Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Play Therapy in Elementary Schools: A Best Practice for Improving Academic Achievement

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Play Therapy in Elementary Schools: A Best Practice for Improving Academic Achievement

Article excerpt

The need for mental health services for children has been labeled a crisis in the United States, with more than 20% of children and adolescents experiencing mental health problems (Committee on School Health, 2004; Mellin, 2009). Although 75% to 80% of children and youth who need mental health services do not receive them (Kataoka, Zhang, & Wells, 2002), evidence suggests that if children obtain help, they are most likely to receive mental health services in the school setting (Foster, Rollefson, Doksum, Noonan, & Robinson, 2005; Rones & Hoagwood, 2000). In schools, children can be identified, assessed, and provided mental health services from a prevention and intervention perspective. The American Counseling Association, American School Counselor Association (ASCA), National Association of School Psychologists, and School Social Work Association of America (2006) jointly called for interventions based on evidence to address the mental health needs of children in schools.

Young children are especially susceptible to the link between mental health issues and academic achievement. Expulsion rates among preschoolers are higher than those for school-age children and are partially attributed to lack of attention to social-emotional needs (Gilliam, 2005). Elementary-school-age children are more likely to be unhappy at school, absent, suspended, or expelled (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2006). In the Columbia University TeenScreen Program (2009), it is suggested that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 created an environment in which mental health needs might go unobserved and unmet because of heightened academic pressure. There is an urgent need for interventions that affect both mental health and academic achievement.

Child-centered play therapy (CCPT) is one possibility for providing a mental health program in schools. CCPT is defined as a dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child and a counselor trained in play therapy 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). CCPT is based on the philosophy of Carl Rogers (1942) and his person-centered approach to counseling adults. Virginia Axline, a pupil of Rogers, applied the use of play and nondirective therapeutic principles in her work with children, thereby popularizing the approach in the field of psychotherapy (Axline, 1947b). Axline (1947b) developed eight basic principles to use as guidelines for nondirective play therapy. These principles are the establishment of a caring relationship between the therapist and the child; full acceptance of the child for who he or she is; creation of a free atmosphere in which the child feels capable of expressing a range of emotions; recognition and reflection of the child's feelings; respect for the child's ability to internally solve difficulties and provision of opportunities to establish responsibility; allowance of the child's leadership in play sessions; understanding of the gradual process of therapeutic change; and, finally, provision of therapeutic boundaries only when necessary.

Axline (1947b), Moustakas (1953), and Landreth (2002) asserted the belief that children have the innate capacity to develop self-actualization through self-direction when provided an atmosphere that is fully accepting of each child. The focus on the child's innate tendency to move toward growth and maturity and a deep belief in the child's ability to self-direct are the main tenets that differentiate CCPT from other models of play therapy (Landreth & Bratton, 2006). In practice, the CCPT counselor initiates statements that reflect content and feeling (e.g., "You're frustrated with her"); encourage (e.g., "You figured it out"); return responsibility to the child (e.g., "You can choose how you want it to look"); and, if needed, set limits (e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.