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History and Development of Play Therapy

Though some of the earliest theories and methods mentioned below are no longer practiced and may not
be acceptable based on current research and ethical standards, they did play a part in advancing play
therapy to the extent that it is now regarded as an established therapeutic approach. Some key
individuals in the development of this therapy and their contributions to the field include:

Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, who is widely regarded as the worlds first psychoanalyst


to specialize in treating children and the first person to use play as a form of therapy. In
1921, she introduced a formal play therapy process by providing the children in her care
with the necessary materials to express themselves and advocated the use of play to
analyze children.
Melanie Klein, who used play as an analytic tool as well as a means to attract the
children she worked with to therapy. Kleinbelieved play provided insight into a childs
unconscious.
David Levy, who developed a therapeutic approach called release therapy in
1938. This was a structured approach that encouraged a traumatized child to engage in
free play. The therapist then gradually introduced materials related to the traumatic
event, allowing the child to re-experience the stressful event and release any
unresolvedemotions or actions.
Joseph Soloman, who used an approach called active play to assist children who
displayed impulsivity and a tendency to act out. The approach was based on Solomans
belief that expressing emotions such as fear and anger in play would result in more
socially acceptable behavior.
Anna Freud, who presented theoretical arguments for the use of play as a means to
build a positive relationship between the child and therapist, thus allowing the therapist
better access to a childs inner thoughts and emotions.
Carl Rogers, who developed person-centered therapy during the 1940s and 1950s.
This type of therapy emphasizes the importance of genuineness, trust, and acceptance
in the therapeutic relationship.
Virginia Axline, who developed nondirective play therapy by modifying Rogers
approach into a play therapy technique that was more appropriate for children.
Roger Phillips, who posited the idea to combine cognitive therapy and play therapy
in the early 1980s. Cognitive behavioral play therapy has been used to treat children as
young as two years old.