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Adlerian Play Therapy

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul” (Friedrich Froebel, 2012). Play can be compared to an open door to gaining knowledge on how children view their environment and themselves. Since play is a natural expression for children, the utilization of such technique could prove to be useful in counseling children with a varying degree of behavioral, emotional, or mental issues. Moreover, throughout the years, there has been a number of theoretical approaches to play therapy, other than the child center approach.

Therefore, this paper will explore the philosophy, role of the therapist, and counseling techniques of Adlerian play therapy. Nonetheless, differences between Child-centered play therapy and Adlerian play therapy will also be examined. Lastly, my personal thoughts on this particular therapy will be discussed. Benefits of Play Since many children under the age of ten lack the ability to formulate abstract thinking and language skills, play is used by therapists as a medium to communicate with young children (Kottman, 2001).

Through such method, young children are able to reveal and act out their emotions, thoughts, and attitudes. For example, as an introverted five year old girl, I often used my dolls as a way to express the deep emotions I was experiencing at that time. With a father who was incarcerated for twelve years, it was difficult for me to accept that he missed so many important events in my life. Often times, I would play only with the mother and child dolls and leave the father doll in the toy box, which was a representation of real life experiences.

Nonetheless, play also provides an outlet to gain insight on how children perceive themselves and the world (Kottman, 2001). Because play is children’s natural language, they are able to express themselves without being forced to articulate their thoughts and feelings using advanced and sophisticated adult language skills (Kottman, 2001). Philosophy of Adlerian Play Therapy Adlerian play therapy, stemmed from individual psychology, is based on the concept that all people are creative, goal-oriented, and socially engrained creatures (Kottman, 2001).

In other words, people possess a strong desire and need to connect and belong within their environments, such as in their families and other social habitats. Depending on the social skills of the child, he or she may make negative or positive connections with others and his or her environment. If negative connections are made, maladaptive behaviors may arise. Nonetheless, another vital concept is that behavior has a purpose (Kottman, 2001). One study concluded that the goals for children’s misbehavior stems from craving attention, power, revenge, and proving inadequacy (Kottman, 2001).

As a former preschool teacher, I can recall a three year old girl who exhibited the classic signs of neglect. Her mother, who had just given birth to son, appeared to not have any energy or time to spare with the three year old girl. Therefore, the girl would misbehave in the classroom by displaying defiant and disrespectful behavior. Eventually the family hired an au pair to help with the household and it was evident that the little girl was now receiving the attention that she desired. Her behavior changed drastically and she was a happier little girl.

This particular case is a prime example of how misbehavior can form because of lack of attention. Moreover, another central tenant of Adlerian theory is how children creatively approach their lifestyle and sense of belonging. Based on Adlerian theory, a child develop his or her lifestyle before the age of eight (Kottman, 2001). Through observation and reactions to various life events, children draw conclusions about themselves, the world, and others. Children’s behavior is influenced by their perceptions and conclusions about themselves and their environment.

Such conclusions are internalized as true and real, which may create faulty perceptions of how life and relationships work; therefore, children’s misbehavior may mimic such faulty perceptions (Kottman, 2001). Although children possess strong observational skills, their development prevents them from accurately interpreting and assessing relationships and situations. Role of the Therapist Since Adlerian play theorist believes that people are socially embedded beings, the primary function of the therapist is to explore how children fit into their social circles and relationships (Kottman, 2001).

Through observation of the child playing out scenarios, therapists are able to gain an understanding as to how he or she connects with others. Additionally, children who connect negatively with their environment is said to possess a lower level of social interest (Kottman, 2001). Therefore, therapist must evaluate the child’s level of social interest and attempt to foster and increase the interest through modeling. Adlerian play therapists strongly believe in the power of play and its ability to create a bond between the child and therapist.

The play therapist holds the role as a partner and encourager within the therapeutic relationship. Within the first phase of Adlerian play therapy, an egalitarian partnership is established, where the counselor and child share leadership within the sessions (Meany-Walen, Kottman, Bullis, & Dillman, 2015). When providing such power to the child, he or she begins to trust the therapist in order for cooperation and teamwork to develop in the play room.

Furthermore, the therapist utilize techniques, such as tracking, reflection of feelings, encouragement, and cleaning the room together in order to strengthen the collaborative relationship (Kottman, 2001). In the second phase, the therapist investigates the child’s lifestyle, such as his or her goals of misbehavior, by gathering pertinent information from both the parents and child (Meany-Walen, Kottman, Bullis, & Dillman, 2015). The counselor expects the child to play out his or her lifestyle, while the parents share information about their parenting methods and family values.

During this stage, there is little expectation for the child or parents to change. However, the third stage requires change from both the parents and child. The therapist attempts to assist the child in understanding and make changes to his or her lifestyle. The counselor may use interventions, such as puppet shows, painting activities, role playing, or sand trays to gain insight into the child’s behavior and thought pattern (Meany-Walen et al. , 2015). The sand tray is an imperative component within Adlerian play theory.

The therapist invites clients to describe the items in the sand tray to gather an understanding of how they connect with their family and environment, while also processing the role they play in such settings (Eberts & Homeyer, 2015). The main goal of the sand tray is to raise awareness of the client’s lifestyle and insight so that change can actually occur. On the same token, the play therapist involves the parents during this stage by making them more aware on how their own lifestyle issues may be interfering with their ability to be the best to their child (Kottman, 2001).

