Look no further for the pioneer of play therapy other than Virginia Axline.

I enjoyed learning about Axline during my Therapeutic Interventions course in my Master’s program and found she was right on track with how Child Life Specialists should approach children when working through play.

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Play is the key component of communication and understanding of all children. Play is children’s universal language. Play can be utilized to engage in (GoodTherapy.org, 2015):

  • Healing
  • Finding underlying issues
  • Self-development and growth
  • Communication (Verbal and Non-verbal)
  • Social Integration Image result for Dibs in search of self

Axline began her research and study in children and play therapy in the 1940s, basing her work off of Carl Roger’s Person-Centered therapy approach. Axline famous for her 1964 case study novel “Dibs in Search of Self”, where she began first using play therapy techniques with a child client, and are still recognized and acclaimed by many play therapists.

Axline is most known for her 8 core principles for non-directive play therapy.

Non-directive play therapy is defined as:

“to help children communicate their inner experiences through the use of toys and play. Non-directive play therapy, also called child-centered play therapy, is a non-pathologizing technique based on the belief that children have the internal drive to achieve wellness (Petruk, 2009).”

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As a Child Life Specialist, this is a key component to our work since we want the CHILD to be in charge of their experiences, because how they interpret their experiences will determine their coping style, their problem solving techniques, their ability to continue forward with development, and gain attributes that enhance their identity.

Here are Axline’s 8 core principles (GoodTherapy.org, 2015): 

  1. The therapeutic relationship must be engaging and inviting, providing warmth and rapport at the earliest possible moment.
  2. The child must be unconditionally accepted by the therapist.
  3. The therapeutic environment must be nonjudgmental in order for the child to feel uninhibited in the expression of emotions, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. The therapist must be attentive and cognizant of the child’s behaviors in order to provide reflective behaviors back to the child so that he or she may develop self-awareness.
  5. The therapist relies on the child’s ability to find solutions, when available, to his or her own problems and understands that the child is solely responsible for the transformational choices he or she makes or does not make.
  6. The therapist acts as the shadow, allowing the child to lead the therapeutic journey through dialogue and actions.
  7. The therapist recognizes that the procedure is one that is steady and should progress at its own pace, not a pace set by the therapist.
  8. The only limitations and boundaries that are set are ones that ensure the therapeutic process stay genuine and that the child remains in the realm of reality, aware of his or her purpose and role in the therapy.

One population I wish to share this information most with, is parents. Parents should keep this in mind and have opportunities to engage in their child’s play and be observant as to what the child does throughout their play. Watch their behaviors, listen to how they talk, observe their choices. Feel free to engage with them and ask questions, BUT DO NOT re-direct and guide the play WITHOUT the child’s decision. Let them lead! 

I think Axline is a remarkable theorist to keep in mind and implement in Child Life programs, as well as for anyone who works with children. Letting children lead will let them learn and build their confidence for their development ahead!

Image result for Virginia Axline

Resources cited:

GoodTherapy.org. (2015). Virginia axline. Retrieved from: http://www.goodtherapy.org/famous-psychologists/virginia-axline.html

Petruk, L.H. (2009). An overview of non-directive play therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/non-directive-play-therapy/