Play Therapy Toys
In play therapy, the assumption is that the child expresses and works out
conflicts and problems through play. There are many different toys to choose
from and the toy chosen along with the child's play with these may be interpreted
in terms of suspected sexual abuse. For example, in one case, the child
made long rolls out of play dough, which were interpreted as penises by
the therapist. When the child then cut the play dough into pieces, this
was interpreted as reflecting anger at the alleged perpetrator (the father).
The symbolic interpretation of play behaviors as images representing something
else is a psychoanalytic concept. In 1905 Freud used the case of Little
Hans to suggest the play of little children represents conscious and unconscious
wishes and fears. Psychoanalytic therapists take for granted that children's
behaviors can reveal troubling unconscious factors otherwise not available
to either the child or the observer (Slade & Wolf, 1994).
Play therapy for sexual abuse is sometimes called "disclosure-based"
and the sessions focus on reenactments in play, expressing feelings, and
talking repeatedly about the alleged abuse. Although there is no evidence
that play therapy is an effective therapeutic procedure (Campbell, 1992b;
Underwager & Wakefield, 1990; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988, 1994;
Weisz & Weiss, 1993), children are frequently given therapy for sexual
abuse before there has been any legal determination that sexual abuse has
There is no support, however, for the supposition that specific interactions
with toys in play therapy can be used as signs to establish the truth of
past events. The same objections raised earlier about the projective "sign"
interpretation of drawings are relevant here. Also, disclosure-based play
therapy can influence children to accept the beliefs of the therapist and
can be a contributing factor in cases of false allegations (Campbell, 1992a).