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 occurred.

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).

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