Play Therapy for Children Coping with Sexual Abuse Trauma

Topics: Child abuse, Play therapy, Child sexual abuse Pages: 10 (2327 words) Published: March 1, 2015

Play Therapy for Children Coping with Sexual Abuse Trauma
Lindsay Olson, 500381867
Audrey Huberman
CLD 444: Art Therapies for Young Children
Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This paper reviews literature focusing on child sexual abuse victims and the use of Play Therapy. It outlines the benefits of including parents in the therapeutic interventions and play therapy sessions with their child. It touches on the different theoretical perspectives of Play Theory and highlights potential for Play Theory in the educational setting. This paper will propose options for further research.


  Children are naturally drawn to play, so it only makes sense to incorporate therapeutic interventions through play. Children learn verbal, social and behavioural skills through play that can be utilized during therapy sessions, especially with children experiencing a traumatic event in which they do not completely understand, such as sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse survivors are bombarded with overwhelming emotions that they likely do not understand, and therefore cannot consciously explain through vocalization and expression. Findling, Bratton & Henson (2006) found that, “traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life… traumatic events shatter the victims sense of safety in the world, forcing the trauma survivor to question fundamental beliefs about self, others, and relationships.” (p. 4) Through play, children can demonstrate these experiences with the use of toys and artistic materials, while therapists and often parents observe, and occasionally take part in the therapy sessions. Child-Centered Play Therapy, Adlerian Play Therapy and Filial Play Therapy are all theoretical perspectives linked to Play Therapy, each with their own variations and specifications, used depending on the individualized needs of each child. While working with children who have been sexually victimized, it is necessary to evaluate their cognitive and emotional development, as this will undoubtedly affect which type of therapy is most appropriate, as well as what materials should be provided in the playroom to ensure they meet their developmental needs. This paper will review literature over the past 10 years and will explore the different theoretical perspectives linked to Play Therapy. This paper will explore literature reviewing child sexual abuse victims and their experiences with Play Therapy, as well as discuss the role of non-offending parents in their child’s therapy sessions. Theoretical Perspectives

Child-Centered Play Therapy
Child-Centered Play Therapy is a humanistic modality that refers to the nondirective approach in helping children with both emotional and behavioural difficulties. A nondirective approach does not require a therapist to be passive, but instead allows the child to take the lead in their own healing process. It is the therapists’ job to build a warm, trusting relationship with the child, as well as to set up the playroom with unique, appropriate toys that are geared specifically towards each child. Roy et. Al (2013) stated that play therapists should provide age-appropriate materials that give children the opportunity to symbolically express themselves and do not have instructions on how to be used. The toys selected should, “facilitate a wide range of creative expression, engage children’s interests, facilitate expressive and exploratory play, allow exploration and expression without verbalization, allow success without prescribed structure, allow for noncommittal play and have a sturdy construction for active use” (Roy et. Al, 2013, p. 45) Virginia Axline, the creator of the non-directive approach in play therapy believed that “this method required the understanding that each child has the capacity to problem solve and act responsibly… [that] this type of therapy is gradual and not something that should be rushed” (Brooke,...

References: Asbrand, J., & Reyes, C. (2005). A longitudinal study assessing trauma symptoms in sexually abused children engaged in play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 14(1), 25-47. Retrieved from
Brooke, S. (2006). Creative arts therapies manual a guide to the history, theoretical approaches, assessment, and work with special populations of art, play, dance, music, drama, and poetry therapies. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas.
Brown, S., Brack, G., & Mullis, F. (2008). Traumatic Symptoms in Sexually Abused Children: Implications for School Counselors. Professional School Counseling, 11(6), 368-379. Retrieved from
Hill, A. (2009) Factors Influencing the Degree and Pattern of Parental
Involvement in Play Therapy for Sexually Abused Children. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 18(4), 455-477. Retrieved from
Hill, A. (2006) Play Therapy with Sexually Abused Children: Including Parents in Therapeutic Play. Child and Family Social Work, 11(4), 316-324. Retrieved from
Roy, D., Carlson, S., Carnes-Holts, K., Lee, K., Meany-Walen, K., & Ware, J. (2013). Use of Toys in Child-Centered Play Therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 22(1), 43-57. Retrieved from
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