The History of Play Therapy

The History of play therapy begins a few thousand years ago with Plato. “You can discover more about a human being in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” Plato (429 - 347 B.C.). Most play therapist already know this.

Sigmund Freud was actually the first child therapist when he worked with Little Hans and his case of anxiety. Freud’s prescription was for the father to take the boy and allow him to “play.” Again, most play therapist know this already.

play therapy history of

His daughter Anna Freud used play to replace free association (talk therapy) around 1928. She was also the first to recognize that children should have a different method of therapy than the traditional adult therapy.

Anna Freud saw that a therapist can actual gain access to a child’s inner world when they are playing.

Margaret Lowenfeld (1935) was a psychiatrist who worked with children. She used pieces from the Orson Wells’ board game to allow children to play.

With Margaret’s help Great Britain became a stronghold for child psychotherapy. She was the first person to use the Sand Tray and called it “World Play.” This was based on her studies with Carl Jung.

1930’s David Levy came up with “Release Therapy.” He said that play therapy helps children relive traumatic events by using toys. Then the child can release the negative emotions.

Around the 1940’s Carl Rogers established a psychotherapy called “person centered therapy.” This was the basis for “child centered therapy.” He looked deeply at the relationship of the child and therapist and believed that this was one of the catalyst to induce healing.

(1944) The Sand Tray Therapy was used in play therapy.

(1949) Buck’s House-Tree-Person Technique used in play therapy.

Virgina Axline in the early 1970’s came up with “non-directive play therapy.” She also developed eight principals of therapeutic relationships to help play therapist work with their young clients.

Clark Moustakas (1950-1980’s) was also concerned with the relationship between the therapist and the child.

Garry Landreth (1990- present) wrote the book known as the “bible of play therapy”. Garry Landreth writes about the concerned about the relationship between child and therapist. He is also a follower and promoter of the ”non-directive play therapy approach.”

Gove Hambridge- Developed “Directive Play Therapy” and called it, “Structured Play Therapy.” He encouraged rapport, stressful event recreations in play, and then use play to recover.

1960’s brought Filial Therapy to the forefront by Bernard and Louise Guerney: This teaches the parent or caregiver to use child centered play therapy at home.

The parent is trained and uses play therapy during the week with the child. The child continues to see a therapist weekly. Parents continue to use play therapy at home.

School Based Play Therapy: Muro, Landreth, and Alexander encouraged school counselors to start play therapy in the schools to help children with emotional issues.

They took therapy out of private practice and put it into the schools.

Where I work today, play therapy is discouraged in the school system and school counselors must refer students out to play therapists.

However, school counselors should be trained in this area and modify play therapy to play counseling in order to help students with needs thrive in school. More intensive therapy should be referred to an outside counselor.

Trudy Post Sprunk- Founder of the Georgia Association for Play Therapy. This dynamic woman has been working with children in play therapy for years and is now doing supervision for licensed mental health professionals who want to become registered play therapist.

Trudy is truly gifted as a registered play therapist and her students are lucky to have her offer supervision to them.

All of the above therapist realized that children are not miniature adults! Colleges and Universities are also seeing the benefits of training mental health professionals in play therapy.

Play Therapy Organizations:

American Play Therapy Association (APT) United States and Worldwide

Canadian Play Therapy Institute

United Kingdom Society for Play and Creative Arts Therapies (PTUK)

British Association of Play Therapist (BAPT): For over 19 years this association has pushed the play therapy model and is number one in the training courses in the United Kingdom.

Play Therapy International

Georgia Play Therapy Institute

Research in Play Therapy: Long range studies have been researched since 1942 to present day to show the positive effects of play therapy for children with mental issues and disorders such as depression, disruptive behaviors, A.D.H.D., Conduct Disorder, Anxiety, Sexual Abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Adjustment Disorder, Bullying, and many more.

The studies conclude that play therapy is an effective intervention for many childhood mental issues and disorders.

Play Therapy Trends:

Adult Play Therapy

Sand Tray Therapy

Doll House Therapy

Creative Therapy

Creative Arts Therapies

School Play Counseling (Modified Play Therapy)

Hospital Play Therapy for children in hospitals.

Group Play Therapy

Nature Inspired Therapy

Dance and Drama Therapy

Learn More About Play Therapy Techniques

What Is Play Therapy?

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American Play Therapy Association (APT) United States and Worldwide

Canadian Play Therapy Institute

United Kingdom Society for Play and Creative Arts Therapies (PTUK)

British Association of Play Therapist (BAPT Play Therapy International

Georgia Play Therapy Institute

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