Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Effects of Adlerian Play Therapy on Children's Externalizing Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Effects of Adlerian Play Therapy on Children's Externalizing Behavior

Article excerpt

Externalizing behaviors are behaviors that interfere with the rights and dignity of other people and are typically a symptom of more significant underlying problems (Abidin & Robinson, 2002). Such behaviors may include aggression, impulsivity, property or personal destruction, off-task behaviors, and verbal insult. It is predicted that nearly 10 million children identified as having externalizing behaviors will not receive the mental health services they need (Mental Health America [MHA], 2009). The lack of services is due, in part, to a lack of family resources, access to care, and quality services for children (MHA, 2009; President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Children who display externalizing behaviors and do not receive intervention have an increased risk of experiencing problems throughout their lives. Reef, Diamantopoulou, van Meurs, Verhulst, and van der Ende (2011) found that childhood externalizing behaviors are an indicator of adult psychopathology, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Their findings are consistent with those of Barkley (2007), Brinkmeyer and Eyberg (2003), MHA (2009), and Webster-Stratton and Reid (2003), who suggested that externalizing behaviors tend to stay relatively stable over time. Indeed, these researchers found that without intervention, the severity and riskiness of the behaviors may increase, which leads to individual, family, and societal costs. Reef et al. advised that intervention should start at an early age to reduce the negative trajectory of these behaviors in children. Therefore, it may be best practice for counselors to evaluate interventions that may reach young children who otherwise might not receive services and that show promise in helping them to reduce their externalizing behaviors.

School administrators have been charged with the task of meeting the mental health needs of children who require services (President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003), and they are responsible for maintaining an environment conducive to learning and that keeps students safe, as outlined in California Education Code 48900-48927 (2011). Children regularly spend several hours in school, and younger children spend the majority of their schooltime with a single teacher. Teachers provide consistent care to children and may be aware of particular challenges that the children face (Abidin & Robinson, 2002). Children who have disruptive behaviors tend to have strained relationships with teachers, thereby exacerbating the externalized behavior and reducing positive relationships in the child's life. A positive teacher-child relationship has been found to be a protective factor in reducing problem behavior and increasing academic involvement (Abidin & Robinson, 2002; Hamre, Pianta, Downer, & Mashburn, 2007; Myers & Pianta, 2008). Given the negative outcomes of disruptive behaviors in children, responsive counseling interventions that respond to the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development of children (e.g., play therapy, teacher consultation) would be invaluable services to have available in elementary schools and could be a part of students' individualized education plans, in the event that one is in place or in process.

Play Therapy Research

Play therapy is a developmentally responsive approach that has a rich history of research demonstrating its effectiveness for working with children who present a variety of concerns (Bratton, Ray, Rhine, & Jones, 2005). An overwhelming majority of the published play therapy research is theoretically based in child-centered play therapy philosophy (e.g., Blanco & Ray, 2011; Bratton, 2010; Ray, 2007; Schottelkorb & Ray, 2009). However, researchers have found promising results using cognitive behavior play therapy with children as they adjust to school (Pearson, 2008), exhibit attention difficulties and hyperactive behaviors (Kaduson & Finnerty, 1995), and are diagnosed with encopresis (Knell & Moore, 1990). …

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