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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Play therapy: the patterns and processes of change in maltreated children Mills, Barbara C.


This qualitative case study research chronicles the process of change during play therapy of two children who experienced maternal loss and maltreatment during the first two years of life. At the outset of this study both children presented with evidence of insecure attachment as well as symptoms and behaviour consistent with maltreatment. Over the course of a year of therapy, both demonstrated profound change and healing. The study concludes that the children were able to utilize the safety, consistency, and affirmation of the therapeutic relationship to discard old models of relating, and to construct new internal representational models of self and of self in relation to others. Once old models were discarded, the children returned to the earliest stage of damage and reworked attachment salient developmental tasks while in relation with the therapist. The projective materials of the play therapy space provided the medium through which the children externalized selected trauma and critical incidents that shaped their maladaptive models. As the therapist gave voice to the previously unacknowledged experiences, the child's authentic self was able to disentangle from the trauma. The pattern by which the self emerged and developed over the course of therapy approximated developmental pathways described by prominent self theorists (Bretherton & Beeghly, 1982; Mahler et.al, 1975; Stern, 1985). Change was exhibited in the classroom approximately 10 to 14 weeks after the children were initially seen in therapy.

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