Non-directive Play Therapy is an effective and non-intrusive therapy that is conducted with children and teenagers. Interest in play therapy as a therapeutic intervention by play therapy professionals has grown steadily over the past decade. The need was to find interventions aimed at children and adolescents with emotional difficulties.

This approach is based on the construction of an individual one-to-one relationship, where the therapist creates a safe and confident environment that allows the child to feel free to express and explore their feelings and thoughts. These can be communicated directly or indirectly, through behavior and play.

The therapist’s task is to listen, understand and respond to these communications in an effort to help the child achieve greater awareness of their feelings. This allows him to discover more hidden and chaotic emotional states and to master and manage them.

non directive play therapy, NON-DIRECTIVE PLAY THERAPY, Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy

Non-directive approach

The non-directive therapeutic approach is based on the principles of non-directive psychotherapy, developed by Carl Rogers and adapted to child therapy by Virginia Axline. Its foundation lies in the belief that all human beings have a push to self-realization, a source of motivation in both children and adults. Therefore, having the possibility to express themselves freely, the children are able to spontaneously reach the solutions and solve their emotional difficulties through the experiences of play and the figure of the therapist. 

Rogers’ non-directive psychotherapy

Roger’s non-directive therapy, also known as client-centered therapy, is based on the idea that the push for change comes from the patient, not the therapist. The therapist is to provide favorable conditions for such change.

The three basic conditions

In order for the therapist to favor the patient’s own self-realization, three basic conditions are needed:

1. Authenticity (not adopting a role or a defensive position towards the patient but being oneself and spontaneous in the relationship).

2. The unconditional acceptance of the patient (having a caring attitude, of interest, affection and deep respect for the patient, valuing them for what they are and refraining from judgment).

3. Empathy (feeling and understanding the patient’s world, accepting it as one and suspending one’s own judgment; empathizing with the patient’s feelings so that they can better understand and accept them).

Through this process of reflection, the patient recognizes and becomes more aware of their emotional states and thus begins to master them. This process is not interpretative and focuses on the present, using the contents that the patient provides.

Axline’s non-directive play therapy

Virginia Axline applied Rogerian constructs to childhood, paving the way for non-directive or Child-Centered Play therapy and influencing this area in a substantial way. Axline encouraged the child to be themselves in the therapeutic context, recognizing their potential and their ability to promote change. In particular, the acceptance and construction of a safe environment by the therapist allows the child to free their potential and to explore and express their emotions, through play, as a natural means of self-expression.

Virginia Axline’s eight guidelines

Axline, on developing non-directive play therapy, incorporated Roger’s principles into eight guidelines that represent the prerequisites for therapeutic practice. These emphasize the importance of a non-intrusive and trustful relationship between the professional and the child, and the acceptance of the idea that the child should choose the direction in which the sessions should go. In addition, the importance of promoting reflection rather than interpretation, respecting the mental defenses of children and imposing therapeutic limits to the relationship is stressed.

  1. Develop a warm and reassuring relationship with the child.
  2. Accept the child exactly as they are.
  3. Establish a feeling of permissiveness in the relationship so that the child feels completely free to express their feelings.
  4. Recognize and reflect the feelings that the child is expressing so that they acquires greater awareness of their emotions and behavior.
  5. Have and demonstrate a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve problems, make choices and establish changes when they have a chance.
  6. Don’t attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any way.
  7. Don’t rush therapy, it is a gradual process.
  8. Establish only the limits necessary to anchor the therapy to reality and make the child aware of their responsibilities.


Child-Centered Play therapy (CCPT)

Starting from the work of Axline, Landreth, Guerney and Ray have further defined and developed the CCPT, initially referred to as Non-Directive Play Therapy.

According to the person-centered approach, the child’s self-construction develops through the reciprocity between the child’s innate self-actualizing tendency and personal perceptions of experiences and interactions with others, in particular the expectations perceived by the child and acceptance by others.

The promotion of an environment of safety, acceptance and empathic understanding has the aim of bringing out the natural tendency of the child to grow. The therapist trusts the inner direction of the child towards positive growth which is expressed within a facilitating relationship.The therapist recognizes that the best way to understand a child’s behaviors and emotions is to find out how a child views his world and accept his inner world.Through the therapeutic relationship, the child can explore new ways of being and potentially unlock innate potentials.

The role of the therapist

CCPT is an intertwined process, where each principle overlaps and it is interdependent with the others. While giving the child freedom, the right to choose and the respect of their decisions, the professional is not a passive observer within the therapy. On the contrary, it involves active participation and intense involvement during sessions in the playroom.

Although the choice of problems and the focus of play are determined by the child, the therapist makes sure to build a friendly and confident relationship, while establishing clear and consistent limits of behavior and time.

Despite imposed limits, the atmosphere in the playroom is relaxed and characterized by a sense of trust and security. This allows child to feel free to express and explore their emotional states.

Axline, V. (1947). Play Therapy. New York: Ballantine Books.
Axline V. (1964). Dibs in Search of Self.
Axline V. (1969).Play Therapy; the Groundbreaking Book That Has Become a Vital Tool in the Growth and Development of Children. 
Guerney, L. (2001). Child-centered play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy 10(2):13-31.
Landreth, G. (2012). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Nordling W. J. & Guerney L. F. (1999). Typical stages in the child-centered play therapy process. Journal for the Professional Counselor, 14 (1), 17-23.
Ray, D. (2011). Advanced play therapy: Essential conditions, knowledge, and skills for child practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Ray, D., & Landreth, G. (2015). Child centered play therapy. In D. Crenshaw & A. Stewart (Eds.), Play therapy: A comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 3-16). New York, NY: Guilford.
Rogers C. (1951). Client-centered therapy: It’s current practice, implications, and theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Wilson K. , Ryan V. (2006). Play therapy: A non-directive approach for children and adolescents.

Picture Designed by jcomp / Freepik
error: Contenuto protetto!