Axline’s Non-Directive Principles in Relation to The Adult’s Role in Supporting Children’s Play in Multiple Settings


Non-directive Play Therapy is a kind of therapeutic style which is oriented by children’s desire and liability. The therapists make children manage their own decisions and strengthen children’s insight (Lesniak, 2003). Non-directive play therapy, which is also called client or child-centered play therapy (CCPT), was evaluated by Virginia Axline (Kottman, 2001 cited in Lesniak, 2003; Guerney, 2001). According to Axline (1969), a therapist has some roles in the CCPT sessions and defined eight principles in order to understand how therapy works in her model (Kranz and Lund, 1993). CCPT depends on the statement that children have the capability to cure themselves through play. In this aspect, the therapist’s role is crucial in not giving direction or making comments and not supporting children’s opinions with agreement or disagreement (Lesniak, 2003).
Axline’s therapeutic principles are fundamental for specialists who are learning play therapy (Kranz, 1993). In her opinion, a therapist needs to be patient with the child and should not condemn any behaviours of the child. In addition, a counsellor should leave the choices and making decision to the child in order to make him understand that these are his own choices. The client will know that the therapist accepts him regardless of whoever he is. Leaving the flow of the therapy to the child should not mean that the therapist is inactive; the therapist will be actively involved by caring about the child and determining its limits. An important point which is not to be missed is the therapist’s role in the therapy as an adult. Who is the therapist? The therapist is not replacement of a mother or a friend. Based on Axline’s principles, a counsellor should reflect children’s feelings to children so it can be perceived that the therapist is a mirror of the child (Axline, 1969 cited in Darr, 1994).
Non-directive play therapy helps children who have many problems in social, psychological and cognitive areas. Furthermore, play provides children natural healing helping them to evade their troubles (Wikström, 2005). To measure the effectiveness of non-directive therapy in healing psychological and psychical diseases, many studies have been conducted. For instance, Axline’s research about CCPT on children with mental deficiency showed that one of the research groups which defined with a low IQ level, displayed normal IQ level after non-directive play, however, she didn’t mention it as evidence for improving intelligence. In addition to this study, there is other research which were claimed that CCPT works in many different problems healing by Axline. First, Cowen and Cruickshank (1948) studied with 5 physically handicapped children and observed that three of them felt better at home and school after CCPT this was also recognised by Axline. Second, the study which was conducted for reducing the effect of racism with non-directive play therapy, showed that the seventh session was better comparing with the first meeting in terms of having hostile behaviours for children of different races. Even though Lebo (1953) highlighted that research sample was consisted with anti-social and not socially closed-minded children. The value of non-directive play has been discussed in implementing in different settings and observed its efficiency (Lebo, 1953). Third, Axline carried out research on children with reading disabilities by using non-directive play. Although Axline (1947, 1949 cited in Lebo, 1953) did not express that CCPT’s availability for children who have deficiency of reading, she indicated that 21 children in 37 showed increases in both reading abilities and IQ scores after non-directive play therapy.
Stemming from Axline’s non-directive play therapy, CCPT is employed in many different settings such as, hospitals, homes, schools with families, teachers, and counsellors (Laura et al., 1999).


Filial therapy was found by Bernard and Louise Guerney (1969 cited in Kidron 2003) and based on Axline’s principles of child-centered therapy, suggests that using parents or guardians as a therapeutic mediator is crucial for children’s well-being (Laura, et al., 1999). While non-directive play is originally implemented by therapists, filial therapy aims that children’s problems can be solved by their parents (Laura, et al., 1999). When families are trained in filial therapy, they can have better understanding of children and empathize with young children. Moreover, filial therapy makes stronger parental relations and creates a positive atmosphere in the family. Some clear differences can be seen after filial therapy like reduction in the level of behavioural issues and enhancement in adjustment (Bratton, 1995; Chau & Landreth, 1997; Glass, 1987; Glover, 1997; Lebovitz, 1983; Landreth & Lobaugh, 1998; Sensue, 1981; Smith, 2000; Sywulak, 1979; Yeun, 1997 cited in Kidron, 2003).
Parents are trained in basic principles for filial therapy such as learning interaction in therapeutic style and setting limits (Laura, et al., 1999). The reason why parents are trained depends on a family’s psychological and emotional power on children (Sweeney, Homeyer, & Pavlishina, 2000). Vulnerable children especially need to spend time in therapeutic aspect with their family such as children of imprisoned mothers. According to Landreth and Harris (1997), many women in prison have at least one young child who is living without seeing his/her mother. Their research about inmate mothers displays how filial therapy is effective on children’s behavioural problems. In addition, the therapy process can make their relationship stronger and decrease unhappiness feelings of living apart from mothers.


