For Professionals

For Professionals

History And Tradition Of Play Therapy

Play Therapy has a history and tradition. Play has been used in children’s therapy since the beginning of the twentieth century. Hermine Hug-Helmuth (1921), Anna Freud (1926) and Melanie Klein (1932) were pioneers who used play in their work with children in the Psychoanalytic tradition. However, the Humanist tradition is that which has provided the framework for Child Centred Play Therapy.

Virginia Axline developed the principles of Play Therapy which underlie “non-directive” approaches to Play Therapy, of which CCPT is one. She was influenced by Person-Centred/Client-Centred Therapy as developed by Carl Rogers. Rogers’ propositions of client-centred therapy are the central underpinning for Axline’s principles of Play Therapy.

The present practice of Child Centred Play Therapy has it’s strongest proponents in America. Key pioneers are with Garry Landreth (interview here), who established the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas and Bernard and Louise Guerney (interview here) who pioneered Filial Therapy.

Person Centred theories are central to Child Centred Play Therapy.   It is also aligned with theories of child development, Attachment theory and Erikson’s stages of development in children (Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010; Ray, 2011).

Click here to see the British Association of Play Therapy’s page, “A History of Play Therapy”.  This article gives a good description of the origins of Play Therapy but does not describe the development of Child Centred Play Therapy, as taught in America, because of it’s focus on British developments in Play Therapy.

Click here to go “Evidence-based Child Therapy”, the website of the Play Therapy Outcome Research Database.

What Is Child Centred Play Therapy?

Child Centred Play Therapy (CCPT) is not simply using play to supplement a therapeutic approach, nor is it simply a technique for developing rapport. CCPT promotes change by focusing on developing the child as a person e.g. their capacities, strengths and potential, rather than solely on their problems (Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010; Ray, 2011).

CCPT is a therapy in it’s own right, grounded in person-centred therapies and principles of child development. A substantial volume of evidence-based research into CCPT has been published by Baggerley, Ray & Bratton, (2010). A substantial body of evidence has been accumulated for CCPT.

Child Centred Play Therapy (CCPT) is a systematic approach to working psychotherapeutically with children.  CCPT therapists are methodically trained, in-depth, to use specialised and specific skill sets in a disciplined and mindful way (Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010; Ray, 2011), with particular emphasis on development of the therapeutic relationship: one of the strongest predictors of success in therapy, regardless of modality.  Within the crucible of this therapeutic relationship, the interior life of the child is held in safety and trust, thus facilitating and allowing change and healing to occur.

Child Centred Play Therapists facilitate change in children.  The therapist utilises the child’s innate drive towards growth and towards developing their fullest potential.  The Play Therapist facilitates the child’s self-expression and release of thoughts/feelings that are inhibiting their drive towards positive growth.  This sets the stage for the child to discover solutions and healing for him/herself.  In this way, changes which happen tend to be significant and enduring because the child has discovered them from within him/herself (Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010; Ray, 2011).

“The child directs the pace and content of the sessions. The therapist focuses on the child’s feelings and sets certain therapeutic limits. The child’s thoughts and feelings are made conscious and given symbolic representation. Through increased symbolic assimilation the child’s internal structures become more mobile and result in changes in the child’s behaviour and mental organisation.” (Irish Play Therapy Association, 2008).”

A CCPT session has a disciplined structure.  This structure allows the therapist to create an environment where children can experience a high level of safety, trust and acceptance and allows the therapist to focus on actively and mindfully “directing” the child to attend to his/her interior world of thoughts, feelings, reactions and choices.  This allows the child to freely and fully engage in self-expression of their issues within the boundaries of this structure.  Another result that therapists have consistently witnessed, is that children in CCPT sessions feel empowered to develop their capacity for self-direction, self-responsibility and an internal locus for control and evaluation.  This results in new self-awareness and new ability to make self-enhancing and appropriately mature life decisions and choices (Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010).

Note that, while CCPT is sometimes known as Non-Directive Play Therapy (NDPT), it is not entirely non-directive.  CCPT is directive in the sense that the child is actively directed towards healing and healthy functioning. Toys are specifically selected to allow children to express their feelings fully, and as neutral as possible: this directs the child towards project their own feelings and thoughts into the play and thus work with them.

