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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The language of child’s play: thematic representations of healing through the process of play therapy Ebenstiner, Janice


Play therapy has been used for treating maladjusted children for decades and although it is recognized as a treatment of choice, a scarcity of verified, systematic knowledge on the process children typically move through within therapy exists in the literature. This qualitative single case study documents the process of play therapy over twenty sessions with an eight year old child who experienced maternal loss and separation, parental neglect, parental drug abuse and chronic instability in her home environment. A detailed account of the child's perceptions of her experience as well as the progression of the therapeutic relationship as it emerges and transforms over time is described. Significant issues of concern, areas of struggle, and patterns of improvement are documented through the evolution of the play therapy process, House-Tree-Person drawings and parent reports on the Child Behavior Checklist. The therapeutic process evolved across five phases, each illustrating specific behavioural and thematic developments and changes. This phasic process is consistent with the general findings of several play therapy clinicians and researchers. Although each of the five phases is not corroborated entirely by a single existing theory, several of the characteristic themes, play behaviours and transitions within each phase are documented in previous research. The findings of this study highlight the importance of the therapeutic relationship in the psychological healing process. The effects of parental neglect and separation are also discussed in terms of these findings. The results of this study enhance the understanding of the therapeutic process of play therapy, demonstrate the psychological effects of parental neglect and separation and indicate the importance of a consistent and nurturing parent to a child's development.

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