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A DEVELOPMENTAL UNIT FEATURING PLAY MEDIA
FOR DISRUPTIVE FOURTH AND FIFTH GRADE STUDENTS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Doctoral degrees do not just happen! I could not have completed this
dissertation and subsequent degree without the assistance and support of
many special people. First, I would like to thank my friends who stood by
me and never lost confidence in my abilities. Second, my colleagues, who
were too polite to say nol Third, the peer facilitators, administrators, and
teachers who so willingly took part in the study have my sincere
appreciation. My family also deserves special recognition for their long
distance support of my work. Further, I would like to thank my committee
members at the University of Florida who were giving of their time in helping
me complete the process. In particular, I would like to thank my committee
chair, Bob Myrick, who has been a wonderful mentor and role model. His
patience, support, and expertise helped make this a true learning experience.
Finally, I would like to formally acknowledge some things I have
learned while pursuing this degree that are very important to me: you can't
live your life from under a rock, you really do get just one chance at life, and
windows are made to be opened. To those special people who have helped
me learn these things, you have my appreciation and love.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT------------------------------ ----- -------------------------- vi
1 INTRODUCTION------------------------------------------------------- 1
Purpose of the Study--------------------------------- -- 3
Research Questions---------------------------- ------------------ 4
Statement of the Problem----------------------------- ------------ 5
Need for the Study--------------------------------- --------------- 8
Theoretical Bases for the Study-------------------------------------- 11
Developmental Guidance and Counseling------------------------- 11
Play Counseling------------------------------------------------- 14
Peer Facilitators----------------------------- ------------- 17
Definition of Terms-------------------------------- ----------------- 19
Organization of the Study----------------------------- ----------- 21
2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE------------- ----------------- 23
Disruptive Children------------------ -------------- ---- ------24
Developmental Guidance and Counseling------------------------------ 39
The Developmental Model of Guidance and Counseling ------- 39
Developmental Play Counseling--------------------------------- 44
Play------------------------------ --- ------------------------- 47
Play Defined--------------------- --------------- 47
Rationale for Children's Play------------------------------------ 48
Theories of Play Counseling---------------- ----------------- 52
Psychoanalytic play therapy---------------------------------- 53
Active play therapy------- --- ----------- ------ 55
Release play therapy------------------ -------------------- 55
Structured play therapy--------------- ----------------- 56
Relationship play therapy--------------------------------- 56
Non-directive play therapy------- ----------- ------ 57
Therapeutic Uses of Play---------- ------------------- 64
Play Therapy --------------------- -------------- 70
Play therapy as an intervention----------------------- -- 71
Play therapy and play counseling------- ----------------- 74
Play Counseling in the Elementary School------------------- 76
Play media----------------------------------- 79
Structured counseling ------------------------------ 82
Peer Facilitators-------------------------------------------------- 83
3 METHODS AND PROCEDURES-------------------------------------- 91
Population and Sample----------------------------------- ---------- 92
Research Design------ ----------------------------------------- 95
Analyses of Data------------------------------------------- 97
Independent Variable---------------------------- --------------- 98
The Developmental Unit----------------------------------------- 98
Unit Leadership and Leader Training------------------------------ 104
Dependent Variables------------------------------------- -------106
Acting-Out Behavior---------------------------- ---------- 107
Peer Relationships------------------------ ---------- -------107
Student Classroom Behavior---------------------------------- 109
Walker Problem Behavior Identification Checklist (WPBIC)----- 110
Reliability of the Walker Problem Behavior Identification
Validity of the Walker Problem Behavior Identification
Student Self-Concept Scale (SSCS)-------------------------------- 115
Reliability of the Student Self-Concept Scale--------------- 118
Validity of the Student Self-Concept Scale-------------- 119
Disruptive Behavior Rating Scale---------------------------------- 124
Summary----------------------------------------- ------------------ 125
4 RESEARCH FINDINGS------------------------- ------------------- 126
Acting-Out Behavior-------------------------------- ------------ 127
Disturbed Peer Relationships------------------------------- -----130
Classroom Behavior--------------------------- ------------- 136
5 SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, LIMITATIONS, IMPLICATIONS AND
Implications and Recommendations----------------- ----------- 147
A GROUP LEADER'S MANUAL: THE DEVELOPMENTAL UNIT--------- 149
B CORRELATION TABLE------------------------------------------------- 172
REFERENCES------------------------------ -------- ------------------- 173
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH------------------------ ----------- ----- ------196
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
Of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A DEVELOPMENTAL UNIT FEATURING PLAY MEDIA
FOR DISRUPTIVE FOURTH AND FIFTH GRADE STUDENTS
Chairman: Robert Myrick, Ph.D.
Major Department: Counselor Education
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a
developmental guidance unit featuring play media on disruptive elementary
school students. More specifically, the study focused on the use of play
counseling strategies with fourth and fifth grade groups of children who
were identified as having disruptive classroom behaviors. The impact of the
unit on the children participating was examined in terms of students' acting-
out behavior, peer-relationships, self-concepts, and classroom behaviors.
The investigation involved three experimental groups: 1) a counselor-led play
group; 2) a peer facilitator-led play group; and 3) a control group which
received no planned interventions.
The study was conducted using a pretest-posttest control-group
design. Sixty-three students completed the Student Self-Concept Scale and
the Disruptive Behavior Rating Scale. The teachers of these students
completed the DBRS and the Walker Problem Behavior Identification
Checklist. Analyses of covariance were conducted for the dependent
variables of acting-out behavior, peer relationships, self-concept, and
classroom behavior using SPSS for Windows, 7.0. Further, gender
differences and group leadership were examined in terms of these variables.
The results of this study showed no statistically significant differences
among experimental and control groups for acting-out behavior, self-concept,
or classroom behavior in regard to group leadership or grade level. Peer
relationships was found to have a statistically significant difference between
grade levels. On post-test, students in Grade 5 scored significantly lower,
indicating better peer relationships, than students in Grade 4.
The behavior of disruptive students is a serious problem in public
schools. Disruptive pupils make the teaching process more difficult for
teachers and negatively affect the learning environment for all students.
Lessons are interrupted while the teacher deals with inappropriate behavior.
A feeling of tension may occur in the classroom making learning difficult.
