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Play Therapy Research

How Can You Tell if Play Therapy Works?

Image: Flickr/EmmaCraig cc license

Go to Google Scholar, type in the term “play therapy” and you will find hundreds of studies with hundreds of results, some positive and some negative. So does play therapy actually work? It depends on what you call play therapy, how you use it, who you use it with, and what you use it for. The thing is, the field has struggled to show its effectiveness because there is...
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Play Therapy Research

Follow the Breadcrumbs of Metaphor into a Child’s Trauma

Here’s the dilemma: “Traumatized patients want clinicians to help them to forget traumatic events, in order to move on with their lives. Clinicians who offer trauma-focused treatments encourage patients to revisit the past, repeatedly and in detail, as a means of processing the traumatic event(s) as a verbally accessible memory.” The quote is from an excellent article published in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience exploring the treatments we offer for trauma and patients’...
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General

Does Pretend Play Really Create Child Development?

It's one of the things we child psychologists have always believed: pretend play creates social skills, creativity, and the ability to tell a narrative (among other things). So when I read this article published in Psychological Bulletin, I expected to write a fun coronation of pretend play. What I found absolutely shocked me: the researchers from the University of Virginia couldn't tell if pretend play is a means to an end or if it's...
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Parents

How to Show Growth Without Directing the Course of Play Therapy

Parents, insurance companies, schools, or managed care settings want results; there are “problems” that we as child play therapists are supposed to “fix”. But how can you work toward treatment goals while remaining true to the open-endedness of child-centered therapy, the most common play therapy theoretical orientation? On one hand you want results, and on the other you want to let the child guide the process.

An article in The Family Journal lays out a...
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Group Play Therapy

Back to School? How Play Teaches Learning Skills

My first career was as a 6th grade English and Social Studies teacher and I remember that first day of school; within hours or even minutes, there was an obvious difference between students: some kids could do things for themselves and others needed (or ) things done for them. These things ranged from unplugging the top of a glue bottle to sharpening pencils to picking writing topics. I saw huge parallels between these self-care skills,...
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General

Improvement Isn’t the Only Measure of Success in Therapy


Imagine you give a pill to a child with allergies. The allergies remain the same. Did the pill work? Of course not! But now imagine treating cancer: you give the patient a pill and five years later the patient’s health is unchanged. Depending on the cancer this very well may be an astounding result. Let’s look at similar success in play therapy. An article in the Journal for Specialist in Group Work used...
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General

In Play Therapy, Do You Engage or Observe?

It’s kind of a funny question: of all the technical aspects of play therapy including the space you create, the interactions you use to draw out your clients, the ways you process these interactions, the boundaries you set, etc. the mechanical question of where you physically place yourself in the room can be an afterthought.

The thing is, there’s a fairly rich debate in the world of play therapy about where is the therapist in the...
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Group Play Therapy

Sandtray Therapy Boosts Self-Esteem in Middle-School Girls

Before going back to school for psychology, I taught 6th grade English and Social Studies. I remember my girls starting the year as confident and competent young ladies – and then around Winter break, something would shift. Magically cliques would form, the social order would become clear, and my confident girls would suddenly become self-aware teenagers, careful to always be seen doing the right thing with the right people. Suddenly they saw themselves from the...
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