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Fair Play Therapy: A New Perspective Crocker Peoples



Eastern Kentucky University , USA Published online: 02 Jul 2010.

To cite this article: Crocker Peoples (1979) Fair Play Therapy: A New Perspective, The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 102:1, 113-117, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.1979.9915102 To link to this article:

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Published as a separate and in The JOtItfIlJl of Psychology, 1979, 101, 113-117.



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Traditional conceptualizations of play therapy place undue constraints on the therapist in various situations. These are examined, and suggestions are made for facilitating more honest and genuine therapist behaviors. Procedures for helping the child develop increased personal responsibility are also considered. A.


In traditional play therapy, therapists assume roles of benevolent, accepting, supportive observers who take an analytical stance with respect to the children's behavior (1, 4). As a function of their theoretical orientations, they may reflect or interpret some aspect of the children's experience during the therapeutic hour, but must restrict themselves to these relatively inactive functions. Children do all the playing and lead the way within the confines of the playroom and its equipment, engaging in whatever activities seem congenial, if any, and pursuing these activities until either satiated or distracted by other possibilities. This "hands off" stance is characteristic of play therapy, being adhered to by virtually every theorist except David Levy (5) who recommends specific structuring by the therapist in the interests of working through the effects of some specific traumatic event in the child's life. At least two possible-if-not-likely consequences of traditional procedures merit comment. First, children, in being permitted and even encouraged to conduct themselves in whatever manner strikes their faney and to indulge themselves to whatever degree, stopping short only of physical injury to themselves or the therapist or excessive damage to building or equipment, run the grave risk of developing a significantly inflated sense of their "rights." It seems reasonable that attitudes could well develop that would • ReceIved in the Editorial Office on March 6, 1979, and published immediately at Provincetown, Massachusetts. Copyright by The Journal Press.


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interfere with their functioning outside the playroom, which is not what is intended. Second, therapists, while experiencing the children's self-indulgent behavior, in the interests of theoretical purity squelch their own natural inclinations lest they squelch the children's free and supposedly therapeutically necessary self-expression instead. Thus therapists are forced to pretend to feelings of approval, acceptance, and so on which they are probably unable to experience. Two consequences follow close on the heels of this inability: (a) therapists feel guilty at failing to be mature and skilled enough to be theoretically pure, and (b) they feel guilty at having failed the children. A further bind in which therapists find themselves is that some theories, such as the Rogerian, hold that therapists must be genuine in functioning, must not resort to subterfuge or pretense. If a child is doing something that the therapist disapproves of, he or she must mask this disapproval in some way despite the personally inhibiting and even destructive consequences. In view of the pitfalls described above, it is not surprising that play therapy appears to have fallen on hard times. While no relevant hard data are available, it is this writer's impression that many problems that formerly were at least nominally dealt with in play therapy are now handled in either family therapy or behavior modification. While each of these approaches is legitimate and is the procedure of choice in many instances, there remain situations in which play therapy is most appropriate. Perhaps a new conceptualization of play therapy would facilitate its wider use. The conceptualization proposed here defines play therapy as being much more of a mutual endeavor than is the case in other formulations, with the therapist and child having somewhat different responsibilities. This new perspective has as a guiding principle that each person contributes to the therapeutic relationship whatever he or she can and takes from it whatever he or she needs to function effectively. This principle applies equally to each individual session and to the overall plans for intervention. Thus it recognizes that, just as in every other human and indeed all natural relationships, there is no "free lunch." Each person will "pay his way" in some manner, and this model attempts to make explicit and legitimate the nature of these payments. B.


