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  • Writer's pictureFiona Holiday

Play Therapy 101 (Part Two)

Sand Tray

This second of three blog posts picks up the remaining four of Virginia Mae Axline's eight principles, which serve as guideposts to my practice in non-directive play therapy, where the therapist:

5. Maintains a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve his/her problems and gives the child the opportunity to do so. The responsibility to make choices and to institute change is the child’s.

I believe that we all have within us a drive towards being the best version of ourselves possible, demonstrated by our drives to learn, play and explore when we have established that we are safe and we matter. So in my room I often say, "That's something you can decide". Often children have few choices in their lives. I want them to find that they can in fact make decisions.

6. Does not attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any manner. The child leads the way, the therapist follows.

One of the phrases I recall from my early training was "hold the unknown". Often, I am left wondering in a session how the child's activity will support their development and healing only to realise a few sessions later that their apparently aimless and repetitive play has led to an amazing shift. Trust the process, hold the unknown.

7. Does not hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and must be recognised as such by the therapist.

This can be a challenge, particularly in the present climate of reduced resources and fears about missing literacy or numeracy and "real" (!) learning time. But we all need time - time to build trust and find safety, time to explore what is possible and time to marshal these resources to serve our needs. Often, play therapy is NOT a quick fix, but given time a child will take what they need from the experience.

8. Only establishes those limitations necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his/her responsibility in the relationship.

If it sounds like anything goes in the play room, that is not the case. I have a responsibility to keep the child and myself safe. So there are times when limits are placed. Generally, though, if it is not unsafe, most things can and do happen... clay, sand, glue and paint make an interesting combination. Children get the chance to explore in a way that is often not possible in classrooms or home. We are noisy, messy and silly. Chaos CAN resolve to order, but we need to experience it to understand how that happens.

Axline's principles taught me that children will thrive when their environment supports them, that being safe and seen is what we all need.

The final post in this series will look at the toolkit, what might happen in a session and why I feel so privileged to be part of each individual's journey.

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