A HISTORY OF PLAY THERAPY
“Play Therapy is the dynamic process between child and Play Therapist in which the child explores at his or her own pace and with his or her own agenda those issues, past and current, conscious and unconscious, that are affecting the child’s life in the present. The child’s inner resources are enabled by the therapeutic alliance to bring about growth and change. Play Therapy is child-centred, in which play is the primary medium and speech is the secondary medium.”
British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT)
The use of play in therapy was first developed by the pioneers of Child Psychotherapy. Anna Freud (1928, 1964, and 1965), Margaret Lowenfeld (1935, 1970) and Melanie Klein (1961, 1987) put forward the theoretical premise for the use of play. For example, Klein (1961, 1987) stipulated that a child’s spontaneous play was a substitute for the free association used within adult psychoanalysis.
Theories and practices surrounding play differ within each Child Psychotherapy tradition. However, each tradition is connected by the central proposition that play transmits and communicates the child’s unconscious experiences, desires, thoughts and emotions.
Play Therapy has emerged from elements of Child Psychotherapy with the specific theoretical foundations emerging from the Humanistic Psychology tradition and Attachment Theory.
In the 1940’s Carl Rogers (1951, 1955) established a new model of psychotherapy – client centred therapy (later termed person-centred therapy). This new tradition was born as a protest against the diagnostic, prescriptive perspectives of that time. Emphasis was placed upon a relationship between the therapist and client based upon genuineness, acceptance and trust. As such, the person centred approach provided a new and original theoretical perspective of personality structure, psychological health, acquisition of psychological difficulty and the change process within therapy.
Largely influenced by this person centred approach, Axline (1969, 1971) developed a new therapeutic approach for working with children – non directive Play Therapy. Utilising the person centred theoretical foundations, Axline devised a clear and succinct Play Therapy theory and method. Her account of how she worked with a young boy called Dibs is well known (Dibs: In Search of Self, 1964). Axline described in great detail how she worked with Dibs and how he was able to heal himself over a period of time. She said “No-one ever knows as much about a human being’s inner world as the individual himself. Responsible freedom grows and develops from inside the person”.
Her eight principles of the therapeutic relationship inform the work of many Play Therapists to this day.
For over 50 years, Play Therapy has been practiced and researched within America. This has been led by many Play Therapists, including Moustakas (1953, 1966, 1973, 1981, 1992), Schaefer (1976, 1986, 1993) and Landreth (1991,2002). They have progressed Axline’s original formulations and devised differing models integrating elements of systemic family therapy, narrative therapy, solution focused therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
In Britain, Play Therapy started to emerge as a new and differing tradition in the 1980’s. Initially the Children’s Hour Trust taught professionals the basic techniques of Axline’s Play Therapy used in a multitude of settings. In parallel, two Dramatherapists started using Play Therapy methods to inform their Dramatherapy practice with children. Sue Jennings (1994) and Ann Cattanach (1993, 1994, 1998) integrated elements of non-directive Play Therapy to formulate a British Play Therapy movement. In 1990, the Institute of Dramatherapy started to offer a Certificate and Diploma in Play Therapy.
In 1992, the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) was started by a group of professionals studying at the Institute of Dramatherapy. Since then, BAPT has developed the British Play Therapy movement and now accredits a number of training courses in the UK including the Masters level programmes currently running at the University of Roehampton(London), University of South Wales, and With Kids in collaboration with Queen Margaret University, (Glasgow/Edinburgh) (Taken from BAPT website, 2018).
PLAY THERAPY TODAY
The key purpose of the profession of play therapy is defined by the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT):
‘Play therapy is the dynamic process between child and play therapist in which the child explores at his or her own pace and with his or her own agenda those issues, past and current, conscious and unconscious, that are affecting the child’s life in the present. The child’s inner resources are enabled by the therapeutic alliance to bring about growth and change. Play therapy is child-centred, in which play is the primary medium and speech is the secondary medium.’
The opportunities for employment as a play therapist continue to develop rapidly. Some Play Therapists work within a range of statutory, government funded or voluntary and independent organisations – for example, within fostering and adoption services, schools and children’s centres, in hospitals, hospices or community contexts as well as Child and Adolescent Mental health services, social work and other social services teams,. A number are employed directly by children’s charities and private children’s residential homes. Many Play Therapists also work independently in private practice or are commissioned by agencies to provide services for specific groups of children. A small number of play therapists in the UK work as academics, teachers and clinical supervisors For further information, visit: www.bapt.info.