Scope of the Issue
In the early 1900's Freud began describing his work with Little Hans and the development of Psychoanalytic theory. The contributions of Freud, von Hug-Hellmuth, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein influenced the beginning of play therapy. In the early years, the focus was on the exploration of the unconscious and free association in order to recall the past and gain insight. The primary relationship was with the parent and the therapist was the key contributor to the progress of therapy.
Anna Freud and Melanie Klein began using play with their child clients as they believed that play was the medium for the most free expression of self. This belief remains core to play therapy today. Play was a means to help children feel comfortable dealing with the difficulties or traumas that plagued them. Freud hoped to use play to help children become trusting of the process in order to reach the psychoanalytic or talk therapy level.
Klein viewed play as more symbolic with important meaning. Klein actually developed the first "rules" for play therapy of "no hurts" – cannot hurt self, therapist or toys. Although she still believed that children could not get better unless they gained insight into the past, Klein emphasized the importance of the therapist possessing a genuine interest in children which was a new concept. Prior to that, children were not valued in the same way. As summarized in Filley and Robertson, (Theories and Techniques in Play therapy, 2006):
"In the psychoanalytic approach to play therapy, no attempt is made to direct, reeducate, or pressure the child toward any predetermined direction or alternate course of action. Psychoanalytic theory promoted a working relationship between the child and the therapist; allowed for communication of wishes, fantasies and conflicts; promoted child's understanding of conflict by use of imagination; acknowledged wish fulfillment; accepted the child and conveyed to the child that he is loved and worthy of love; children are not tiny adults (Rousseau, 1792); play has purpose and can be looked at for meaning; realization that childhood disorders might be due to emotional factors; beginning model for direct therapy with children; collaborative view of therapy which included play observations and interviews with parents; and belief that play is the child's natural medium of expression."
Although Anna Freud made major contributions to play therapy, talk therapy is not considered a goal of the process. Helping a child work through issues through the child's natural medium play is the primary goal. Discussion of the issues through talk therapy is possible and may occur but is not a goal of play therapy.
Following the arrows down from the original theories, you will see how they influenced different approaches to play therapy in a contemporary sense. Some PT modalities, such as Theraplay, were influenced by more than one theory (ie, Theraplay was a mix of developmental and relationship theories). These mixed inflluence PT modalities are where you see the two arrows meet. Hope it helps! ©2006 DFilley.