Students who are disruptive in school exhibit poor self-control and
frequently act-out. It is not unusual for disruptive children to engage in
destructive acts toward others or things in their environment. Aggressive
actions, both verbal and physical, are often part of disruptive children's
behavior. Further, they are frequently noncompliant and defy teacher
Children who are disruptive are often ineffective learners who tend to
have poor relationships with both peers and teachers. Not surprisingly,
disruptive children may comment that no one likes them or they may be
hypercritical of themselves and others. Further, they may be left out of
group activities and may be rejected by their peers.
Teachers are concerned about these children and often refer them to
administrators, counselors, or for special placement. What is the best way
to help these children? What counseling approaches might be used?
Steve is a fourth grade student who hits other children with no
apparent provocation. He is frequently out of his seat in the classroom and
does not comply with his teacher's directions. Reading, arithmetic, and
other academic subjects are difficult for him. He blurts out answers and
often teases other children in the classroom and on the playground. No one
has been able to find an effective way to help Steve control himself.
Jennifer, a fifth grade student, pouts when things don't go her way
and loses her temper easily. She frequently argues with her teacher and
other children. She rarely completes a reading or arithmetic assignment and
often destroys the work she does. Jennifer blames other children for her
mistakes and lashes out at them in an angry way. Her classmates leave her
out of free-time activities. The teacher is concerned about Jennifer's
behavior and the impact it is having on other students.
Steve and Jennifer might be sent to the school principal, who would
probably talk briefly with them. Some principals lecture, reprimand, or even
threaten such children as they talk about how behavior must change. A
parent-teacher conference might be arranged. Or the children could be
referred to a school counselor who might also talk with them about their
classroom behaviors, their consequences and possible alternatives.
Counseling may focus on topics such as teacher and peer relationships, self-
concept and self-control (Mordock, 1991; Ohlsen, 1983).
Many methods have been used to help disruptive children adapt to
their school settings. Behavioral and cognitive interventions have provided
beneficial results when used on an individual and group basis. Parent
training has also been effective. In the school setting, counselors are
looking for short-term interventions that are effective in helping the child
learn more effectively with a minimal loss of classroom instructional time.
Therefore, there is a need for innovative short-term ways to work with
One promising strategy is the use of play media, which helps a
counselor enter the child's world and develop an effective working
relationship. Given that Axline (1947, 1967) and more recently, Landreth
(1991) have referred to play as the natural language of children, it is
surprising that this treatment modality has not received more attention with
young children. It could be a welcome addition to the "tool box" of the
elementary school counselor.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a
developmental guidance unit featuring play media upon disruptive
elementary school students. More specifically, this study focused on the
use of play counseling strategies with fourth and fifth grade groups of
children who were identified as exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviors.
The impact of the unit on the children participating was examined in terms
of students' acting-out behavior, peer relationships, self-concepts, and
classroom behaviors. Further, the impact of the unit in relation to peer and
adult led activities was examined.
The following research questions were examined:
1. Does participation in a developmental guidance unit featuring play media
have a significant effect upon the acting-out behaviors of disruptive
elementary school students?
2. Does participation in the unit have an effect upon the peer relationships
of the disruptive students?
3. Does participation in the unit have an effect upon the self-concepts of
the disruptive students?
4. Does participation in the unit have an effect upon the classroom
behaviors of the disruptive students?
5. Does participation in the unit affect girls and boys differently?
6. Is there a difference between the effects of the unit when the unit is led
by an adult or peer?
Statement of the Problem
The impact of disruptive children in the elementary classroom has
been well documented in the professional literature. Out of seat behavior,
aggressive behavior toward peers and adults, destruction of property,
speaking out of turn, and refusal to follow the directions of the teacher are
among the disruptive behaviors which may be observed in elementary
school classrooms. Aggressive behavior, in particular, has been positively
correlated with inadequate school adjustment and low academic
performance (Coopersmith, 1959; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995;
Wittmer & Myrick, 1980). Disruptive behavior interferes with teaching and
learning (Gaustad, 1992; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Nelson,
Dykeman, Powell, & Petty, 1996). When a teacher must deal with frequent
disruptions, it is difficult for learning to take place. Further, the stress
placed on the teacher in these situations may have a negative influence on
the rapport with children and thereby affect the learning process (Brembeck,
1962; Ginott, 1972; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996).
Non-disruptive students are also influenced by the inappropriate
behavior of the disruptive child (Baker, 1985; Brake & Gerler, Jr., 1994;
DuPaul & Stoner, 1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996). Bleck and
Bleck (1982) reported that "students who watch outbursts of aggression
and teacher-student conflicts may find themselves distracted, frightened,
intimidated, or unwillingly involved. Thus their learning is impaired" (p.138).
Students exhibiting disruptive behavior in the schools not only pose
problems for the teacher and other children in the school setting, but if not
dealt with in an effective manner, the disruptive child is at risk of rejection
by peers (Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel, & Williams, 1990; Bleck & Bleck, 1982;
Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990; Coie & Koeppel, 1990; DuPaul & Stoner,
1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Jewett, 1992) and escalating
behavioral symptoms (Dodge, 1989; DuPaul & Stoner, 1994; Griffin, 1987;
Jones, Sheridan, & Binns, 1983; Major, 1990; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey,
1995). Of further concern is the impact that the disruptive behavior has on
the emotional development of the child. Some forms of disruptive behavior
indicate early disturbances in social competence and interpersonal skills
which may indicate serious emotional and behavioral problems (Zahn-
Waxler, Cole, Richardson, Friedman, Michel, & Belouad, 1994).
At a time when self-concepts are being formed, the school experience
is a significant factor. A positive school experience is an important factor in
the development of a positive self-concept. Holly (1992) noted that children
with a high sense of self-esteem tend to do better in school. Disruptive
children encounter more negative forms of discipline than praise and
encouragement making a positive experience unlikely. Steps are needed to
reduce the negative behaviors and allow children to learn in an encouraging
Students with behavioral problems are considered by many in the field
of education to be at a high risk for not completing high school (Hovland,
Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Perez-Selles & Hergert, 1989; Webb, 1992;
Weinberg & Weinberg, 1992). Further, children who demonstrate social
difficulties experience both short and long term consequences which appear
to be precursors of more serious problems in adolescence and adulthood
(Jones, Sheridan, & Binns, 1983).
