Play Therapy

Play therapy is part of the group of techniques which creative therapy comprises. This approach is used with children and is quite extensive in background theory and application. Play therapy is a psychological therapy in which children play in the presence of a therapist who then uses a child's fantasies and the symbolic meaning of the play as a medium for understanding and communication with the child.

Play therapy is a method used to help troubled children cope with their distress. It is based on the central assumption that while playing, children first recognize the separateness of what is ‘me' and ‘not me' and start to develop a relationship with the world beyond the self. Play is the child's way of making contact with their environment. Play therapy developed from child drama, child art and other expressive arts in schools and then through the development of the arts as therapy.

Definitions of play therapy are determined by the perspectives of the person describing the process. There is no one ‘truth' about play therapy. Rather, there are a number of perspectives based on the learning, experience and expertise of the therapist presenting the process. There are also a variety of approaches to play therapy that are largely determined by the context in which the intervention takes place and the professional and theoretical perspective of the therapist, as well as the needs of the child.

Modes of working include non-directive play therapy, focused play therapy and collaborative play therapy. The practice of play therapy was described by J. Carroll as on a continuum from non-directive to focused techniques with a prescribed process and defined goals. The non-directive focus emphasizes the child's ability to choose materials that make most sense to him or her and to use them to explore internal and external experiences, as well as to resolve difficulties in their own way and their own time.

According to Carroll, most therapists adhere to child-centered principles because they give children real choices on undertaking any exercises suggested. Many therapists also introduce more focused techniques, such as interventions designed to promote a general release of feeling to children with more specific goals, for example, helping bereaved children explore the meaning of loss.

Non-directive play therapy was developed by Virginia Axline on the basis of the Rogerian model of psychotherapy. In the Rogerian model, the therapist should possess genuineness and authenticity. The therapist should also display non-possessive warmth, an attitude of caring without becoming overly emotionally involved as well as accurate empathy with those who seek help in order for the client to feel understood. Axline incorporated these concepts into her model of play therapy, introducing eight basic principles that have remained the major theoretical mainstays for child-centered play therapy.

Some play therapy interventions emphasize a medical model and focus on treatment, planning and intervention that are described in a medical format. Cognitive-behavioral play therapy incorporates cognitive and behavioral interventions within a play therapy paradigm. Structured group ecosystemic play therapy includes components addressing cognitive, behavioral, emotional, physical as well as social aspects of the child's difficulties. The main function of the group is to improve the peer social interactions of the child.

Collaborative play therapy is a model in which child and therapist co-construct what happens in the sessions. This model is developed on the basis of social construction theory and narrative therapy that describe the development of identity as based on the stories people tell about themselves and the stories others in their environment tell about them. These explorations of identity are processed through the developmental play paradigm, incorporating three modes of play – embodied play, progressive or projected play and enactment or role-play. This approach also recognizes the fact that the developing child is part of an ecological system and not an isolated individual.

Play therapy is not a recognized profession but is valued as a way of working with children in many areas of their lives. The training for play therapists is post-qualifying and as a result therapists have qualifications such as a social worker, teacher, occupational therapists, psychologist and clinical nurse. This often means that play therapy is part of the therapists' work but not the whole.

Play therapy can be used in a variety of settings in the public sector as well as in private practice. The main settings for play therapy in the public sector include health, social services and education.

Play Therapy: Selected full-text books and articles

A Practical Guide to Play Therapy By Tammy Cashwell Cengage Learning, 2015
Foundations of Play Therapy By Charles E. Schaefer Wiley, 2011 (2nd edition)
Introduction to Play Therapy By Ann Cattanach Brunner-Routledge, 2003
Integrative Play Therapy By Athena A. Drewes; Sue C. Drewes; Charles E. Schaefer Wiley, 2011
Play-Based Interventions By Drewes, Athena A Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology, Vol. 2, Annual 2006
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
School-Based Play Therapy By Athena A. Drewes; Charles E. Schaefer Wiley, 2010 (2nd edition)
Theoretical Orientation and Play Therapy: Examining Therapist Role, Session Structure, and Therapeutic Objectives By Menassa, Bret M Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 2009
Play Therapy Practices among Elementary School Counselors By Ray, Dee C.; Armstrong, Stephen A.; Warren, E. Scott; Balkin, Richard S Professional School Counseling, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2005
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Cultural Issues in Play Therapy By Eliana Gil; Athena A. Drewes Guilford Press, 2005
Play Therapy and Social Constructivism: Seeing the World through a Young Person's Eyes By Russo, Mary Frances Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 3-4, October 2005
Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors By Lois Carey Jessica Kingsley, 2006
Librarian's tip: Especially Chap. 2 "Crisis Intervention Play Therapy to Help Traumatized Children," Chap. 8 "Sandplay Therapy with a Traumatized Boy," Chap. 9 "Sandplay Therapy and the Body in Trauma Recovery," and Chap. 11 "Video Play Therapy"
Cognitive Therapy with Children and Adolescents: A Casebook for Clinical Practice By Mark A. Reinecke; Frank M. Dattilio; Arthur Freeman Guilford Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. 13 "Play Therapy with a Sexually Abused Child"
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