Virginia M. Axline is best known for her influence on Play Therapy. In 1964, Axline published a revolutionary and inspiring true story called Dibs In Search of Self. The book chronicled her therapeutic relationship with a five year old boy who presented as withdrawn and uncommunicative. Thought to be either autistic or to have severe mental retardation by his parents, Dibs emerged to find himself through play therapy over the course of several months. When he developed the necessary skills to show his true self to the world, it was realized that he was a genius with an IQ of 168. The methods that Axline used to interact with Dibs are identified and explained in this revolutionary first-hand account. The book has become a part of curriculum at many universities and graduate schools, and is still hailed as one of the most influential books in the field of play therapy. Axline authored several other books during her illustrious career. She began to explore play therapy in the early 1940s and eventually developed her own technique of non-directive play therapy. Her core principles and theories were created from the person-centered approach developed by Carl Rogers.
Contribution to Psychology
Axline is one of the developers of play therapy. Play therapy is based on nonverbal communication through play. It strives to facilitate healing and psychological and behavioral changes in clients, who are most often children. The goal is to afford the child the opportunity for self-development, growth and social integration. Often times, play therapy is a vehicle for diagnosis. A therapist can gain a deep understanding of a child’s underlying issues when permitted to observe his play and by assessing the interaction he has with the therapist. Play is encouraged both structured and unstructured, in order to provide the child with the opportunity for proper behavioral and cognitive development. A common technique used in play therapy is desensitization. This method is aimed at helping a child reprogram disruptive behaviors and is applied not only to children, but to other people who are otherwise verbally or cognitively challenged.
The approach of play therapy is still debated. Many experts believe that it is not possible to deliver any therapy through non-directive means. Additionally, children, like adults, are receptive to various approaches to treatment and there is not one singular technique that will help all children. Play therapy is designed to be directive for the purpose of methodology, boundaries and safety. But in play therapy, the therapist should strive to be non-directive relative to interpretation, exploration, and solution.
Axline in particular worked to develop her Non-Directive Approach to Play Therapy, in which she highlights eight distinct core principles:
1. The therapeutic relationship must be engaging and inviting and provide warmth and rapport at the earliest possible moment.
2. The child must be unconditionally accepted by the therapist.
3. The therapeutic environment must be nonjudgmental in order for the child to feel uninhibited in his expression of emotions, feelings and behaviors.
4. The therapist must be attentive and cognizant of the child’s behaviors in order to provide reflective behaviors back to the child so that he may develop self-awareness of his own behaviors.
5. The therapist relies on the child’s own ability to find solutions to his own problems when they are available and understands that the child is solely responsible for the transformational choices he makes or does not make.
6. The therapist acts as the shadow, allowing the child to lead the therapeutic journey through dialogue and actions.
7. The therapist recognizes that the procedure is one that is steady and should progress at its own pace, not a pace set by the therapist.
8. The only limitations and boundaries that are set are ones that ensure the therapeutic process stay genuine and that the child remains in the realm of reality and be aware of his purpose and role in the therapy.
Quote by Virginia Axline