In a poll conducted by Elam, Rose, & Gallup (1994), educators
identified lack of student discipline as being a primary concern in the
schools. Comer, Haynes, Hamilton-Lee, and Boger (1988) reported that
when teachers are asked about the major problems they encounter in the
schools, lack of discipline is included. Further, Safran and Safran (1985)
referred to disruptive student behavior as among the most pressing
problems in elementary schools today. Thompson, White, and Morgan
(1982) point to the disproportionate amount of time taken from classroom
instruction to deal with disruptive behavior.
Among teachers, aggressive student behavior consistently is ranked
as one of the most objectionable forms of disruptive student behavior (Hersh
& Walker, 1983; Nelson, Dykeman, Powell, & Petty, 1996; Walker, 1986).
Hoover and Hazier (1991) found that teachers in elementary and middle
school grades regularly identify approximately twelve percent of students as
disruptive to others in a physical or psychological way. Teachers frequently
turn to the school counselor for help in dealing with disruptive children.
Play counseling has been found to be a successful intervention with
disruptive children in the elementary school (Bleck & Bleck, 1982). Time for
counseling is limited in the schools. Developmental guidance units using
play media within a limited time frame have not received much attention.
Effective interventions that can be quickly implemented in the elementary
school setting need to be identified and empirically tested.
Need for the Study
Disruptive behavior is a visible and pressing problem in American
schools, posing a significant risk to school safety and order (Short &
Shapiro, 1993b). Children exhibiting disruptive behaviors can inflict both
physical harm and verbal abuse on those around them, and have a negative
effect on the education of their classmates. These children divert teachers
from their teaching tasks and cause them to spend considerable time in
behavioral management (Cotton, 1990; Gemmer, Harris, & Wyckoff, 1989).
Disruptive behaviors include such actions as aggression toward others
(i.e., hitting, shoving, and kicking), loss of temper, arguing and defiance of
authority, talking out in class, and using inappropriate language. If these
behaviors are not controlled, a significant loss of teaching time may occur.
Thompson, White, and Morgan (1982) referred to the disproportionate
amount of time taken by the teacher to deal with the disruptive behavior of
students in the classroom. This impacts not only the disruptive children, but
classmates as well. Cotton (1990) noted that approximately half of all
available classroom time is taken up with activities other than instruction
and that discipline problems take up most of this time.
Several interventions have been effective in modifying the disruptive
behavior of elementary children. For example, Amatea (1989) used a family
systems approach and suggested that working with the child through a
series of family-school consultations could be helpful. Shields and Green
(1996) advocated the conceptualization of the classroom as a system
without the involvement of families. Training students in social skills has
been used many times (Dodge, 1989). Techniques such as coaching,
modeling, behavioral rehearsal, feedback, and reinforcement have yielded
positive results (Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). The utilization of play as
a counseling technique focusing on disruptive behavior has been described
as a possibility (Bleck & Bleck, 1982), but not extensively researched.
Several reports have appeared in the counseling literature which
utilize a developmental counseling approach to working with elementary
school children. For example, Bleck & Bleck (1982) found positive effects in
altering the attitudes and increasing the self-esteem of disruptive third grade
children. Campbell (1990) described a successful group for low-performing
students stressing motivation. A developmental unit was utilized by Myrick,
Merhill, and Swanson (1986) to improve attitudes and behaviors of fourth
grade children. Developmental guidance and counseling units appear to be
effective in working with disruptive students, but more research is needed.
In addition, the integration of play counseling techniques might provide a
missing ingredient that helps students learn more effective social and
learning skills at school.
The necessity for effective interventions which can be implemented to
reduce the disruptive behavior of elementary school children has been well
documented (Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Walker, Colvin, &
Ramsey, 1995). However, there is a lack of empirically based research
dealing with time-limited developmental play interventions. Disruptive
students need time-efficient help to gain control of their behaviors in order
to improve learning efficiency. Further, the teachers of these students need
help in order to maintain positive classroom atmosphere which encourages
learning for all students.
Play therapy and play counseling techniques have been recognized as
effective interventions in the treatment of many childhood problems.
Landreth (1991) identified fourteen problem behaviors in which a play
intervention is effective in eliminating or at least diminishing significant
problems in children. However, there has been little empirically based
research regarding the use of a developmental guidance unit using play
media for the correction of disruptive behavior exhibited by elementary
Theoretical Bases for the Study
Developmental Guidance and Counseling
Developmental guidance and counseling during the school years
attempts to identify the basic skills, interpersonal understandings, and
experiences children need to be successful in school and in later life.
Students are given the opportunity to learn about themselves and others
before problems arise in their lives. If a crisis should occur, then the
children will have a basis of knowledge and experience from which to draw
to resolve the problem for themselves. In this way, a developmental
approach enables students to learn effectively and efficiently within a
learning climate that fosters academic and personal growth (ASCA, 1990).
Developmental counseling focuses on the goals of self-understanding
and self-awareness leading to self-acceptance (Dinkmeyer, 1966).
Therefore, the self-concept is an important part of developmental guidance
and counseling. It appears that significant attitudes about self, others,
school, and society, which affect how a person learns and later functions as
a mature adult, are formed while young people are growing. According to
Myrick (1993), as the self-concept develops, the attitudes and personal
styles of the individual form, which in turn, become an important part of the
learning process. It is clear that the movement through developmental tasks
and stages depends greatly on the self-concept, and the self-concept, in
turn, has a great deal of influence on interpersonal relationships as well as
learning. To illustrate this, Nave (1990) found that self-concept is more
closely associated with student success than the IQ. Clearly, the self-
concept plays an important role in the development of the child.
There are a number of defining principles of developmental guidance.
First and foremost is the concept that human development is a life-long
process which involves physiological, psychological, and social elements
which begins at birth and continues until death. Second, this process of
development involves an interaction between what a person inherits
genetically at birth and the different environments in which that person lives
and grows (Myrick, 1993). Inherited potential can be nourished or stifled
depending on such factors as the type, amount, quality, and timing of
experiences (Paisley & Peace, 1995). Behavior, then, is a result of multiple
causes. Actions are seen as the result of the individual's unique interaction
between heredity, environment, and time.