Through such interference, the therapist hopes to facilitate change in their attitudes towards one another, themselves, and the world around them. Lastly, during the fourth stage, the therapist expects for change to occur from the child and parents. Both parties have learned new techniques, skills, and attitudes to enhance their relationships and interactions outside of the play room (Roban, 2012). Children should be able to practice new useful behaviors with their newly adopted thoughts and feelings.

Nonetheless, in order to conceptualize the client, the therapist must gather enough information about the child’s attitude, emotions, and thinking processes through drawing techniques, questioning strategies, and observation of play patterns (Kottman, 2001). Such conceptualization acts as a foundation for intervention strategies to formulate in the later phases. Counseling Techniques and Strategies Nevertheless, the therapist use a more directive approach, such as using metacommunication and ‘spitting in the soup,’ in order to confront mistaken beliefs and goals of misbehavior (Kottman, 2001).

Spitting in the soup is a confrontational technique used to point out a client’s maladaptive behavior and thoughts to make it less attractive to him or her (Kottman, 2001). During this third phase, the therapist may, at times, be more nondirective and supportive as he or she is trying to move the child or parents away from old perceptions into a new understanding of relationships and situations. And at other times, the counselor may be extremely directive in challenging self-defeating beliefs about the world, others, and the self. The therapist may also point out discrepancies between actions and words (Kottman, 2001).

In the final stage of reorientation and reeducation, the therapist may act as an intrusive teacher, while educating the child on how to adopt positive perceptions and practice new skills. The training may teach assertiveness, negotiation, and social skills in order for the child to interact with others successfully and cope with difficult relationships and situations (Kottman, 2001). On the same token, the therapist also teaches parents parenting skills, such as providing encouragement and recognizing goals of misbehavior (Kottman, 2001).

Overall, Adlerian therapists find it beneficial to work with both children and their parents to encourage more positive attitudes and skills about the self, others, and the environment. Child-Centered Approach Differences The Adlerian approach to play therapy possess different views and techniques compared to that of the Child-centered approach. First, in limit setting, whereas Child-centered therapists utilize a three step method that involves acknowledging the child’s feelings, communicating the limit, and targeting acceptable alternatives, Adlerian therapist uses another approach (Landreth, 2012).

The Adlerian therapist instead sets the limit, makes a guess about the origin of the misbehavior, help engage the child in his or her own redirection of behavior, and negotiates consequences for the continuation of the limit violation (Kottman, 2001). It appears that Adlerian therapists provide more freedom for the child to make his or her own decisions and consequences for pushing the limits in the play room. Moreover, cleaning up after a play session is another difference between the two theories.

Unlike the Child-centered approach where children do not have to clean up after themselves, Adlerian play therapists encourages the child to pick up toys and materials. However, the approach is structured and the child is in charge of who cleans up what toy and how the cleaning up process proceeds. The cleanup process is not meant to punish the child, but is used to promote and strengthen the egalitarian relationship by encouraging a cooperative partnership between the therapist and child (Kottman, 2001).

Nonetheless, whereas Adlerian play therapists emphasizes the role parents play in their child’s counseling journey, Child-centered therapists requires meeting with the parents at least once a month (Landreth, 2012). Adlerian play therapists can actually be confrontational to the parents in helping them recognize how their own parenting skills may be a cause for their child’s maladaptive behavior and thinking. However, Child-centered therapists appear to be more empathetic towards the parents in helping them through the difficult times with their child.

Personal Thoughts and Reactions After conducting research on Adlerian play therapy, I was initially shocked at some of the phases the therapists practice. For example, the concept of ‘spitting in the soup’ seems to be a bit harsh when dealing with young children. I am uncertain at what age such technique would be useful because confronting young children may not be as effective. They may not be developmentally ready to accept such confrontation. On the same token, using this technique with the parents may not sit well.

As parents who are at their wits end, pointing out how their parenting style may be causing their child’s maladaptive behavior may cause them to go into defensive mode. When parents are defensive, they may choose to pull their child out of therapy and seek out other solutions, which may prolong the child’s healing. A positive aspect within this theory is how the therapists actually teaches new skills to replace old ones. Additionally, although I understand the concept of not having the child clean up after his or her session within the Child-centered approach, the method used in Adlerian play therapy also has its benefits.

Cleaning up is not viewed as a punishment, but rather as a means to strengthen the relationship between the therapist and child. The child is given the power to direct how the toys and materials will be cleaned up. Since children like to feel like they are in control over certain things, providing them with this opportunity could prove to be beneficial for both parties. Conclusion Overall, play is the way in which children communicate their emotions and behaviors. Adlerian play therapy is one of many methods in helping children, with an array of behavioral, mental, and emotional issues.

The Adlerian play therapist believes that people are socially embedded and behavior is goal oriented. People need to belong somewhere, whether it is their families or environment. Maladaptive behaviors occur in children when they are unable to connect in a successful way with others. Moreover, misbehavior also occurs because of certain goals not being met effectively, such as attention, power, and revenge. Therefore, the role of the therapist is to build an egalitarian relationship with the child, while utilizing non-directive and directive approaches to challenge self-defeating beliefs and attitudes about self and others.

The therapist also includes parents within the counseling sessions to improve on their parenting skills and encourage the child to behave in new and productive ways. Through various play methods, children are able to reveal their inner desires and thoughts, which in turn can shed light on any maladaptive behaviors and ideas that may need to be addressed. Ultimately, “children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity” (Kay Redfield Jamison, 2012).

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