Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Play Therapy Intervention and Its Relationship to Self-Efficacy and Learning Behaviors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Play Therapy Intervention and Its Relationship to Self-Efficacy and Learning Behaviors

Article excerpt

When an elementary student exhibits behaviors that are disruptive to learning or that prevent the child from reaching his or her potential, teachers refer the student to the school counselor for individual counseling. However, young students often do not have knowledge of or words to express the conflict that is behind the behaviors. Play therapy is a counseling intervention that is based on the premise that children communicate and express inner conflicts and feelings through play (Axline, 1947; Campbell, 1993). Childcentered play therapy advocates that the nonjudgmental acceptance, warmth, and empathy inherent in the relationship between counselor and child enables the child to play out the issues that are of concern and to move to new, more productive behaviors (Axline, 1947; Landreth, 1991). This is a study about child-centered play therapy in the schools. The question asked was, "Do children who are exposed to a brief play therapy intervention exhibit improved classroom learning behaviors and beliefs of self-efficacy?"

The above research question emerges from both literature and practice. Currently, individual counseling is one of the primary functions of elementary school counselors (Borders & Drury, 1992; Schmidt, 1993). While the literature acknowledges this counseling role (Bailey, Deery, Gehrke, Perry, & Whitledge, 1989), few studies address the issue of client change as a result of a school counseling intervention (Gerler, 1992; Gibson, Mitchell, & Basile, 1993). We could find no studies that investigated individual counseling in a school, specifically play therapy, with a population from which generalizations could be made. Further, a review of the empirical research on play therapy shows the insufficiency of methodologically adequate research studies (Hellendoom, van der Kooij, & Sutton-Smith, 1994; Milos & Reiss, 1982). Thus, the individual counseling role of the school counselor who uses play interventions does not have the empirical database to enable a counselor to make informed decisions about treatment modalities. This experimental study begins to address this gap in research literature. While the use of play therapy as a counseling intervention in the schools has not always been perceived as congruent with the school counselor role of individual counselor (Golden, 1985), it is acknowledged that young children communicate conflicts through play (Barlow, Strother, & Landreth, 1985; Campbell, 1993; Landreth, 1987). Perhaps the issue concerns what constitutes therapy and the place of various interventions in the schools. While the debate continues (Landreth, 1987), there appears to be an increase in play therapy workshops, conference sessions, books, and journal articles as well as an increase in counselor use of play therapy techniques. This study examines the effects of working individually with school children through a time-limited play therapy intervention, an idea espoused from anecdotal evidence by Osterweil (1986).

One of the outcome variables studied is the selfefficacy of a child for both learning and coping behaviors. If we could increase self-efficacy-an individual's belief about personal ability to transform knowledge and skills into necessary behaviors-would there be changes in classroom behavior? Research in this area typically focuses on one relationship, for example, between math skills and self-efficacy (Bandura & Schunk, 1981) or agoraphobic behaviors and self-efficacy (Bandura, Adams, Hardy, & Howells, 1980). These studies found that increasing mastery performance leads to increased self-efficacy. In addition, Bandura found that clients whose fears were decreased through guided mastery in a fearful situation made changes in other areas of their lives showing, therefore, an increase in coping efficacy (Evans, 1989). Thus, if performance in coping behaviors increases as a result of play therapy in a play situation, then it is reasonable to presume that self-efficacy will increase in other areas of learning. …

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