Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Play Therapy in School Counseling

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Play Therapy in School Counseling

Article excerpt

Play therapy is an empirically supported intervention used to address a number of developmental issues faced in childhood. Through the natural language of play, children and adolescents communicate feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Schools provide an ideal setting for play therapy in many ways; however, several challenges exist in implementing play therapy as a preventative or responsive intervention in the school setting. This article presents a brief overview of play therapy as a component of a comprehensive developmental school counseling program. The authors present a case study outlining how child-centered play therapy as a theoretical approach to play therapy can be used to effectively work with a child experiencing emotional and academic issues in the school setting.


Children and adolescents in schools often contend with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, including mental disorders, that can impact their abilities to achieve both socially and academically. According to estimates, 1 in 4 children have a diagnosable mental disorder (New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003), which can have a devastating effect on personal and academic development and success. Many of the urgent mental health needs of children are first recognized and addressed in the school setting (Farmer, Burns, Phillips, Angold, & Costello, 2003). Unfortunately, more than 75% of children in need of mental health services will not receive them (Kataoka, Zhang, & Wells, 2002).

The use of play in the school setting, specifically by school counselors, can help students as they strive to overcome many challenges that may impede social and academic growth and success. School counselors are charged with providing services and programming for students that are "comprehensive in scope, preventative in design and developmental in nature" (ASCA, 2012, p. xii). Play, as the natural, universal language of children, allows children and adolescents to express themselves in developmentally appropriate means that can transcend the limitations of verbal expression and cultural barriers (Drewes, 2009). In counseling, play is viewed as the vehicle that enables children to communicate their experiences and inner awareness in a "language" familiar to them. Toys, art supplies, games, and other play media provide a means by which children can express themselves using the language of play. Through play, children can communicate past experiences and associated feelings (Landreth, Ray, & Bratton, 2009). Landreth and colleagues (2009) described the use of play as children's language in which children are able to safely express past experiences and associated feelings. This article explores ways that professional school counselors can utilize the power of play in their interventions and interactions with students in conjunction with comprehensive school counseling programs. The authors also provide a fictional case study that highlights the application of child-centered play therapy.


History and Development

The use of play therapy is based on a developmental understanding of children and can be traced back to the work of Anna Freud (1928) and Melanie Klein (1932) in their integration of toys and play into their analytic work with children. The use of play in counseling children was brought to the forefront as an effective and empirically supported intervention by the work of Virginia Axline (1947) and built upon by the work of Landreth (2012) and numerous others who promoted the use of play therapy to meet the developmental needs of the children with whom they worked. Play therapy has since gained prominence and awareness in both school settings and with the public at large (Drewes, 2009).

A variety of theoretical approaches for the use of play in counseling exist today. Nondirective approaches include psychoanalytic perspectives evolving out of the work of Anna Freud (Freud, 1928) and Melanie Klein (Klein & Reviere, 1983), sandtray therapy based upon Jungian principles (Lowenfeld, 1979; Kalff, 1980), and child-centered play therapy as first put forth by Virginia Axline and expanded upon by Landreth (2012) and others (Guerney, 1983; Moustakas, 1957). …

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