While Gardner (1993) says Checkers has low therapeutic value he does agree that it can be used diagnostically and therapeutically. For example children with low self-esteem may be hesitant to play, or sore losers. The therapist can direct their comments to these aspects of the child’s behavior and communications. Children who are obsessive or anxious may demonstrate these characteristics when playing. Both depressed children and oppositional children may manifest an attitude suggesting they could care less about the outcome of the game. Children with good self-esteem will approach the game with enthusiasm, and handle both winning and losing gracefully.
Loomis (1994) suggests that Checkers can be used to overcome resistance in therapy. Children, just like adults, can willingly enter therapy and then set about to do absolutely no therapeutic work. Psychodynamic therapists often attribute this to resistance. Checkers is a familiar game that, because of its familiarity, is often approached with little to no resistance. However, as the child plays the game, he or she reveals themselves to the therapist and the therapist can began to observe and make comments. Loomis suggests that as the game is being played issues such as fear of winning, fear of losing, fear of being dominated, or being dominating become apparent. A child’s anger and hostility can begin to emerge. Checkers also serves to fill in awkward silences. Checkers can also serve as a vehicle to communicate interest, concern and affection to a client.
Caselman (2010) suggests using the game of Checkers to teach self-control through the application of self-talk. Children in groups can play as one pair against another, or the therapist can play against a pair of children. As the child considers their move they are asked to respond to each of the following questions:
- What might happen to this piece if I move it here?
- What choice do I have for moving this piece?
- If I move this piece what will my opponent do?
- If I make this move, what will my partner do next?
Feelings Checkers: Feelings Checkers is no longer commercially available but can easily be made by the clinician using round post-its or stickers. Feelings words are written on the stickers and attached to the underside of the checker. When a piece is captured it is turned over and the player is asked to describe a situation they may have experienced that feeling. Both therapist and client are expected to respond when they capture a piece. This gives the therapist an opportunity to model identification and expression of feelings, as well as discussing management of behavior when experiencing strong emotions. It helps to have extra checkers with a wide variety of feelings attached to them. The therapist can preselect the pieces to be used prior to the game (see Kantrowitz, 2004).
Rules or No Rules (Agee, 2004): Checkers can also be modified for children that are fearful, distrustful, afraid to take risks, or have a hard time with losing. The child is asked if they want to make up a game or play by the rules. If the child wants to play by the rules then the following outline is given:
The way I play, you must always take your jumps and you tell me where to move. If your checker gets too close to mine, the natural consequence will be for my checker to jump yours. This is the only way I play. … In this room, when we play checkers, we always take out jumps” (Agee, 2004, page 138).
This strategy encourages children to take risks, plan ahead, and brings stability and predictability to the interaction.
Agee, L. G. (2004) : “Checkers: Rules or No Rules.” In Kaduson, Heidi Gerard & Schaefer (Eds.) (2004) 101 Favorite Play Therapy Techniques.Lanham, MD, Rowman& Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Caselman, Tonia (2010). Impulse Control: Activities and Worksheets for Elementary School Students. Chapin, SC, Youthlight, Inc.
Gardner, Richard A. (1993) Checkers. In Charles E. Schaefer & Donna M. Cangelosi (Eds.) Play Therapy Techniques, (177-189). Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson, Inc.
Loomis Jr., Earl A. (1994) “The use of checkers in handling resistances in child therapy, and child analysis.” In Mary R. Haworth (Ed.), Child Psychotherapy: Practice and Theory, (407-411). Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson Inc.