Pub. Date:
Play Therapy with Adults / Edition 1

Play Therapy with Adults / Edition 1

by Charles E. Schaefer, Charles E. Schaefer


Current price is , Original price is $80.0. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780471139591
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 11/01/2002
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 6.28(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.24(d)

About the Author

CHARLES E. SCHAEFER, PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Psychological Services at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. An expert in the field of play therapy, he is the cofounder of the Association for Play Therapy.

Read an Excerpt

Play Therapy with Adults

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-13959-9

Chapter One


Dottie Ward-Wimmer

Susanna looked quite amazed. With an edge of anger and incredulity in her voice, she said, "You want me to play with this stuff? Well, I'm not going to."

The therapist explained that there were no expectations, and they could work in whatever way felt most comfortable to her. She sat stiffly on the couch and they began by just talking.

It wasn't long before curiosity won out. Over time, games were tried, art projects explored, and, eventually, the sand proved irresistible.

One day she took a great deal of time creating a scene using only three "neutral" objects. Then, sitting with her head resting on the edge of the tray, she gazed into it, tears falling silently.

When the session was over, she sighed, smiled, and quietly left. There was simply nothing to be said. Words would have been an intrusion.

The next morning, the therapist found a message on her voice mail. It was Susanna. "Thank you for letting me figure it out. I'll see you next week."

Play therapy is, indeed, a powerful tool for adults. Susanna had become stuck in her traditional talk therapy and was referred by her therapist who was "desperate" to help her unlock the deeply rooted and seemingly unspeakable feelings. Her therapist was right in referring rather than labeling Susanna resistant, for hope did find its way into her heart through the use of play.


Play, joy, and spontaneity are rooted in all of our hearts. Infants, driven by curiosity in their quest for survival, playfully explore with their entire bodies the universe around them that is then translated into an inner world. Manipulation of the relationship between this inner self and the external world is a primary tool for growth. For adults, play continues as an important vehicle because it fosters numerous adaptive behaviors including creativity, role rehearsal, and mind/body integration.


Carl Jung once said, "The small boy (himself) is still around, and possesses a creative life which I lack. But how can I make my way to it?" (Jung, 1965, p. 174). He subsequently learned that a key to unlocking his creative potential was to engage in the constructive play he had particularly enjoyed as a child.

Frey (1983) describes four categories of children's play: physical, manipulative, symbolic, and games. Adult activities in each of these categories hold enormous creative potential. In her book Your Child's Growing Mind, Dr. Jane Healy (1994) discusses techniques for creative people. These include play, humor, dramatizing, moving, imagining, listening, expressing, originating, and incubating. These qualities, too, are an intrinsic part of growth and are found in the literature on play therapy for adults.

Role Rehearsal

In their play, animals practice survival skills by engaging in play fighting and hunt and pounce games. We humans aren't so different. Children bandage imaginary hurts; spend hours pretending to cook, shop, travel, and go to school; and be everything from a firefighter to ballet dancer. They enact funerals, weddings, births, and literally all of life's milestones as they practice adaptive behaviors and grown-up roles.

Adults do the same thing, although in much subtler ways. How many of us have thought about or even had conversations aloud with ourselves in anticipation of a talk with someone else? How long do we stand in front of our mirrors trying on outfits, swaying to imagined music to be sure of how it (or I) will look? How often do we sit in awe at the circus and wish we could ride the elephants, too? And of course, there is the old favorite Halloween when, at last, we're allowed to play dress up!

Mind-Body Integration

Play is a wholistic experience in that it invites our total being into the process. Starting at the top: It uses both hemispheres of our brain. The left, analytical, side is essential in deciding what to do next, which strategies get us the win, and how it can be verbalized. The right, artistic, side allows us to enjoy the experience of turning the shapes of the clouds into magical creations. Moreover, the value and impact of beta-endorphins on our overall sense of well-being is well known.

Moving down into the body, we can look at other major systems. When we are laughing, singing, moving about happily, or simply engrossed in a pleasant diversion (i.e., play), we tend to take fuller breaths, thus getting a better oxygen exchange. When our digestive process relaxes, we reduce the chances of gastrointestinal disorder-not to mention the easing of cardiac tension. General muscle tension is eased, as well, when we play, which reduces fatigue and generalized body aches and stiffness.