Homes and schools are the most important environment for children’s play. Although, there is a school counsellor to carry out non-directive therapy, teachers are spending more time with children. Kinder therapy which was suggested by White, Flynt and Draper is very similar with filial therapy (1997 cited in White et al., 1999). The difference can be using teachers instead of parents as therapeutic agents. In this situation, teachers learn the principles of CCPT in school counselling. In addition to using fundamental aspects of Filial Therapy, Adler’s Individual Psychology is involved in Kinder Therapy because Adler’s method is beneficial to employ in the classroom for playing (White et al., 1999). Adlerian therapy provides children support or encouragement for developing their value as a child and sense of responsibility (White et al., 1997). Evidently, Axline’s principles enable children to understand their own responsibility by non-directive therapy methods. White and his colleagues (1999) estimated that six children who carried out Kinder Therapy displayed crucial changes such as having better academic skills, better adjustment with other peers and decreased negative behaviours. In this study, a control group was not used, one of the teachers did not interact with a child and teacher training was only six hours, so there are shortcomings in the research method. Moving on to the other research which seems more reliable is Flowers et al. (2004) who had control group for both teachers and children claimed that there is a reduction in behavioural problems in 10 weeks therapy sessions with children at risk.


Another setting which is applied to non-directive play therapy is hospitals. Play has an important role for lessening children’s negative feelings such as fear and anxiety (Thomson, 1988). When the children are hospitalised for many illnesses or diseases, they need to reveal their enclosed feelings. Phillips focused on efficiencies of play in the hospital setting. These are a) mastery, autonomy and control; b) cooperation and communication; c) coping with anxiety and fear; and d) learning and information giving (1988). As an example of benefits, Meichenbaum (1979) claimed that playing decreases children’s worries who are candidates of hospitalisation (Thomson, 1988). Moreover, in Rae and his colleagues (1989) found that CCPT decreased children’s anxieties about being hospitalized.
Therapeutic play specialists agree to use Axline’s CCPT (Phillips, 1988). In Axline’s non-directive therapy, all principles help children’s emotions outburst whereas, hospitals are difficult to arrange children who are sick. In hospital, a play room is very significant to organizing space for children’s relaxation but this room should not be disturbed by other hospital workers in the middle of the game (Thomson, 1988). Moreover, it can be considered how hard to do this is because children want to play with their serum or other health equipment. For this reason, playing or acting out could be risky for some children while they should not move to much. In this situation, do children need to have permission before starting to play in the play room? Will nurses and families run after children? When looking at this side, it seems more than a simple play for hospital settings.


Beginning with demerits of non-directive play therapy, Axline’s method is a kind of proposal and is not based on a reality. Investigations which were conducted by scientists are not adequate and the reason for doing research is to make CCPT known. As a result of this, many inefficient single case studies with indefinite hypothesis and experiments without control groups exist (Lebo, 1953). Moreover most of the research did not complete exact therapy sessions. According to Lebo (1953), Axline did not give the direction to do experimental research in order to test the value of play so non-directive play therapy certainly needs clear experimental methods. Looking at more recent criticism such as Ryan’s idea (1999) about non-directive play therapy research, it is almost parallel to Lebo’s criticism in 1953. Research methodology is still lacking in CCPT. Along with this, she also pointed out Landreth et al.’s opinion (1991) about shortcomings of non-directive therapy. For example, they claimed that there is improper use of non-directive therapy for clients. In addition, CCPT is time-limited intervention and there are specific conditions that non-directive play therapy does not benefit fully. For instance, some vulnerable children who are abused may not start to play or act themselves so therapists should know these situations (Ryan, 1999).
Many advantages were recorded for the non-directive approach. Although there are shortcomings of experimental approach, future studies will enlighten new methodological approaches. CCPT is not focused on children’s diagnosis and their symptoms. Instead it suggests considering children as a whole, which is theoretically close to novel developmental psychopathological model (Ryan and Wilson, 1995 taken from Ryan, 1999). The therapist’s role is essential, therefore, the therapist should know the children’s age-appropriate behaviours by going to professional courses for children’s development.
As a result, a non-directive play therapist can be a professional therapist, a family member, teacher or any other adult to support children’s play. Axline’s principles should be known and understood by an adult to ensure the therapeutic process is sufficient. Even if the non-directive play therapy approaches discussed the disadvantages of playing in different settings, such as school, hospital, house and clinic, it is beneficial for children to have a chance to reach a play in various places.


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