Developmental counseling recognizes that behavior, as well as the
child, is dynamic and continually in the process of becoming (Dinkmeyer &
Muro, 1977). The developmental counselor works from an awareness that
as the child moves through developmental stages, behavior that may be
problematic may also be predictable in terms of a particular stage of
development. The role of the counselor is to help the child become more
aware of the behavior chosen to meet the needs of the situation. A basic
premise of developmental counseling is that self-awareness is essential
before self-management can occur (Dinkmeyer & Muro, 1977). Once the
child is aware of the alternatives involved in a situation, self-acceptance is
increased leading to a stronger self-concept. According to Dinkmeyer and
Muro (1977), "the goal of developmental counseling is the facilitation of
human effectiveness" (p.61). This includes knowing oneself, as well as
one's strengths and weaknesses, having a sense of personal worth and self-
confidence, having the ability to meet the tasks of life realistically and
successfully, being responsible for choices and actions, and understanding
one's own feelings and actions.
According to Wittmer (1993), a developmental program, by design,
focuses on the needs, interests, and issues related to the various stages of
students' developmental growth. Typical developmental concerns in the
school setting would include peer relationships, getting along better with
parents and siblings, making new friends, and dealing with feelings
(Dinkmeyer & Muro, 1977). Myrick (1993) identified eight goals which
characterize almost all developmental guidance and counseling programs
including understanding the school environment, understanding self and
others, understanding attitudes and behavior, decision making and problem
solving, interpersonal and communication skills, and school success skills.
Developmental counseling in the schools is aimed at making a
difference for the children and the school in general. Promoting the ability
of children to build such skills as effective problem solving, moral decision
making, and satisfying interpersonal relationships with peers and adults is of
greatest importance. The developmental model allows for learning to take
place at the most appropriate time in children's lives. Further, the
opportunity to continue learning is considered fundamental to this approach.
The use of play in a counseling relationship can be traced back to
Hermine Hug-Hellmuth in 1921 when she reported that play was essential in
child analysis and therapy with children seven years of age or younger
(Gumaer, 1984). In the 1920s, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein utilized
aspects of play in their therapeutic work. Later, in the 1930s, the use of
play approaches was separated into active play therapy, where play of the
children was structured by the therapist via selected toys and scenarios,
and passive play therapy, where the play was unrestricted. In passive
therapy, the acceptance of emotional expression was emphasized. Children
were free to play at their own pace and deal with issues they selected.
Otto Rank modified play therapy in an important way. He believed
that the emotional attachment that developed between the child and the
therapist provided the curative power rather than the interpretation of play.
Following the work of Otto Rank, Carl Rogers' non-directive interventions
emerged. In this approach, the therapist makes no attempt to control or
direct the therapy; rather, the focus was on creating a therapeutic
relationship which enabled clients to solve their own problems. The
emphasis was on the client's capacity to move toward self-growth.
Virginia Axline was a student of Carl Rogers at the University of
Chicago. She incorporated Rogers' therapeutic philosophy into the area of
play therapy. Axline (1947) included some limitations and direction to her
work with children, but only for purposes of physical and emotional safety.
Children were prevented from harming themselves, the therapist, or
destroying property. These limitations established boundaries which
provided a feeling of security and stability necessary for a therapeutic
relationship (Gumaer, 1984). Axline's approach, which stressed play as the
natural vehicle of expression for the child, is arguably the purest form of
play therapy counselors have at their disposal. Her non-directive approach
and commitment to following the lead of the child has been accepted as an
effective, if time consuming intervention.
Play has been an effective means of establishing a therapeutic
relationship; it reduces anxiety, encourages expression of feelings, serves as
a diagnostic tool, and provides opportunities for socialization (Landreth,
1991). Play allows children to practice new roles, express emotion, try to
make sense of experiences, and deal with reality and fantasy (Knell, 1993).
It is clearly an activity in which children willingly engage and feel
comfortable. It is a natural means of communication which, if utilized in
therapeutic situations, can help children develop the necessary self-
confidence to learn and try out new behaviors (Gumaer, 1984).
One of the most natural and direct ways for a child to express
feelings is through play (Gladding, 1993). Ginott (1961) referred to play as
the talk of the child and toys as the words. Through the use of play media,
the counselor enters the child's world of feelings and ideas and fosters a
helping relationship with a young child (Myrick & Haldin, 1971). The use of
play media such as puppets and dolls, clay, games, and music serves to
facilitate both the child's imagination as well as emotional expression. The
play serves as a point from which the counselor can make the leap from
make-believe to real life.
Various play media have been used with children in the school setting
both individually and in groups. Art has been one of the most commonly
used approaches in the school setting (Bertoia & Allan, 1988; Denny, 1969;
Nystul, 1980; Rubin, 1988; Thompson & Allan, 1987). Puppets and dolls
have also played a major role in working with young children in schools
(Carter, 1987; Current, 1985; Muro, 1983; Palumbo, 1989; Pope, Edel, &
Lane, 1974; Woltmann, 1967). Woltman stressed that children relate to,
identify with, and ultimately work through feelings using puppets (Knell,
1993). Other play media which have been effective include drama, games,
guided imagery, music and movement, and storytelling. Landreth, Homeyer,
and Bratton (1993) offer a bibliography of more than seventy articles
describing the use of play media in the elementary school alone dating back
A trend in treatment of children has been the use of short-term
interventions. Once considered superficial and useful as a temporary
intervention until long-term treatment could begin, brief therapy is now
viewed more positively, often as the treatment of choice (Knell, 1993).
There is growing evidence that brief therapy can be as productive as long-
term treatment (Welter, 1982). Brief therapy typically involves fewer
sessions than its prolonged cousin, with an increased emphasis on the
presenting problems. Short-term interventions focus on specific problem
resolutions rather than more global interventions (Knell, 1993).
In the schools, brief counseling approaches can be a time-effective
vehicle for helping children in individual and group settings. Harrison (1993)
stated that brief approaches can be implemented with developmental,
preventative, and crisis situations thus making them ideal for the school
setting. Brief counseling tends to be action-oriented and geared towards
problem solving. They are logical, structured and usually progress in a step-
Myrick and Bowman (1981b) defined a peer facilitator as a student
who uses helping skills and concepts to assist other students and
sometimes adults to think about ideas and feelings, to explore alternatives
to situations, and to make responsible decisions. This concept is not a new
one, but can be traced back to the one-room schoolhouses of the 1930s
where the older, more skilled students helped the younger, less
accomplished students (Campbell, 1993).
