Therapy Methods

II. Person-Centred Play Therapy

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Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.
— Donald W. Winnicott

Through the therapeutic use of play in play therapy, the child develops the strength to explore and resolve problems, process difficult situations and utilise hidden abilities. By gaining more confidence and self-assurance, the foundation for a healthy development is laid.

Non-direct play therapy is meant as a short-term therapy for children who have experienced significant traumata.

Virginia Axline, one of the founders of this approach, believes that the time effectiveness of the therapy – namely how quickly children respond to play therapy – depends on their age, among other things (like the severity of the traumatic experience). Children up to 6 years of age usually show first positive changes within 4 weeks and significant changes within 2-4 months. However, children between the ages of 10-12 show minor changes after 4-8 weeks and considerable changes after 4-15 months.

Therapeutic play uses the great power of play itself to work with and help children with emotional and behavioural concerns. Playing is the ideal therapeutic method for children dealing with divorce, anxiety, death, trauma, anger, difficult life transitions and other situations that cause stress or emotional pain. Children are small and the world and life’s problems can be big. When using play materials, children are in charge and they are in their natural element. This allows them to explore feelings and situations in a safe and empowering way.

The person-centred/humanistic approach believes that there is a motivation in every human being to unfold, feel comfortable, be healthy, discover and experience oneself within all of us, to fulfil one’s potential and achieve the highest level of “human-beingness” that we can. This drive is called self-actualisation.

The child will be able to grow into an independent, healthy and social adult who is happy with and within oneself through the tools of sufficient freedom, protection, guidance, motivation, love, appreciation and relationships. If such aspects are missing in their lives, e.g. owing to traumatic experiences, the balance and healthy tendency for personal growth are disrupted.

Play creates a relationship, meaning that the child connects with the therapist through play, which eventually develops into a relationship. Due to the therapeutic relationship between the child and therapist and the therapeutic space – created by the therapist – the child feels safe and dares to explore, express and process emotions and experiences. By doing so, they gain emotional mastery and their personality can develop and grow. To make the child feel safe, the therapist must be genuine, appreciative, empathic, awake, attentive and interested. It holds utter importance to have faith that the child's soul wants to be healthy and is searching for open doors to develop freely and unburdened.

The therapist meets the child with empathy and unconditional positive regard. Whatever the child feels in that moment, whatever he/she does or thinks is an expression of one’s true experience and is important. Their behaviour is accepted compassionately and without any kind of judgement. Furthermore, the positive regard is not given to the child upon a condition (“I like you only if you are obedient, quiet, etc.), but rather it is given unconditionally.

As I offer non-directive play therapy, the child can freely choose what to do with his/her session. They can follow their own heart, leading the way while I follow, reflect, observe, facilitate or participate in their play. Boundaries are only set when it is deemed necessary to ground the therapy in reality.