What is Play Therapy?
The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
Play is an Inalienable Right of Childhood
The United Nations has proclaimed play a universal and inalienable right of childhood (p. 10, Landreth). Everywhere in the world, children play. I can remember finding sticks in the backyard and using the leaves and dirt to build a city. Some of the neighborhood kids created a marble track in the woods. We played house and doctor. We organized a 3 neighborhood wide game of capture the flag and summoned the children in the neighborhoods near and far when we discovered we could create a massive cloud of bubbles by dipping our sticks and pulling them out frantically over the air conditioning fan outside our house. Kids saw this massive bubble cloud sign and came wanting to know what was happening over at our house.
Can you imagine what our lives would be like, what kind of miserable and unintelligible people we would have become if we had not been allowed to play and use our imagination? Such ideas have been explored in novels like “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, where utilitarianism, only math, fact, and what is useful was part of the philosophy of education. Circus and play were motifs used to display the opposite of fact, fancy, and to highlight this suppressive utilitarian mechanization of the children’s lives. Fancy has an important place in life and in a philosophy of education and the United Nations has deemed play so important as to forbid it being suppressed in the human soul. It is a human right and it is children’s ‘work’ to play.
What does a philosophy and psychology of PLAY have to do with it?
I find that this is right in line with my beliefs about the importance and place of intuitions of the heart in the understanding of science, philosophy, ontology (the nature of being), metaphysics (the nature of reality), and epistemology (the nature of knowing). We must not only educate the mind but also the heart must have a place in education and does despite any efforts or attestations to the contrary. Pascal was a mathematician and philosopher, a famous and genius one at that, recognized by the likes of Friedrich Neitzsche. From his heart and mind came genius ideas such as on the one hand the discovery of theories like “Pascal’s Triangle” and on the other the invention of the ‘bus’ (from Latin ‘omnius’ meaning ‘everywhere’) as a charity to help those less fortunate to travel and benefit from the community. Some of the greatest inventions have come not from reasoned study, but out of intuition such as Isaac Newton when he watched an apple fall and suddenly connected its motion as being caused by the same gravitational force that controlled the moon’s attraction to the earth. Another example would be Frederich Kekule’s discovery of the structure of Benzine which he dreampt as a snake being coiled in a circle biting it’s tail. This discovery opened the way to many theories of organic chemistry.
Pascal noted in his philosophy and apologetic for Christianity that the intuitions of the heart are essential even in math when it comes to basic concepts in geometry and science such as space and time, which are intuitive rather than reasonable. They are also what lead him to a knowledge of his own depravity and inability to understand both the monstrous evil in man and the glory and dignity.
Socrates held in high value the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself.” He said the unexamined life is not worth living (The Apology, 38A). “And what do you suppose a man must know to know himself, his own name merely? Or must he consider what sort of creature he is …(Xenophon, Mem. iv, 2, 24).”
If not to understand ourselves better and to process our own experience as human beings, what is counseling for? Pascal was a mathematician and worked on ‘probability theory’. He applied this also to his understanding of man, and worked out a more ‘reasonable’ reason to his skepticism about life. He found we can never really be certain of anything. We can not escape ‘probability,’ ‘doubt’, and ‘trust’ even in science, let alone in relationships. He laid out his famous ‘Pascal’s Wager’ in regards to the Christian faith and understanding of man. In his view the only way we can ever be certain of anything is through faith and love. We can base our faith on sound empirical and reasoned arguments, but there is always room for skepticism and doubt. I would argue that play is a way for us to strengthen those trust muscles, to get in touch with our intuitions and to love.
According to the psychologists Freud and Jung, play is a way of acccessing the unconscious, where the intuitions reside. Freud called psychoanalysis in essence a cure through love.
In recent years a growing number of noted mental health professionals have observed that play is as important to human happiness and well being as love and work (Schaefer, 1993). Some of the greatest thinkers of all time, including Aristotle and Plato, have reflected on why play is so fundamental in our lives. How can we discover ourselves better than through play?“
According to Piaget (1962) play bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought and it is the symbolic function of play that is so important (p.11).” – Garry L. Landreth in
The swiss psychologist Piaget shaped much of cognitive theory, including its relationship to socialization. In the 1920s Piaget observed children reasoning and understanding differently, depending on their age. He proposed that all children progress through a series of cognitive stages of development, just as they progress through a series of physical stages of development. According to his theory, until around adolescense the brain still needs concrete objects to make rational judgements. His theory, along with Pascal’s theory about how we know and understand reality, are some of the reasons I use play as part of my therapy with adults and especially children.
I am not a play therapist but I do use play therapy techniques and toys in my therapy with children and adults and have attended play therapy trainings.
Landreth, Garry L. Play Therapy: The Art of Relationship. Second Edition.
Schaefer, C. E. (1993). The therapeutic power of play. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.
* For those interested- Pascal’s model of how we know and understand the world, the orders of being: physical, mind, love; and the corresponding orders of knowing:senses, reason, faith.
For more info from Rachel Hofer check www.lovingtherapy.com