In the 1960s, the idea of peer helper programs became very popular,
partly as a result of the increasing problem of drug abuse. Counselors, as
well as others in education searched for ways to reach students before they
developed problems with drug addiction. Surveys indicated that students
with problems turned to their peers, then counselors and coaches
(Campbell, 1993; Myrick & Folk, 1991). This finding served as a push for
peer helper programs which flourished at this time, especially at the high
school level. As the variety of peer helping groups expanded, high school
peer facilitators were trained to lead preventive guidance groups with
Four basic peer facilitator roles have been identified (Myrick &
Bowman, 1981b). The use of peers as student assistants commonly finds
students helping counselors, teachers, or administrators with various
structured tasks including answering telephones, taking and delivering
messages, and operating media equipment. A second role of peer
facilitators is that of a tutor. Cross-age tutoring, utilized by educators for
many years, becomes more than academic review when the trained, peer
facilitator-tutor can address motivation, interest, learning barriers, and self-
esteem. A special friend can provide encouragement, support, and perhaps
serve as a mentor to new students or students who have no friends.
Finally, a fourth role of peer facilitators is that of small group leaders. Their
role is to provide more personalized experiences for students and to increase
the productivity of the group (Myrick & Folk, 1991).
Since the 1970s, hundreds of articles have appeared in the literature
describing successful programs and substantiating the effectiveness of peer
programs aimed at reducing the school drop-out rate as well as increasing
appropriate school behaviors and positive attitudes toward school
(Campbell, 1993). For example, Mathur and Rutherford (1991b) conducted
a review of the literature dealing with peer interventions in promoting social
skills of children and adolescents with behavioral disorders. Their results
indicated that peer-mediated interventions were successful in reducing
behavioral problems. A study conducted by Fouts (1985) demonstrated the
effectiveness of eighth grade facilitators with sixth graders' self-concept and
attitude toward school. Similarly, fifth grade peer facilitators successfully
worked with disruptive students in the second and third grade to increase
desired classroom behavior (Bowman & Myrick, 1987). Peer facilitators
have become accepted as an important part of a developmental counseling
program. Clearly, a peer facilitator program can be a powerful counselor
intervention (Myrick, 1993).
Definition of Terms
Acting-Out Behavior: Acting-out behavior is behavior which is described as
inappropriate such as arguing with those in authority, defiance of
instructions, and temper tantrums. Acting-out behavior includes physical
aggression toward objects or others.
Developmental Guidance: Developmental guidance is an approach to
guidance and counseling that identifies the basic skills, understandings, and
experiences that children need to be successful and implements individual,
small group, and classroom activities to facilitate personal, social, and
Developmental Guidance Unit: A developmental guidance unit consists of a
series of counseling interventions that are organized into a sequential set of
sessions having specific objectives, materials, recommended activities, and
discussion leads. The focus is typically on general concerns or an indirect
approach to a problem situation.
Disruptive Behavior: Disruptive behavior is any inappropriate behavior which
disrupts the learning environment in the classroom (e.g. calling out, teasing
other children, verbal abuse toward others, throwing objects, disturbing
others during their work or seat time) and interrupts normal classroom
Disturbed Peer Relationships: For the purposes of this study, those
behaviors which indicate a child's inability to get along well with others
such as lack of friendships, avoidance of activity with classmates, and
expression of loneliness or unhappiness, constitute disturbed peer
relationships. Children with disturbed peer relationships may be seen as
having a low self-concept.
Peer Facilitator: A peer facilitator is a student who uses helping skills and
concepts to assist other students and sometimes adults to think about ideas
and feelings, to explore alternatives to situations, and to make responsible
decisions (Myrick & Bowman, 1981b).
Play Media: Play media consists of materials utilized in the play process
such as clay, puppets and dolls, music, drama, and games to facilitate
imagination, elicit emotional expression, and learn interpersonal and
Self-Concept: The self-concept is defined as the totality of a complex,
organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes, and opinions
that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence
Organization of the Study
The related literature in the areas of disruptive children and the
treatment of their behavioral symptoms, developmental guidance, play
counseling, and the use of peer facilitators will be addressed in Chapter II.
The population and sample for the study, independent and dependent
variables, the various instrumentation utilized, research design, hypotheses,
participant training, the structured, developmental play unit, data analysis, a
review of methodological limitations and an implementation schedule are
outlined in Chapter III. The results of the study will be
reported in Chapter IV. Chapter V will contain a summary of the results of
the study and an analysis of these results including limitations and
suggestions for future investigation.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
This study focused on the use of play counseling strategies with
elementary school children who were identified as having disruptive
classroom behaviors. It involved experimental groups and examined the
effects of a developmental guidance unit featuring play media that was
counselor-led and peer facilitator-led. Structured play formed a significant
part of the activities in the unit.
A review of the professional literature is presented in this chapter. A
description of disruptive children, the impact and consequences of
disruptive behavior upon learning and development, possible causes of the
behavior, and previous attempts to deal with these children will receive
attention. The history and theories of play counseling, the therapeutic uses
of play in counseling, and a review of the previous use of play with
elementary children, and in particular, disruptive children will be examined.
Further, the use of a developmental model of guidance including peer
facilitator programs will be explored.
Disruptive student behavior is one of the most serious, ongoing
problems in public schools (Nelson, Dykeman, Powell, & Petty, 1996; Safran
& Safran, 1985; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Disruptive behaviors
include verbal or physical aggression toward others or objects, teasing of
other children, and disturbing others with vocal outbursts at inappropriate
times. When teachers are asked about the major problems they encounter
in school, discipline problems and disruptive behavior are included among
their concerns (Brake & Gerler, Jr., 1994; Comer, 1988; Elam, Rose, &
Gallup, 1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996) and is becoming an
increasing priority (Benshoff, Poidevant, & Cashwell, 1994). A significant
proportion of discipline problems arise from disruptive pupils in the
classroom creating difficult teaching conditions for teachers and frustration
and tension for students (Gaustad, 1992; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux,
1996). An estimated twelve percent of elementary and middle school
children have been identified as disrupting others in a physical or
psychological way in the school setting (Hoover & Hazier, 1991).
Classroom behavior is an important factor in determining whether or
not children will experience academic success (Gerler, 1994). Further, the
behavior of disruptive children in the classroom may play a negative role in
the learning of others (Baker, 1985; Brake & Gerler, Jr., 1994; DuPaul &
Stoner, 1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Nelson, Dykeman,
Powell, & Petty, 1996). Students who witness the inappropriate behavior of
disruptive pupils and the ensuing teacher-student conflict may feel
distracted, frightened, or intimidated (Bleck & Bleck, 1982).
