More About - Play Therapy

What is Play Therapy?

     Play therapy is a form of counselling for children. Humanistic play therapy is child-centered and non-directive. It focusses on using the child’s natural desire to play as a healing process. When children play, they can work out problems and new things that they are trying to understand . Their play communicates to the play therapist how they are progressing and processing what they need to work out. Play is the child’s natural way of re-experiencing troubling feelings and issues until they can be accepted. The therapeutic powers of play help strengthen emotional wellness, social relationships, personal strengths and facilitates communication.

      Play therapy is based on the work of Virginia Axline who was influenced by the person-centered approach of Carl Rogers in the mid-twentieth century. The core conditions of unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathetic understanding are combined with Axline’s eight basic principles and form the basis for humanistic child play therapy. Axline’s principles include the therapist forming and maintaining a warm, caring, accepting and permissive relationship with the child, that allows him/her to express any emotion and gain insight. This therapeutic relationship accepts the child just as they are and lets the child know that they a free to play as they need to with as few rules as possible but as many as they need .

      Play Therapy respects children’s ability to solve problems and make decisions. The therapist does not lead, guide or shape the child’s expression or behaviour, hurry the therapeutic process or set limits, until required. It gives the child the opportunity to play out what they a feeling on a deep level. The child chooses what to play with and how they do it. The therapist follows the child’s lead building an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and permissiveness for the child. The most recent meta-analysis looked at research into Child Centered Play Therapy over the last decade and found it to be effective across a broad spectrum of presenting issues.

More About - Learn to Play

What is Learn To Play?

       Learn to Play is a directive, therapeutic play program that teaches pretend play skills to improve self-initiated pretend play ability, making it meaningful and intentional. It provides clear scaffolding of a child’s learning via direct teaching of play skills. The therapist uses Vygotsky’s proximal zone of development, providing guidance for the child as they learn a new skill. 

       The child’s play abilities are established, goals are developed and play activities planned.

Working with children requires a caring and supportive therapeutic relationship. This relationship requires the therapist to demonstrate the core conditions of; acceptance, unconditional positive regard; congruence; and empathy while providing a safe space in which to explore their play.

       The Learn to Play program strikes a balance between allowing the child to lead the play in their own time, and providing direct, explicit scaffolding to support their learning of new skills.

More About - Filial Therapy

Filial Therapy

     The term Filial comes from the Greek words filius and filia –meaning sons/daughters. Filial therapy is a type of psychotherapy that endeavours to support children who may be experiencing social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Filial Therapy recognises that parents are full partners in the change process, and they become the primary change agents while they learn to conduct child-centred play sessions with their own children and to apply these skills or generalise them into their everyday lives.

     This is a well-researched and developed therapy coming out of the work of Bernard and Louise Guerney, Virginia Ryan, David Landreth and Sue Bratten and Rise Van Fleet among others.

Filial Therapy Goals

     Filial therapy has several goals, and they are grouped into goals for children, parents and the whole family.

The goals for children are to develop a better understanding of their own feelings and how to express them in appropriate ways; how to make better choices and accept personal responsibility for the choices they make and to reduce problem behaviours and work their way through what’s going on for them by resolving any conflicts or issues.

     Filial Therapy also aims to improve the trust children their parents as the authority figures in their lives. We also want the therapy to improve the child’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

     Family goals are centred around the issue or issues that bought the child/family to therapy in the first place, preventing future problems by providing the family with useful tools, skills and abilities that can be used forever. Improving the parent-child relationship and the family’s communication abilities helps improve the family’s coping skills and flexibility.

Overall, Filial Therapy can improve your family’s ability to have fun together.

Three Phases of Filial Therapy

The program is conducted in 3 phases, the Early, Middle and Closing phases. The Early phase is spent outlining the program and making sure that the therapist has as much information about the family as possible, so personalised planning can fit your family’s needs. This includes observing you while you play with your children.

The therapist organises this with play materials and toys that will suit your children’s ages and stages of development. You may be asked to complete some checklists that give me a better understanding of your family interactions and play.

The Middle Phase is the training phase – this is where the work really starts. The therapist works with parents while they learn the skills of Structuring and Empathy, Limits and Imaginary Play and then practising those skills together.

After the training, the parents practice their skills with their children with the therapist acting as coach and observer. This supervision of your play with your child, followed by a debrief of the session helps the parent to refine their ability to use these skills.

In the final or closing phase, the parent and therapist talk about how things are going, plan for any further work needed and assess the progress that has been made.

Research tells us that Filial Therapy that can be very beneficial for families.

More About - Sandplay


“ In the hands of a properly trained therapist, sandplay is a powerful, invaluable modality. The operative word is “powerful” (Dora Kalff 2003).

     Sandplay as its name suggests involves playing in sand. The therapy begins as the client gives up intention and surrenders to the play. As the client’s pictures emerge from the sand the creative process drains away the fears and stresses that accompany the current thinking.

     Deep changes in the client are witnessed as the client’s unspoken issues are revealed and expressed in the sand. It is the miniatures the client selects and the landscaping of the sand that awakens what is hidden in the unconscious.

‘ … sandplay promotes what Jung referred to as the transcendent function, making possible a completely new outlook on life’. It forms a bridge between the conscious and unconscious and allows the client to find a way to face these unconscious concerns in a conscious way and come to terms with them.

      Sandplay emerged from the work of Margaret Lowenstein’s recognition of the limitations of talking in working therapeutically with children. Dora Kalff, a Jungian trained psychoanalyst took up this work and developed Sandplay as it is known today. She applied her knowledge and understanding of Jung’s work, child development, the power of the relationship between client and therapist and the need for the ‘safe and protected space’ to creating this transformative modality of therapy.

See our Blog for a slideshow about Sandplay at Small Steps.

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