The therapists' obligations and functioning will be considered first, since the focus in this regard is usually on them. This perspective includes the

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usual expectations that the therapist will be mature, stable, skilled, and kindly disposed toward children. It makes the further demand that the therapist be willing and able to recognize and assert hisJher rights when these are realistically threatened by some behavior of the child. Thus the therapist has the added freedom (responsibility) to impose certain limits on the child, and to do so in a manner thaipreserves the necessary sense of respect and acceptance. Indeed, the freedom to behave genuinely which this perspective includes -greatly facilitates the development and maintenance of just such a spirit. The therapist who is free to tell a child that he or she is behaving in a hateful way is free to love the child without the interference of an unrelived feeling of having been diminished by the child, or more accurately, by his or her own feeling of anger toward the child. In the further interest of facilitating a more "natural," mutual, and effective relationship, it is expected that the therapist will be actively involved with the child. A person should not undertake functioning as a play therapist unless he or she can genuinely enter into play, digging in sand, role-playing with puppets, hostile, informal games such as "army," and the like. Active, mutual play isa very effective medium for relating therapeutically. By freely and fully participating in an activity of the child's choosing, and perhaps modifying the play in a mutually agreeable manner to make it even more enjoyable, the therapist communicates his or her respect and acceptance of the child in a very effective way. Also, the therapist's playing enables him or her to model various behaviors which might be deemed to be appropriate for the child to experience in that way. Carrying a burden of unrelieved anger, disgust, or what-have-you is no less debilitating for a therapist than for anyone else, and the proposed perspective provides a means of forestalling this condition. Freeing themselves of disrupting emotions by expressing them and otherwise dealing with them as they arise has the same desirable effect on therapists as it does on other people; that is it permits them to continue to function in a flexible, appropriate manner. Thus if and when the child's behavior earns overt and specific approval or disapproval, the therapist can perceive this and respond appropriately without the distortions arising from irrelevant, but continuing emotionality. C.


The child's functioning in the therapy relationship is also conceptualized somewhat differently from this new perspective. It is the writer's conviction that allowing and encouraging the child to behave with abandon in the

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therapy setting is too much at odds with all naturally occurring expectancies on the part of the child and his or her significant others as well. Furthermore, the degree of freedom and indulgence characteristic of older models of play therapy is not necessary for appropriate or indeed even optimal growth to occur. Rather, a more realistic, natural set of expectancies and responsibilities for the child should be used. A major difference between this perspective and previous ones is the emphasis on the child's being expected to be more personally responsible for more aspects of his/her behavior than previous models would require, or even allow. Others (e.g., 3) have elaborated the concept of personal responsibility, and it is seen as having considerable relevance to play therapy as well as other relationships. The focus here is on the felicitous consequences following on the realization that one has "paid his dues," thus avoiding the guilts and other undesirable consequences following the realization that one has gotten away with something. While all theorists agree that the child should not be allowed to abuse the therapist physically, and also should not destroy facilities or equipment, the present perspective is somewhat more restrictive. In the interest of fair play, the child should also not abuse the therapist emotionally and should be required to not only avoid damaging the facilities and equipment, but also to restore them to their original condition before leaving. This means that the therapist must take a more forceful role than other models call for, without unduly hindering the child's growth. The focus is continually on helping the child become aware of and accept the consequences of his behavior. A heightened sense of personal responsibility will assist the child in maintaining a proper perspective outside therapy, and to be able to ignore or accurately evaluate unjustified assaults on his sense of self-worth. D.


Rudolph Dreikurs (2) has provided an excellent set of suggestions for parents in coping with their children. A great many of these procedures would be directly relevant for the therapist in the playroom, since they facilitate the kind of mutual respect and sense of personal responsibility that should be the outcome of appropriate play therapy. In common with other models for play therapy, it is expected that the therapist will be compassionate, empathetic, knowledgeable, and personally stable. The "fair play therapy" perspective also requires that the therapist be more straightforward in expressing his or her feelings and more active and flexible in engaging directly in play with the child. Thus



the therapist is able to function more genuinely and openly and to communicate more effectively with the child. The child, on the other hand, is expected to learn to take more appropriate responsibility for his or her behavior, thus avoiding the development of guilt or grandiosity, leaving what is realistic and appropriate for a child in relating to others.

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1. AxLINE, V. M. Play Therapy. New York; Ballantine Books, 1969. 2. D1u:lKURs, R. Children: The Challenge. New York; Hawthorn Books, 1964. 3. GENTHNER, R. W. An empirical investigation of the Personal Responsibility rating system. J. of PS:y

Fair play therapy: a new perspective.

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