Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice

Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice

Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice

Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice

Synopsis

Child psychotherapy is in a state of transition. On the one hand, pretend play is a major tool of therapists who work with children. On the other, a mounting chorus of critics claims that play therapy lacks demonstrated treatment efficacy. These complaints are not invalid. Clinical research has only begun. Extensive studies by developmental researchers have, however, strongly supported the importance of play for children. Much knowledge is being accumulated about the ways in which play is involved in the development of cognitive, affective, and personality processes that are crucial for adaptive functioning. However, there has been a yawning gap between research findings and useful suggestions for practitioners. Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy represents the first effort to bridge the gap and place play therapy on a firmer empirical foundation. Sandra Russ applies sophisticated contemporary understanding of the role of play in child development to the work of mental health professionals who are trying to design intervention and prevention programs that can be empirically evaluated. Never losing sight of the complex problems that face child therapists, she integrates clinical and developmental research and theory into a comprehensive, up-to-date review of current approaches to conceptualizing play and to doing both therapeutic play work with children and the assessment that necessarily precedes and accompanies it. The book includes a presentation of Russ's recently revised Affect in Play Scale and, in an appendix, a complete manual for it. Clinicians, trainees, and students will welcome Russ's clear guidelines for empirically supported practice; researchers will appreciate her suggestions for new directions to explore.

Excerpt

Children's pretend play is a complex phenomenon. Pretend play involves a myriad of processes and behaviors that change from moment to moment. Does pretend play have important functions in child development, or is it simply something children engage in to pass the time—albeit while having fun? This is a central question in the field of child psychology today. It is an especially important question for child therapists. Practitioners of a variety of theoretical persuasions use play in working with children. As of 1992, play in some form was used in child therapy by a majority of clinicians, according to Koocher and D'Angelo (1992), who stated that “play-oriented therapy remains the dominant and most enduring approach to child treatment… practiced by clinicians (p. 458). Many therapists use play because it is a natural activity and form of communication of young children. Also, different theoretical schools stress the importance of pretend play in the therapy process. Psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, client-centered (nondirective) approaches, and cognitive-behavioral approaches as well, have proposed that change occurs in the child through the process of play.

What is the evidence for this proposition? The movement toward empirically supported treatments is gaining increasing momentum. It is crucial for the development of scientific principles of behavior change. Also, the managed care system will be looking to research for guidance about its policies. If play is to continue to be used as a major treatment modality, its effectiveness must be empirically demonstrated.

The main thesis of this book is that play has an important role in child development and is a major vehicle for change in child psychotherapy. Two extensive bodies of research literature address the functions of play, one focusing on pretend play and child development, one on the use of play in psychotherapy. These two literatures need to be integrated. Play is involved in the development of many cognitive, affective, and personality processes that are important for adaptive functioning in children. Often, those who discuss the effectiveness of play in therapy ignore the accumulating knowledge base in developmental psychology. We have not drawn . . .

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