Counseling Families: Play-Based Treatment

By Korn-Bursztyn, Carol | American Journal of Play, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Counseling Families: Play-Based Treatment


Korn-Bursztyn, Carol, American Journal of Play


Counseling Families: Play-Based Treatment Eric J. Green, Jennifer N. Baggerly, and Amie C. Myrick Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Foreword, introduction, and index. 207 pp. $27.91 paper. ISBN: 9781442244047

Counseling Families: Play-Based Treatment provides an introduction to integrating play therapy and family counseling approaches. It presents a review of how various approaches to play therapy apply to family work. Although the volume assumes the reader possesses a basic understanding of the principles of nondirected play therapy with children, the book is primarily geared toward counseling students and beginning practitioners.

In her foreword, Louise Guerney asserts that the book represents "new leadership connecting with the 'old' play therapy leadership" (p. ix). Unfortunately, Guerney does not elaborate on this statement and fails to describe what she means by "old," and what is new about the approaches described in the volume. The introduction by the authors, however, offers a hint. The book opens with a story situated in "faraway Persia" though the tale is not a traditional Persian folktale but written specifically for the book by a Louisiana-based storyteller. The opening paragraph of this story introduces prayer.

Prayer is again picked up in chapter 8, "Play-Based Family Counseling for Children in Divorced or Blended Families," where Baggerly and Green, tuck prayer into a list of professional interventions with children. They distinguish mentalhealth professional practice from pastoral counseling; discuss the blurring of boundaries between counseling and faith-based practices matter-of-factly; and describe standard counseling practices, including "breathing, thought stopping" (p. 134). The authors do not elaborate on their recommendation of prayer or offer clinical justification regarding this striking boundary violation.

The book left me wondering whether the newness that Guerney suggests in the foreword, which appears later in the volume, involves a subtle breach of the traditional boundary between play therapy and religious practice. Child psychotherapy, colloquially known as play therapy, is intricately connected to child and family mental-health disciplinary knowledge bases and to the professional and ethical standards of the professional organizations that represent mental health practitioners such as the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers. As such, play therapists need to remember the ethical boundaries established by professional organizations that represent mental-health practitioners.

Play therapy practice emerged from the early twentieth-century European tradition of child psychology led by women practitioners, including Sabina Spielrein, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Karen Horney. These early practitioners helped form child psychotherapy and spark the emergence of play therapy, and their work also resonated in early-childhood education, which embraced a developmental tilt and a whole-child approach (i.e., integration of cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development).

This volume, in contrast, draws its theoretical inspiration nominally from the work of Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. The more advanced student and practitioner might appreciate a fuller elaboration of theory and its relevance to family work. For example, although the authors' approach to child-centered play therapy draws heavily on Adler-a contemporary colleague of Sigmund Freud writing at the turn of the twentieth century-they strikingly omit Adler's radical approach to equality within the family. An early twentieth-century intellectual, whose social milieu included not only Freud's salon, but also a circle of Trotskyites, Adler was keenly attuned to the dialectic of power and community. For example, Adler expressed his approach to interrogating family power relationships through his opposition to corporal punishment and his recommendation that the topic be directly addressed with parents. …

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