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The History of Play Therapy

October 05, 2012

The History of Play Therapy

The importance of play, and particularly it’s importance in the life of a child, has been documented for many, many years by famous philosophers, educators, scientists and psychologists.  The greek philosopher Plato (429-347 B.C.) once said “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  Flash forward to the early 1900‘s, Friedrich Frobel published a book entitled “The Education of Man” (1903) in which he stressed the importance and significant meaning of play in a child’s life and it’s role in childhood self expression. The famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud was the first to publish a documented case on the therapeutic use of play entitled “Little Hans” (1909).  Other psychologists, Hermine Hug-Hellmuth (1921), Melanie Klein (1955) and Anna Freud (1965), also began to implement play therapy into their psychological practices with children.  They utilized play therapy to analyze children’s emotional and behavioral lives. In the mid 1900’s, a directive approach to play therapy as well as a nondirective approach was being utilized.  David Levy (1938) and Gove Hambidge (1955) both supported “Structured Play Therapy” which was a direct and structured method of utilizing play therapy techniques.  Jess Taft (1933), Frederick Allen (1934), Carl Rogers (1942), and Virginia Axline (1950) all believed in taking a more hands-off approach in which they allowed the children to choose and focused on the emotional relationship between the therapist and the child.  This was known as client centered therapy. In the 1960’s, Filial Therapy (developed by Bernard and Louise Guerney), became popular in the world of play therapy.  This was unique in that it allowed parents to implement play therapy sessions in the home.  At this time, play therapy was starting to be utilized in the schools as well, by counselors such as Alexander (1964), Landreth (1969), Muro (1968), Myrick and Holdin (1971), Nelson (1966) and Waterland (1970). As the play therapy model has continued to grow and evolve, many different models have been created that incorporate elements of the most popular forms of therapy such as family therapy, narrative therapy, solution focused therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.  As play therapy continues to be utilized in the therapeutic setting and studies in the scientific setting, it will continue to help therapists help children tackle tough childhood issues.

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