Inattentive and disruptive students present significant challenges to
school personnel (DuPaul & Stoner, 1994). When a teacher must deal with
frequent disruptions, it is difficult for learning to take place. The stress
placed on the teacher in these situations may have a negative influence on
the rapport with other children and affect the learning process (Brembeck,
1962; Ginott, 1972; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Nelson, Dykeman,
Powell, & Petty, 1996).
Disruptive children frequently have poor peer relationships (Bleck &
Bleck, 1982; Cole & Koeppel, 1990; DuPaul & Stoner, 1994; Hovland,
Smaby, & Maddux, 1996). They may be left out of group activities and
may experience rejection by their peers (Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel, &
Williams, 1990; Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990; Jewett, 1992). Children
rejected by their peers are likely to report high levels of loneliness and
personal unhappiness (Dodge, 1989). Coie and Dodge (1983) suggested
that at least half of rejected children are unable to resolve difficulites on
their own and remain socially rejected for several years. DuPaul and Stoner
(1994) reported that peer rejection status is typically stable over time.
Further, Dodge (1989) stated that "there is abundant evidence to indicate
that positive peer relationships are necessary requisites for...educational
success" (p. 222).
Students who are disruptive in the classroom have poor self-control
and frequently act out. Aggressive behavior, in particular, consistently
ranks as one of the most objectionable forms of student behaviors among
teachers (Hersh & Walker, 1983; Nelson, Dykeman, Powell, & Petty, 1996;
Walker, 1986). Disruptive children engage in destructive acts and often
display verbally and physically aggressive actions (Coie & Koeppel, 1990).
They exhibit high rates of noncompliance and defiance in response to
teacher requests (DuPaul & Stoner, 1994; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey,
Children who are disruptive tend to be poor learners (Bleck & Bleck,
1982; Dodge, 1989; DuPaul & Stoner, 1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux,
1996; Major, 1990; Myrick & Dixon, 1985; Reyes, 1991). Patterson,
Debaryshe, and Ramsey (1989) cited studies which found that children who
exhibit disruptive behavior in the classroom consistently show poor
academic achievement. Specifically, aggressive behavior has been
positively correlated with inadequate school adjustment and low academic
performance (Coopersmith, 1959; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995;
Wittmer & Myrick, 1980). Students with behavioral problems, moreover,
are at risk for not completing high school (Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux,
1996; Perez-Selles & Hergert, 1989).
Many children who exhibit difficulty with behavioral control in the
classroom are also at high risk for developing antisocial behavior (DuPaul &
Stoner, 1994; Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996). Griffin (1987) reported
that children who exhibited a greater number of antisocial behaviors, along
with developmental and academic problems before the age of nine,
displayed more aggressive tendencies as adults than children who did not
exhibit such early problem behavior. Research has indicated that if not dealt
with in an effective manner, disruptive children are at risk of escalating
behavioral symptoms and long term consequences which appear to be
precursors of more serious problems later on in adolescence and adulthood
(Dodge, 1989; Jones, Sheridan, & Binns, 1983; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey,
Attitudes about school and self are an important factor in learning.
When students do not like school they are generally not good learners. If
children feel accepted, successful, and important at school, they tend to
participate appropriately and achieve more (Myrick & Dixon, 1985; Myrick,
Merhill, & Swanson, 1986). A positive school experience is a major factor
in the formation of a positive self-concept. Children with high self-esteem
generally do better in school than those with lower self-esteem (Holly,
1992). Disruptive children experience more instances of negative discipline
than of praise and encouragement. As a result, their self-concepts and self-
esteem tend to be negatively influenced.
What causes children's misbehavior in the school? There are nature
theories, which point to the genetic, biochemical, or neurological disorders
as well as nurture theories, which look at the way in which children interact
with their environment. Behaviorists stress that all behavior, including the
misbehavior of children, is learned. Developmental theorists recognize that
children go through predictable stages which contribute to some forms of
Some attention has been given to Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD exhibit inattention, impulsivity, and
overactivity that can lead to many problems in the school setting (DuPaul &
Stoner, 1994). Studies have indicated that approximately three to five
percent of children in the United States can be diagnosed with ADHD
(Barkley, 1990), meaning that approximately one child in a classroom of
twenty will have this disorder. Barkley (1990) stated that children with
ADHD may comprise up to forty percent of referrals to counseling services
out of the school setting. Boys with this disorder outnumber girls by
approximately three to one in community based agencies. Breen and
Barkley (1988) explained this gender difference as a greater prevalence in
disruptive behaviors, such as noncompliance, among boys with ADHD.
DuPaul and Stoner (1994) stated that there seems to be no apparent
single cause of ADHD. Rather, ADHD symptomatology may result from a
variety of causes. The greatest interest in empirical studies has been placed
on neurological factors, hereditary influences, and toxic reactions as being
causal factors in the disorder (Anastopoulos & Barkley, 1988).
Environmental factors such as family stress and poor parenting practices
appear to play a role in the severity of the disorder but have not been found
to be a causal factor (Barkley, 1990).
Another syndrome that has received a great deal of attention is
Conduct Disorder. Children who are conduct disordered display a broad
range of acting-out behaviors, ranging from annoying but relatively minor
behaviors such as yelling, whining, and temper tantrums to aggression,
physical destructiveness, and stealing. Typically, these behaviors do not
occur in isolation but as a complex of related behaviors. Conduct
disordered children have been labeled oppositional, antisocial, and socially
aggressive. Conduct disorders have been estimated to account for three to
four percent of the general population and boys are diagnosed as conduct
disordered two to three times more frequently than girls (McMahon & Wells,
1989). Patterson (1986) noted that researchers believe that the familial
socialization processes may be the major causal factor in the development
and maintenance of conduct-disordered behaviors.