See here for an article about Play Therapy from InPsych, June 2015, from the Australian Psychological Society. 

What is Filial Therapy?

Filial Therapy is a therapy where the parent is the client.  Parents are taught to become therapeutic change agents for their children.  When parents learn Filial Therapy, they improve their parenting skills and attachment and bonding between parent and child is strengthened.  Filial Therapy happens through special playtimes at home, when parents play with their child. It is a flexible approach meaning that parents who require more support are supported to play here at Perth Children’s Counselling till they are ready to take it home.

Filial Therapy was first developed 50 years ago by Louise and Bernard Guerney.  See here for a video of Louise Guerney speaking about Filial Therapy, it’s inception, and Play Therapy in general.  Much of the research currently exists within dissertations at the Centre for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, where it is mostly researched as Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT), which is a variant of Filial Therapy.  See here for an abstract of a recent paper that summarises the research: “A golden intervention: 50 years of research on Filial Therapy” (Cornett & Bratton, 2015).  Filial Therapy has been shown greater effects sizes when compared to Play Therapy with a therapist: see here for meta-analytic report by Bratton, Ray, Rhine and Jones (2005).

Special playtimes are not a concept unique to Filial Therapy.  The Defiant Child programme (Barkley, 2013) for children with Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Timid to Tiger programme (Cartwright-Hatton, Laskey, Rust and McNally, 2010) for child anxiety both utilise special playtimes in their treatment.  The uniqueness and power of special playtimes in Filial Therapy lies in the disciplined way in which parents apply specific skills and in the frame and conditions of these special playtimes.

Current Status Of Play Therapy and Filial Therapy

Play Therapy is well established as a therapeutic modality in its own right in the United States and Britain, with many other countries following suit.  Filial Therapy is less well-known.  In these countries, Registered Play Therapists are mental health professionals such as child psychologists, counsellors, social workers etc. who undertake additional postgraduate training.  This training is rigorous.  Extensive supervision and clinical practice hours are required because CCPT requires a very specific set of skills: being in the moment with the child, fostering a close relationship and strong therapeutic alliance is critical, and experiential training is essential.  Combining CCPT skills and professional judgement is a nuanced art and there is no substitute for intensive supervision from a skilled, experienced practitioner

In Australia, Play Therapy is slowly gaining acceptance. The Australasia Pacific Play Therapy Association (APPTA) was established in 2007 and training is available as follows:

  • Master of Child Play Therapy, Deakin University
  • Professional training by Child Centred Australia – particularly useful for professionals who want to focus on CCPT and already have a mental health or allied health qualification.

In America, the largest and most well known centre of Play Therapy education is the Center for Play Therapy in North Texas.  The Dallas branch of the university also has a clinic that trains over 100 Masters-level Counselling students, while providing Play Therapy services to the community.  American universities work towards being accredited as approved centres for Play Therapy education e.g. Missouri State University. and actively utilised in projects such as the University of Tennessee’s UT Reach Project for at-risk students in schools.

What Does Child Centred Play Therapy look like?

Click here and here to see videos by Jodi-Ann Mullen, demonstrating how she uses a Child Centred Play Therapy approach in Sand Play Therapy.  The only difference is that, in Play Therapy, the child choses to play either in the sand or with other toys.  In these mock sessions, Jodi-Ann is working with her son, Andrew.


Axline, V. M. (1974).  Play Therapy. Ballantine.

Baggerly, J. N., Ray, D. C., Bratton, S. C. (2010).  Child Centered Play Therapy: The Evidence Base for Effective Practice. Wiley.

Cochran N. H., Nordling W. J. & Cochran J. L. (2010). Child Centred Play Therapy: A Practical Guide to Developing Therapeutic Relationships with Children.  Wiley.

Landreth, G. L. (2002).  Play Therapy: the Art of Relationship.  Brunner Routledge.

Ray, D. C., (2011). Advanced Play Therapy. Routledge.

Professional Memberships