Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Gift Giving and Receiving in Child-Centered Play Therapy: An Ethical Response

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Gift Giving and Receiving in Child-Centered Play Therapy: An Ethical Response

Article excerpt

Child-centered play therapists are often confronted with the challenge of receiving gifts from clients. This article highlights recommended strategies when faced with gift receiving, exemplified by actual ethical dilemmas encountered by child-centered play therapists. Ethical and therapeutic considerations of therapist gift giving to child clients are also examined.


An extensive review of the available literature suggests that practitioners agree that responding ethically to the giving and receiving of gifts in child-centered play therapy is essential (Landreth, 2002; McGuire & McGuire, 2001; Sweeney, 2001; Wilson, Kendrick, & Ryan, 1992). While many authors have briefly mentioned this topic, a review of articles published in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development and the International Journal of Play Therapy revealed no manuscripts that specifically address the issue of gift giving and receiving when working with children. This article serves to examine the unique considerations of gift giving when working with child clients utilizing child-centered play therapy. First, an overview of the philosophical tenets of child-centered play therapy is identified. Next, general ethical considerations when working with child clients are considered. Finally, based on the first author's experiences and a review of the existing body of literature, guidelines are provided for child-centered play therapists when faced with the ethical dilemma of client gift giving and receiving.


Child-centered play therapy is a developmentally appropriate, humanistic, nondirective approach for children that includes the use of toys and play-based materials to facilitate a broad range of verbal and nonverbal expression. With an emphasis on the therapists' core conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness within a therapeutic context, Carl Rogers's work served as the foundation of child-centered play therapy (Landreth, 2002). Landreth identified Virginia Axline as a major contributor to the development of the nondirective, child-centered approach to play therapy through her expansion of Rogers's basic tenets to children. Based on a humanistic approach to counseling, Axline's basic tenets emphasized children's innate capacity for positive growth and development that is cultivated through the "most favorable conditions" (Axline, 1969, p. 16)--the playroom, play materials, and the therapeutic relationship. To guide nondirective, child-centered play therapists, Axline proposed the following eight basic principles when working with children:

1. The therapist must develop a warm, friendly relationship with the child, in which good rapport is established as soon as possible.

2. The therapist accepts the child exactly as he or she is.

3. The therapist establishes a feeling of permissiveness ... so that the child feels free to express his feelings completely.

4. The therapist is alert to recognize the feelings the child is expressing and reflects those feelings back to him in such a manner that he gains insight into his behavior.

5. The therapist maintains a deep respect for the child's ability to solve his own problems.... The responsibility to make choices and to institute changes is the child's.

6. The therapist does not attempt to direct the child's actions or conversations in any matter. The child leads the way, the therapist follows.

7. The therapist does not attempt to hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and is recognized as such by the therapist.

8. The therapist establishes only those limitations that are necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his responsibility in the relationship. (pp. 73-74)

Although toys serve a tremendous role for child-centered play therapists, the therapeutic relationship is of primary importance. …

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