Several authors have attempted to explain the disruptive behavior of
children in the classroom who have not been identified as ADHD or Conduct
Disordered. Gartrell (1994), a developmental educator, takes the position
that children do not actually misbehave. Instead, he suggested that what
adults see as disruptive, defiant, or other inappropriate behavior is mistaken
behavior. Young children are in the beginning stages of learning prosocial
behavior. They have limited experience dealing with the complex skills of
expressing strong emotions acceptably and getting along with others. It
may take some individuals into their adulthood before these interpersonal
skills are mastered. In this most complex of learning activities, then,
children tend to make mistakes. Adults may assume that children know
how to behave and that misbehavior is the result of a willful decision to
behave inappropriately. However, the decision to misbehave is made
because children have not developed the cognitive and emotional resources
necessary for more appropriate behavior. This approach requires that the
adult regard behavior traditionally thought of as misbehavior as mistaken
behavior. Therefore, mistaken behavior may be seen as the result of
attempts by inexperienced young children to interact with a complicated and
increasingly impersonal world (Gartrell, 1994).
Gartrell (1994) observed that there are three levels of mistaken
behavior: experimentation, socially influenced behavior, and behavior
motivated by strong needs. At level one, mistakes occur when the child is
curious and acts to see what will happen. Or, mistaken behavior may occur
when the child's actions in a situation do not get the expected results. A
child may pout when things don't go as planned. Or, a child may wait until
an adult's back is turned before demonstrating unhappiness with a situation.
The second level of mistaken behavior is that behavior which is socially
influenced. This happens when someone important to the child reinforces
an action, either intentionally or unintentionally. Level two mistaken
behavior may be observed in the actions of a child who hears an older
sibling using an expletive. Another example of this level of mistaken
behavior may be observed in the child who is influenced by classmates to
call another child a name. The third level of mistaken behavior occurs when
the child is reacting to a strong need. This level is the most serious kind of
mistaken behavior. Most often, strong needs mistaken behavior occurs
when a health condition is causing discomfort to the child, or when difficult
life experiences occur. The child reacts to pain and difficulty which is
beyond his or her capacity to cope with or understand (Gartrell, 1994).
Some writers focused on the developing self as the determining
dynamic in behavior. Self theorists such as Erikson (1950) and Rogers
(1961) suggested that if children felt successful, safe, and accepted in their
environment, they would see themselves positively and not need to
misbehave. Studies conducted in the area of the self-concept, the feelings
one holds to be true about oneself, seemed to indicate a general trend
supporting Erikson and Rogers. Children who felt better about themselves
tended to get along better with peers and do better in school than children
who saw themselves negatively.
Rudolf Dreikurs (1968) adapted principles of the self theorists. He
emphasized that all behavior is goal directed and the primary goal of
behavior is social acceptance by important others. A child's behavior
represents his or her attempt to feel significant and have a sense of
belonging. Misbehavior may indicate that a child did not develop the
cognitive understanding of how to find his or her own place, or, a child may
have experienced a real or perceived loss of status. Misbehavior reflects a
child's discouragement and an attempt to find a place in the group
(Dinkmeyer & McKay, 1982). Dreikurs and Soltz (1964) identified four
goals of misbehavior: attention getting, power seeking, revenge seeking,
and displaying inadequacy.
The first goal of misbehavior is the desire for attention. Attention
getting is influenced by the child's mistaken assumption that he or she only
has significance when at the center of attention. Dinkmeyer and McKay
(1982) stated that attention getting is almost universal in young children. It
is so common that many children will misbehave to receive negative
attention rather than behave appropriately and be ignored. The second goal
is that of power seeking. This mistaken goal of behavior usually occurs
after an adult has attempted to stop the child's demand for attention.
Children want to be in charge and will misbehave to win the struggle for
power over an adult. The child derives a great sense of satisfaction by
refusing to do what the adult is requesting. Giving in to the adult would
threaten the child's sense of personal value (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1964). If a
struggle continues and a child believes that defeat of the adult is not
possible, then the desire for power may intensify to one of revenge.
Children who look for revenge are convinced that they are insignificant and
unimportant. They believe that they are significant only when they are able
to hurt others as they believe they have been hurt. In their discouragement,
they find a place by being cruel and disliked (Dinkmeyer & McKay, 1982). If
the desire for retaliation and revenge continues, the fourth goal of
misbehavior may be seen as children become utterly defeated and seek to
be excused for their behaviors by displaying inadequacy. Underlying
inadequacy is extreme discouragement. These children believe neither
positive nor negative behavior will lead to any chance of success. They
become helpless and use this helplessness to avoid any task where
expected failure may be even more embarrassing (Dreikurs & Stoltz, 1964).
By giving up any hope of succeeding, children attempt to keep others from
expecting anything from them.
Popkin (1987) conceptualized four goals of behavior that were also
derived from the work of Dreikurs (1964): contact, power, protection, and
withdrawal. An individual's desire to belong leads to the first goal, making
contact. Initially, an infant needs to be held. Later, other forms of contact
are learned including attention and recognition. The second goal, the need
for power, is reflected in the desire to have a measure of control over one's
environment. The goal of protection involves both physical and
psychological defenses. Withdrawal, the fourth goal, serves to
Popkin (1987) theorized that "there are no good or bad children, but
only encouraged or discouraged children, whose behavior is more or less
useful or useless" (p. 46). A child who feels encouraged is likely to pursue
the basic goals with behaviors that are considered positive. A child who
feels discouraged tends to pursue the same goals, but with behaviors likely
to be considered negative. A child who feels a lack of contact (attention or
recognition) may respond by seeking undue attention. A negative attempt
to gain power may be observed in a rebellious child. When a child becomes
extremely discouraged, avoidance may occur. A child is likely to give up,
become passive, and refuse to try anything in an effort to avoid the risk of
Studer (1996) addressed the causes of a particularly troublesome
disruptive behavior, aggression. Aggression presents a significant challenge
to educators and is considered a primary concern of teachers (Elam, Rose, &
Gallup, 1994). There appear to be many causes of aggressive behavior in
young children including biological variables, family influences, and the
impact of television and other media (Studer, 1996).
Body chemicals such as testosterone and serotonin may influence
aggressive behavior. However, environment is also believed to play a part
in aggressive behavior. Studer (1996) suggested that there is evidence to
support the belief that nature and nurture are both factors in aggression
The role of the family is important in the development of aggression.
Meyers (1993) cited the family as the most violent institution in our society
after the military and law enforcement agencies. Discipline is considered a
key element in the development of aggressive, antisocial behaviors. When
parents use a physical approach to discipline their children, children learn
that battering or physical reactions are normal, effective methods for
expressing frustration. Children exposed to acts of force learn that
aggression is an acceptable problem-solving technique (Studer, 1996).
