Exploring Theories of Play Therapy

Thanks to Kristie L. Houk Cain, Alliant International University for this very interesting paper.

Depending on the theory of focus, there are numerous benefits of play therapy, ways to help the child experience the benefits and reasons behind the interventions specific to each theory. However, there is one foundational agreement between all the various play therapies researched and represented in this paper. The common denominator is the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the child, including unconditional positive regard, genuineness, safety and non-judgmental acceptance; the relationship is the most important factor of therapy and therapeutic success (Axline, 1969; Landreth, 1991; O’Connor & Braverman, 2009; Oaklander, 1978; Oden & Johnson, 2010; Schaefer, 2005; Schaefer & O’Connor, 1983). When mapping the characteristics of a ‘good’ play therapist, “clusters associated with the therapeutic relationship and facilitative skills (e.g., empathy, warmth, and genuineness) were rated as the most essential skills to possess and also as the most difficult to develop” (Nalavany, Ryan, Gamory, & Lacasse, 2005).

A positive therapeutic alliance is reported to be the most important intervention and/or tool used by the therapist in any of the play therapy theories. The United Nations has declared play as a “universal and inalienable right of childhood” (Landreth, 2002, p. 10). It is intrinsic to child development, and therefore does not need to be taught. Children play naturally; it is their “work.” Play is the child’s language, and toys are the words to speak the language of play (Landreth, 2002). Younger children have not yet developed abstract thought. Play connects the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought (Landreth, 2002; Kottman, 2001; Schaefer, 2003). Click here to continue reading paper

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