play therapyI recently led a live webinar now available as a recorded training called Bridging and Blending Non-Directive & Directive Play Therapy and as I explained at the beginning of that training I am passionate about operating from a prescriptive approach in order to provide child clients the most appropriate and effective approach to their particular presenting problems.

After attending my first APT conference in 2009 I realized there was a big divide at that time within the play therapy community between child centered and more directive play therapy. From that experience I decided I’d be on a mission to find way to benefit from both ends of that spectrum and everything in between depending on the presenting needs of each individual child client.  In this article I want to provide resources for learning more about using both child centered and directive play therapy in the play room.

(The links to resource materials on Amazon are affiliate partnership links. If you should choose to purchase via these links your price is the same and my company receives compensation).

Child Centered Play Therapy

The origins of play therapy as a whole are rooted in the work and writing of Virgina Axline who was a student of Carl Rogers, the founder and developer of person-centered psychotherapy. In Axline’s book Dibs in Search of Self  she chronicles the healing power of non-directive play therapy with a child called Dibs. The tenets of child centered play therapy outlined by Axline are as follows:

  • The therapist develops a warm and friendly relationship with the child.
  • The therapist accepts the child as he/she is.
  • The therapist provides a sense of permission within the relationship so the child feels free to express his or her feelings completely.
  • The therapist is alert to recognize the feelings a child is expressing and reflects those feelings so the child gains insight into his/her behavior.
  • The therapist maintains a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve problems and gives the child opportunity to do so.
  • The therapist does not attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any manner. The child leads the way and the therapist follows.
  • The therapist does not rush the therapy process understanding it is a gradual process.
  • The therapist only establishes limits that are necessary.

It is important for therapists to have a rooted experience and understanding of child centered play therapy as the foundation of ALL play therapy, in my professional opinion. As a supervisor and play therapy trainer, I teach therapists to first dive deeply into the theory and practice of child centered play therapy before attempting to utilize directive play therapy interventions because the spirit of play therapy overall are those above-mentioned tenets laid out originally by Virginia Axline.

There are a number of books I highly recommend therapists read, study and refer to in order to understand the foundational nature of play therapy.

Dr. Garry Landreth’s book called Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship is the text I require all therapists in supervision with me to read first when they are new to play therapy.

Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship by Garry L. Landreth (2002-08-09) 

Jodi Anne Mullen and June Rickli have a wonderful workbook to help practitioners provide child centered play therapy I do recommend therapists have and utilize as well.

Child-Centered Play Therapy Workbook: A Self-Directed Guide for Professionals

There is a wonderful resource that demonstrates the research literature and empirical evidence for child centered play therapy I want to share with you because it’s important to understand the established efficacy of this approach to helping children.

Child-Centered Play Therapy Research: The Evidence Base for Effective Practice

Directive Play Therapy

There is also ample research to support more directive approaches to play therapy including Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy. Once a therapist has a firm footing and ample experience utilizing pure child centered play therapy it can be helpful to know how to introduce more directive play therapy approaches including those that are rooted in the tenets of CBT.  I have  several resources that can help therapists understand the theoretical basis and practical application for utilizing directive play therapy with child clients when clinically appropriate.

This book is full of rich content written by some of the greatest leaders in the field of play therapy establishing empirically supported basis for blending CBT with play therapy. Investment in this one book will provide a wealth of theoretical and practical information every therapist needs to read.

Blending Play Therapy with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Evidence-Based and Other Effective Treatments and Techniques

Sueanne Kenney-Noziska provides a manual packed with evidence-based directive play therapy interventions with straight-forward explanation for timing and usefulness in line with your client’s treatment plan and course of treatment in play therapy.

Techniques-Techniques-Techniques: Play-Based Activities for Children, Adolescents & Families Another fantastic manual providing directive play therapy interventions is one by Clair Mellethin here:

Play Therapy: Engaging & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders

Paris Goodyear-Brown has an amazing intervention resource for helping children with anxiety disorders based in prescriptive and directive play therapy interventions that correlate with stories children can relate to.

The Worry Wars: An Anxiety Workbook for Kids and Their Helpful Adults!

I feel so passionate about helping therapists first feel and practice deeply in child centered play therapy because I believe the tenets and essence of play therapy must be the foundation of ALL play therapy – even the most directive interventions. I argue that we can still implement the tenets of deep respect for the child through tracking, reflecting, returning responsibility and therapeutic limit setting while using an invitational manner to introducing directive interventions. By structuring the play therapy session we can facilitate therapeutically chosen activities and experiences for our child clients that can bring healing and growth while still providing the child a chance to feel seen, heard and deeply respected which in itself promotes healing and growth.

If you’d like to schedule a supervision consultation or case consultation session please visit my contact and scheduling page HERE. I look forward to hearing from you!