Academic journal article Journal of Instructional Psychology

Adjusting Limit Setting in Play Therapy with First-Generation Mexican-American Children

Academic journal article Journal of Instructional Psychology

Adjusting Limit Setting in Play Therapy with First-Generation Mexican-American Children

Article excerpt

This paper focuses on limit setting in play therapy with first-generation Mexican-American children in two important therapeutic environments that include the traditional indoor playroom and a proposed outdoor play area. The paper is based on a review of the literature and the authors' clinical experiences with this population. Although some similarities in limit setting between Mexican-American and non-Mexican-American children exist, there are a number of noteworthy differences that will be described and discussed in the paper.


There is alack of literature regarding play therapy with culturally diverse populations (Drewes, 2005b). Information on play therapy tends to be focused on European-American values and perspectives (Coleman, Parmer, & Barker, 1993; Sue & Sue, 2003). Because children's play reflects their own cultural values and customs, it is especially important that play therapy techniques be in accordance with the values and traditions of culturally diverse children (Drewes, 2005a, 2005b; Hinman, 2003). In working with Mexican-American children, it is critical for therapists to be sensitive to the cultural nuances that can be part of their play (Garza & Bratton, 2005). It is inappropriate for therapists to impose their values and pre-conceived ideas on children (Sue & Sue, 2003). Due to cultural differences, monocultural play therapy techniques may not be suitable for all children. Different sets of therapeutic guidelines, procedures, and strategies may need to be used when working with culturally diverse groups to ensure that their involvement in play therapy is maximized.

Latinos comprise 13.4% of the population, are the largest ethnic minority group, and the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States (Hill, Bush, & Roosa, 2003; Rumbaut, 2005; Vazquez, 2004). This paper focuses on first-generation Mexican-Americans and is based on a review of the literature and experiences of the authors who work in the border region of south Texas. It is important to note, however, that therapists working with culturally diverse groups should be aware of within group differences (Hanson, 2004; Rodriguez & Olswang, 2003). For example, first-generation Mexican-American families may hold fast to most traditional Mexican values, but on the other hand, may adopt some mainstream European-American values and practices. Therapists are cautioned to be aware of the individual's values, beliefs, practices, acculturation level, socio-economic status, and immigration history to prevent over-generalization (Hanson, 2004).

Ginott's Limit Setting

While limit setting may be viewed as damaging to the establishment of therapeutic rapport, it is nonetheless critical for successful play therapy (Landreth, 2002). Without limits, the client would be allowed permissiveness of all actions, including aggression, hostility, violence, and destruction. Haim Ginott, who is considered one of the foremost play therapy theorists, provided the following rationale for the utilization of limits in play therapy (Ginott, 1961, pp. 103-105):

1. Limits direct catharsis into symbolic channels.

2. Limits enable the therapist to maintain attitudes of acceptance, empathy, and regard for the child throughout the therapy contacts.

3. Limits assure for the physical safety of the children and the therapist in the playroom.

4. Limits strengthen ego controls.

5. Some limits are set for reasons of law, ethics, and social acceptability.

6. Some limits are set because of budgetary considerations.

Ginott (1961) listed 54 limits to be considered by play therapists when working with children (see the Appendix). These limits are guidelines that have been utilized in effective child-centered play therapy (Landreth, 2002). Because Ginott did not address cultural diversity per se in his limit setting guidelines, it is recommended that they be re-examined to ascertain their applicability to diverse ethnic and cultural groups, including Mexican-Americans. …

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