Play Therapy and DIR

I wanted to take the Play Therapy course offered by my graduate program at Mercer University since I became aware of its existence at orientation, and in the summer of 2013 I was finally able to make it work with my schedule. I was employed as a behavioral therapist at the time, and my idea of the value of play to therapy was strictly aligned with that theoretical approach. I had been trained in the implementation of Parent Child Interaction Therapy, which can be explained most simply as the use of “in vivo” coaching of parents in positively reinforcing ways of playing with their child. The idea behind this approach was to make the parent’s attention rewarding to the child, with the end result of facilitating the parent’s ability to direct the child in ways that they previously couldn’t.

It can be hard to argue with any approach that strengthens the parent-child relationship, and indeed, I have seen this approach work wonders for families, especially when it comes to aiding in behavior management. The point, however, is just that-the play is a means to an end. Instruction in play therapy opened my eyes to an entirely new concept, which is the idea that play can be therapeutic in and of itself. A major tenet of play therapy is that play is the child’s language, and another is the idea that children use play to make the complicated, often unmanageable world manageable. In studying play therapy, our instructor had us practice the techniques we learned on each other, and it was surprising to see their therapeutic value even for adults. We may have laughed at the idea of playing with puppets, raking our hands through sand, or making collages, but  it was almost never quiet or somber in that classroom!

When I came to TCS, I was surprised and excited to see how much play was involved in working within the DIR framework with our clients, specifically the school side students with whom I primarily work. DIR is not play therapy, but does share many concepts with the developmental play therapy approach, especially the emphasis on the client/therapist relationship. When using a developmental play therapy approach, as with the DIR/Floortime model, the therapist is “the toy.” Another important idea behind play therapy is the notion that both the client and therapist are changed by the therapeutic relationship, and my year and a half at TCS has brought this idea to the forefront in my mind. As much as I hope that my relationship with our students and participants has changed them for the better, I can be sure that knowing them has changed me in a profound way. Along this journey, I have learned more about dinosaurs and video games than I ever intended to, but more importantly I have learned that a strong relationship built with a client is far more valuable than any therapeutic technique, and more important than any measurable result.

– Kelly Keyser

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