The Handbook of Play Therapy

The Handbook of Play Therapy

The Handbook of Play Therapy

The Handbook of Play Therapy


A comprehensive introduction to the theory and practice of play therapy. It provides a practical guide to the basic skills necessary to tap the healing potential of play and gives many examples of good practice.


Most of us are familiar with the mental freezing which can accompany the pressure to achieve a particular goal, whether it is a self-imposed goal or set by somebody else. We long for the time and space to think, to let our minds wander around a problem, to explore different possibilities, to relax enough to let surprising thoughts occur, to be creative. Simply, we need to play. Play is not a mindless filling of time or a rest from work. It is a spontaneous and active process in which thinking, feeling and doing can flourish since they are separated from the fear of failure or disastrous consequences. The player is freed to be inventive and creative. Play is a way of assimilating new information and making it part of ourselves. In the process we change ourselves and our view of the world. We dare to change because our autonomy is not challenged or threatened. On the contrary, the process of playing gives the glorious sensation of increased autonomy. Play can be deeply satisfying.

As it is with adults so it is with children. Yet children's needs to play are greater since their autonomy is less. The pleasure and excitement of playing, the intensity and concentration, the freedom to experiment, to explore and to create, to find out how things and people work and what you can do with them, to give the imagination free rein, and to fill the gap between reality and desire, all these derive from the fact that in play the child is in charge. Thus 'play under the control of the player gives to the child his first and the most crucial opportunity to have the courage to think, to talk and perhaps even to be himself' (Bruner 1983).

Although play can be a serious as well as a joyous activity, the crucial condition is that errors do not have serious consequences. A child's exploratory play within a familiar setting is a different kind of experience from unprotected exploration of an unfamiliar and potentially frightening world. Risks can be taken because the play itself matters more than the results of play. Play can only take place within a safe boundary, providing both a time and a place, so that the child knows where play begins, 'and where it ends and the rules change back to everyday life' (Skynner and Cleese 1983:298). Huizinga puts it more formally:

All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of choice… All are

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