Children are no longer given old pots and wooden spoons, but instead are offered electronic drums that blink brightly colored lights. The infant's natural joy-filled kicking is now a means to an end as his or her movements trigger lights and sounds. And so, it begins the notion that results matter. By the time the child is in preschool, he or she has begun to learn the basics of competition and the importance of external approval.

It is easy to see how our ability to play freely for play's sake has gotten lost amidst our societal need to excel. Sandlot games have been replaced with highly organized football, baseball, and soccer leagues. Too often, kids need to "try out" because it's really about winning, not just playing. Underdogs are seen occasionally in movies such as Bad News Bears, The Little Giants, and Rudy. Yet, even then, their ultimate win is the core of the happy ending.

The roots of today's national mania with competitive sports may lie in our Victorian ancestors who believed that most amusements were frivolous and seductive by nature. As early as the mid 1800s, vigorous physical activity was being suggested as a way of offsetting the pleasures of the modern world (Rader, 1996). Thus began organized sports.

For better and worse, the organization of sports has changed the way we look at play in American culture. Play had historically been a reflection of the child's and adult's needs to experiment. It reflected the ethnic flavor of the group's roots, yet universal truths rang true. The Counting Out game of Trinidad (Nelson & Glass, 1992) parallels the Wonder Ball sung and played in the United States. The Child is Down (Nelson & Glass, 1992), about sleeping and suddenly waking, played in Sweden, is much like Ring Around the Rosie, a song we all know that has its roots in the streets of London. Dice and a variety of hoops and balls have been found in archeological digs all over the globe.

Traditional dances celebrating life events and reflecting the feelings of a culture are seen around the world. These are primarily adult activities with children as the learners. Anyone who has ever attended a traditional Greek wedding has probably been drawn into the joy and abandon of one of the many circle dances. Native American culture is also rich with ceremonial dancing. All across America today, a host of new and old traditional dances ranging from the chicken dance to country-western line dancing can be found.

That people of all ages have always played is clearly a historical fact. What is new is how we, in this culture, perceive and use it. In New Guinea, children play games in which neither side wins. The game ends when the two sides achieve equality. Japanese play focuses on group importance and interdependence rather than independence and self-expression. Native American children did not view "cheating" negatively. It was simply a creative trickster part of the game. That attitude changed after exposure to Euro-American culture (Rettig, 1995).

As our competitive society places rigid performance demands on us, childhood creativity is too often lost. In the need to score well on standardized tests, our inner drive to color outside the lines must be kept in check. Color-coordinated uniforms have replaced tee shirts and old shorts. Games must have a proven educational value and enjoyment must be kept in proper perspective. A woman was recently dismissed from her bowling team because she was having too much fun. Although she maintained a good average, it was felt that she wasn't taking her game seriously! That may be more telling about the core of our attitude toward play than the recent Little League scandal in which a father lied about his son's age in order to allow him to be on a winning team.

Small wonder that by the time we reach adulthood, we've lost touch with our ability to be loose and creative without worrying about what the other person is doing. There is a great line in the movie, The Sure Thing (1985), in which the heroine, in response to an accusation that she is uptight and repressed, defends herself by saying, "I am as spontaneous as anyone. I simply believe that spontaneity has its time and place."


Play can increase our self-esteem. It invites access to states of well-being and calm as well as silliness and joy. When relaxed in play, we often have an increased capacity for empathy and intimacy. Play is affirming. Diana Fosha (2000) describes joy and emotional pain among the affective markers of healing. Play becomes a natural and gentle environment in which the inner landscape can safely be explored in any language. The results are easy to see.

Stress Release

We are, generally, a nation of adults who must relearn the art of playfulness. Actually, most folks are quite willing. They just need permission.

The staff gathered, notebooks in hand, for its regular staff meeting. The group knew the speaker on the agenda, and they expected an in-service; but what they got was two hours of pure fun.

The director of the agency had arranged (unbeknownst to her staff) for a play shop as a holiday gift. The table was cleared and teams were formed (everybody won). Markers, sparkles, and stickers were used to decorate goody bags for carrying the prizes (candy bars, erasers, and other such treasures) and snack foods (nothing too healthful) appeared. The games had no educational value whatsoever, but their healing potential was undeniable. It was amazing to watch these professional caregivers emerge into creative, spontaneous, silly, and often quite loud playmates.

