or express certain complicated emotions, such as guilt or resentment. They have yet to develop the abstract thought necessary to understand such emotions. For those children operating in the Concrete Stage, play helps to bridge the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought (Landreth, 2002; Piaget, 1959, 1962).

In play therapy, significance is found through the symbolic function of play. Toys are viewed as the child's words, and play as the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Children can comfortably, safely, and meaningfully express their inner world through the concrete, symbolic representation of the toys. Through toys, children are provided with the opportunity to develop mastery and a sense of control over their world as they reenact their experiences directly in the safety of the playroom. In play therapy, regardless of the reason for referral, the therapist has the opportunity to enter into and experience the child's world and actively deal with the issues that brought the child to therapy.

In summary, play is an important medium for children for several reasons. Play is the natural language of children. Developmentally, play bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought, offering children the opportunity to organize their real-life experiences that are often complicated and abstract in nature. Through play, children gain a sense of control and learn new coping skills (Landreth, 2002).

Play therapy utilizes this understanding of children by offering children a therapeutic environment for their play. Play therapy is defined as a dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child and a therapist trained in play therapy procedures who provides selected play materials and facilitates the development of a safe relationship for the child to fully express and explore self through the child's natural medium of expression, play (Landreth, 2002).

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