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The Healing Power of Play - Page 9

Case Commentary

By Lawrence Diller

While I was trained in play therapy, I must admit that the approach so consistently let me down over the early years of my career that I began to question its effectiveness for most problems. My skepticism increased when, over and over again, I met families that initially chose play therapy instead of psychopharmacology for their child's problem, only to spend six months to a year (and a lot of money) in weekly treatment to get nowhere. Nevertheless, I was generally impressed with the sensibleness of David Crenshaw's approach in this case.

Although he tells us that Bobby is 2 years old, when patients are that young, I like to know whether that means they're 24 or 35 months old. At that early stage of life, 11 months makes a huge difference in terms of language and development. Since Bobby lost significant language after his fall into the well, I'm going to assume he was at least 30 months old.

Crenshaw doesn't say whether he met with the parents first, but I must assume he did. I routinely get a history and do some early assessment of the marriage without children present. Right from the start, he involves the parents in the play, which from Jay Haley's point of view, might have been even more important than the play itself.

He shows his skill and experience by approaching this anxious child (and his parents) by taking the "feeding wild deer" approach and going very slowly. Quite quickly he engages the child and parents in directed play. This is another important aspect that distinguishes Crenshaw's case from other approaches to play therapy I've seen over the years. He has clear treatment goals: to desensitize the child and parents by the slow, metaphorical reenactment of the trauma—always conscious of allowing all of them to have a sense of control of the situation (no "forced" exposure here).

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