Business leaders are discovering the power of play to refresh, nurture, and reduce stress. Organizational development professionals often work with staff in playful ways to invite the most genuine, rather than narrow, cognitive responses. In major corporations across America, gyms are being made available because the physical release of stress is now understood. In most stressful jobs from business executive to therapist, the interview includes at least one question on self-care. Perhaps top executives have always known this, which explains the importance of golf in business relationships.

Business awareness notwithstanding, playfulness remains a competitive art form. However, competition in the hands of a play therapist can be turned to an advantage. When caught up in a contest, our other defenses are often down; and inner truth can, and often does, emerge.

The game was simple. See who could make the longest list of answers (there were no right or wrong) to some ordinary questions.

"What things would you find at a party?"

"How many flavors of ice cream can you name?"

"How do you feel when someone you love dies?"

The "contestants" were so wrapped up in winning that filters were dropped and feelings that had never been expressed poured onto their papers. Even the guilt-provoking word relieved found its way into the open. Some didn't even realize what they had said and so discovered some feelings they had never admitted to themselves before. Others knew what was on their minds and the hurried competition had allowed it to slip out. All of them discovered they were not alone; others had felt the same things.


Competition, as powerful as it is, is not the only thing that invites play. Adults, like children, have a need to experience mastery. The ego is implicitly nurtured by the absence of failure. Play is the most natural tool because, in a therapeutic context, it is impossible to do wrong. As we saw with Susanna, having one's creativity witnessed and simply accepted invites the emergent self. "It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative the individual discovers the self" (Winnicott, 1971, p. 54).

They were just absently kneading the clay as they talked. She lined up four nondescript objects to prove that she was not at all creative.

Together they mused about the objects and the number four. A powerful memory emerged of an event that had happened when she was four years old. Through the clay, it found voice and the beginning of healing. The objects were kept in a special box and, from time to time, brought out to help piece together the puzzle of her past. The objects, though technically nondescript, clearly spoke the language of her heart.

Play Assessment

Therapy requires assessment, which is sometimes a fairly straightforward process. At other times, it can be elusive. This becomes even more complicated when the therapy and the client are to be eyed under the floodlights of a courtroom.

She was from a foreign land and was seeking asylum based on years of repeated abuse during her adolescence. Several court psychiatrists had said it was impossible to prove her allegations, and she would be deported. Fortunately for her, a savvy law student knew about play therapy and sought a consultation.

Over the course of three visits, several techniques were used. The woman she drew when invited to draw a person had a lovely smiling face but no hands or feet. Her sand tray was filled with themes of female helplessness, abandonment, and fear. And, although of average intelligence, it took her three times as long as an average seven-year-old to put together a puzzle that she had made as a metaphor for healing after trauma.

While the discrete allegations couldn't be proven, there was sufficient "play assessment" evidence of psychic trauma to convince the immigration attorney to drop the move for deportation and allow her to remain in the country. She is now in therapy in a sexual abuse clinic and is on her way to a peaceful life.


Excerpted from Play Therapy with Adults Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



1. Introduction: The Healing Potential of Adults at Play (DottieWard-Wimmer).


2. Drama Therapy with Adults (Robert J. Landy).

3. Psychodrama (Adam Blatner).

4. Improvisational Play in Couples Therapy (Daniel J. Wiener andDavid Cantor).

5. Developmental Transformations in Group Therapy with the Elderly(David Read Johnson, Ann Smith, and Miller James).


6. Integrating Humor into Psychotherapy (Steven M. Sultanoff).

7. Humor as a Moderator of Life Stress in Adults (Herbert M.Lefcourt).

8. Therapeutic Humor with the Depressed and Suicidal Elderly(Joseph Richman).


9. Using Sandplay in Therapy with Adults (Rie Rogers Mitchell andHarriet S. Friedman).

10. Somatic Consciousness in Adult Sandplay Therapy (KateAmatruda).

11. Play Therapy for Individuals with Dementia (Kathleen S.Mayers).

12. Using Therapeutic Dolls with Psychogeriatric Patients (MallyEhrenfeld).


13. Adult Group Play Therapy (Christine Caldwell).

14. Using Games with Adults in a Play Therapy Group Setting(Jennifer Kendall).

15. Hypno-Play Therapy (Marian Kaplun Shapiro).

16. Play Therapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults(Laura W. Hutchison).


Author Index.

Subject Index.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews