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Play Therapy Gets Top Grades from Preschool Teachers


Head Start is a national program designed to provide emotional, physical, and academic support to children in need. The majority of children served by Head Start are minority children, and many live in poverty. Aside from the emotional problems they may face, these children are at increased risk for behavioral problems. Research shows that children exposed to violence and impoverished conditions are more vulnerable to aggressive behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and other psychological problems than children from higher socioeconomic statuses. Although Head Start provides many resources to impoverished children, Sue C. Bratton of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at the University of North Texas believes that integrating play therapy with Head Start could improve children’s chances of academic and emotional success.

In a recent study, Bratton enrolled 54 preschoolers into child-centered play therapy (CCPT) or a control condition. The children were Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian, and were all from disadvantaged communities. The teachers, who were unaware of which condition each child was in, rated the children’s behavior before and after the study. The results revealed that the CCPT significantly improved the children’s behavior. Specifically, disruptive behavior and aggression decreased dramatically. Additionally, those in the CCPT had increases in attention that were not seen in the control group. Another positive outcome was that most of the children in the CCPT group, 21 out of 27, were no longer in the clinical range for behavioral concern after the intervention.

Bratton believes these findings show that CCPT, an approach that has been proven to be effective at minimizing externalizing problems in children, is particularly beneficial for underprivileged children, especially preschoolers. Many of these children do not have the resources for private therapy, and often don’t have parents who are willing and able to participate in their treatment. Therefore, these results demonstrate that adding CCPT to Head Start, a program available to all demographics and ethnicities, is a viable treatment strategy for children in need. “Further, it offers hope as an intervention that can be successfully used by school mental health professionals when parental involvement is not possible,” Bratton added.

Bratton, S. C., Ceballos, P. L., Sheely-Moore, A. I., Meany-Walen, K., Pronchenko, Y., Jones, L. D. (2012). Head Start early mental health intervention: Effects of child-centered play therapy on disruptive behaviors. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030318

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  • Asheton December 17th, 2012 at 3:33 PM #1

    Why this is not a part of the national preschool curriculum is beyond me. When we know that there is something out there that has such advantages for children there should be no question- it should be a part of the school day for every child out there. Obviously this is something that all children, rich or poor, will benefit from. the teachers like it, the parents see the benefits as well as the child, so why not stress that this needs to be a part of the school day every day?

  • elena December 18th, 2012 at 4:08 AM #2

    As teacher I am always open to new ideas and willing to try whatever it takes to get through to my kids. I don’t teach in a low income school, but I would imagine that programs like Head Start and other public programs like that see much improvement in their children when they find something like this that works, they support it and fund it through and see it through until the end.

  • BILL December 18th, 2012 at 8:33 AM #3

    Halleluiah! I have been saying this for years. If Head Start would add therapy, it would drastically change the future of at-risk kids. This so badly needs to be done. Someone, please make it happen NNOOOOWWWWW!!!!!!!

  • tyra December 18th, 2012 at 10:46 AM #4

    just think of all the meds these kids are being spared from…and also,early intervention such as this at a young age would help them not only to move out of the clinical measure for a disorder but also benefits them in the long run.

    CCPT seems like a programme that works very well and I hope to see this expand.

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