Child Centered Play Therapy Research
Meta-analytic reviews (a powerful analysis that combines the results of many studies) of over 100 play therapy outcome studies (Bratton, Ray, Rhine & Jones, 2005; Leblanc & Ritchie, 2001) found that the overall treatment effect of play therapy ranges from moderate to high positive effects. The review by Bratton and colleagues was conducted on 93 research studies, finding a large treatment effect size of .8 and indicating that play therapy was effective across a variety of presenting issues. Non-directive approaches were found to yield better outcomes than therapist-directed play approaches. Additionally, positive treatment effects were found to be greatest when there was a parent actively involved in the child’s treatment. Click here for a summary of these studies.
Child Centered Play Therapy is a systematic and evidence-based approach to counselling children. This form of Play Therapy has been in use for over 60 years and has a long history of efficacy in therapeutic work with children. It is well supported by extensive research.
Play Therapy Evidence Base
The Center for Play Therapy has created a database of Play Therapy research as well as other play-focused modalities for children. Please visit their website for this resource.
For evidence based research on the effectiveness of Child Centered Play Therapy, the following book is available: Child Centered Play Therapy Research: The Evidence Base for Effective Practice. Jennifer N.Baggerly (Author, Editor), Dee C. Ray (Author, Editor), Sue C. Bratton (Author, Editor).
Feedback from children
Feedback from children who have experienced play therapy sessions attests to its popularity and usefulness. In qualitative studies, children report valuing the counsellor’s empathy and acceptance, allowance of choice of play methods, having fun, developing self-awareness and the relationship to the therapist (Axline, 1950; Green, 2010). Children report valuing having their own concerns and experiences responded to (as distinct from those of referring adults) as this child reflected, “She (the counsellor) understands us. She understands children… You feel happy because you are being understood and not ignored” (Green, 2010, p. 257).
One boy described how play therapy had helped him with his terrible sadness and loss following the death of his grandmother. “When my grandma died, I went over to the doll house and kind of did what I needed to do for my grandma” (Green, 2010, p. 260).While the purpose of counselling work is serious, the counselling process in play therapy can be fun and light-hearted. While not all play experiences are necessarily fun for children, the capacity for them to be so at times lightens the weight of sharing challenging experiences. As one boy reported, “I like coming to counselling a lot ’cause it’s fun” (Green, 2010, p. 258).
Reviews of research have indicated positive effects of play therapy for children with a range of presenting issues including behavioural disorders, psychosocial issues, physical and learning disabilities, and speech and language problems. Additionally, children experiencing anxiety, abuse, domestic violence, depression, grief and loss, and post-traumatic stress have demonstrated benefits from play therapy (Baggerly, Ray & Bratton, 2010; Landreth et al., 2010).
There is emerging neurobiological evidence that therapies that allow for non-verbal enjoyment, safety and attunement (such as play therapy) can offer traumatised children a more sensitive and appropriate therapy (Gaskill & Perry, 2014). These authors posit that children affected by trauma have underdeveloped cortical modulation networks affecting impulse control, higher order thinking and planning, as well as over sensitised regulatory neural networks, and are very resistant to traditional talk-based interventions.