The relationship between media violence and aggression has not been
definitively established. Some researchers believe there is a causal
relationship between aggression in the media and aggression in children
(Meyers, 1993), while others argue that there are other factors, such as
intelligence that influence this relationship (Lippa, 1990).
Changing children's misbehavior and fostering productive behavior in
the classroom are important concerns of elementary counselors. Gerler's
(1985) review of elementary school counseling research from 1974 to 1984
provided evidence that counselors can make a difference in children's
classroom behavior, attitude toward school, and self-esteem, each of which
are factors in discipline. Research has suggested that the attitudes toward
the learning process, school, and peers developed in the primary grades
have a long-lasting impact on children's school success (Dobson, 1977;
Many techniques have been used to help the disruptive child improve
classroom behavior. Bodiford-McNeil, Hembree-Kigin, and Eyberg (1996)
suggested that parent training, training in problem-solving skills, strategic
family therapy, and social skills training are effective interventions. Other
successful interventions include cognitive, behavioral, and developmental
Smith (1994) suggested elementary counseling intervention programs
could promote long-term improvement in a child's school-related behaviors.
He concluded that positive results were obtained when parent-child behavior
contracts were used with problematic school-related behavior. Purkey and
Juhnke (1994) suggested that parents, organized into a "parent patrol" may
be effective in reducing disruptive behavior in school. Family systems
theory has been used with children exhibiting disruptive behavior in the
schools (Amatea, 1989; Aponte & Fabrick, 1976; Fine & Carlson, 1992).
Family-school consultations apparently achieve changes in behavior.
Shields and Green (1996) proposed family consultation with the
classroom teacher using a systems approach to deal with classroom
behavior problems. This approach recognizes that classroom behavior is the
result of the classroom system influenced by the teacher-student interaction
and the influences of other students in the same classroom.
The professional literature contains many reports of successful
behavior modification programs using contracts and positive reinforcement
with children (Smith, 1994). For example, Shook, LaBrie, and Vallies (1990)
reported decreases in disruptive classroom behaviors following the
implementation of a token reward system in a first grade classroom.
The use of a developmental guidance approach has been advocated in
classrooms. The role of discipline should be to teach children how to get
along with others, express strong feelings in acceptable ways, and solve
problems. Young children are in the early stages of gaining social
competence, and lack cognitive and emotional resources to choose more
mature responses. Using unconditional positive regard and encouragement
can help children learn appropriate classroom behavior. This approach to
discipline takes a positive view of human nature. It allows children to
develop healthy self-concepts and grow toward social responsiveness
Myrick and Dixon (1985) investigated a structured, six-session, small
group intervention with fifth and sixth graders who were identified as having
poor attitudes toward school. Positive results were obtained in changing
student attitudes about school and achievement. The next year, Myrick,
Merhill, and Swanson (1986) reported a study first conducted in the state of
Florida and then replicated in Indiana. A six-session, developmental
guidance unit was successful in improving the attitudes and behaviors of
fourth grade students. In particular, task completion, compliance with
teacher directions, social skills, and feelings about school were improved.
Assertiveness training programs can reduce disruptive behavior.
Huey and Rank (1984) were successful in decreasing aggressive behaviors
while increasing assertive behaviors in the classroom with disruptive, low
achieving eighth and ninth grade boys.
Bodiford-McNeil, Hembree-Kigin, and Eyberg (1996) developed an
intervention for disruptive children that used play and play media.
Combining the child-centered tenets of allowing the child to take the lead,
the importance of the relationship between the child and adult, and the
therapist attitudes of warmth and unconditional positive regard with
cognitive-behavioral methods, a twelve session plan involved parents in
The Discovery Program, a cognitive-developmental intervention for
fourth and fifth grade boys with a history of inappropriate classroom
behaviors, used peer tutoring and role playing to improve behavior. It offers
a promising new approach to dealing effectively with students who exhibit
discipline and behavior problems (Brake & Gerler, Jr., 1994). Another
cognitive approach was advocated by Goldstein and Glick (1987), who
suggested the use of a Hassle Log. It was modified by Studer (1996) as an
Annoyance Journal to deal with anger that can lead to aggression.
A twelve-session plan, suggested by Sloves and Peterlin (1994), was
designed as an out-of-school intervention. This highly structured approach
is intended to help children develop age-appropriate psychological (internal)
and behavioral-social (interpersonal) competencies (Sloves & Peterlin, 1994).
Amatea and Sherrard (1991) described a brief therapy approach to
working with children exhibiting problematic behaviors in the school setting.
Inappropriate behavior is viewed as resulting from the mishandling of
predictable life events, and "how people interact is the most central factor
in shaping and maintaining problem behavior" (p. 341). In this approach to
changing behavior, the staff changes its behavior toward the student, and
the student responds by a change in behavior.
Bleck and Bleck (1982) reported the use of a developmentally based
counseling unit using play with disruptive third grade children. Self-concept,
improved attitudes toward school, and diminished disruptive behavior were
reported. Further, there may be a correlation between a positive self-
concept and positive classroom behavior. The results of this study indicated
that counselors using structured play can have positive effects on the
attitudes of disruptive children.
Developmental Guidance and Counseling
The Developmental Model of Guidance and Counseling
Human development is a process that occurs in stages over time as
individuals interact with their environment. The developmental guidance
approach maintains that the developmental process can be enhanced by
planned, appropriate educational interventions (Baker, 1996).
Developmental guidance is proactive and preventive in focus. Its
purpose is to help students acquire the knowledge, basic skills, self-
awareness, interests, and attitudes necessary for successful mastery of
normal developmental tasks (Borders & Drury, 1992; Wittmer 1993). The
mastery of developmental tasks at each life stage is essential for the
individual's effective functioning and happiness. Further, continued
developmental growth increases the likelihood of future success (Neukrug,
Barr, Hoffman, & Kaplan, 1993).
The work of the developmental counselor is based on the rationale
that providing early developmental guidance services to children can
enhance their present and future development and effectiveness.
Developmental counselors work toward helping children to be responsible
for their own choices and actions and to understand their own feelings. The
ability to know one's strengths and weaknesses, to have a sense of
personal worth and self-confidence, and to feel capable of meeting the tasks
of life realistically and successfully are among the cornerstones of
The role of the self-concept is important in the developmental model.
The self-concept is continually being shaped through experience and
education. DeMaria and Cowden (1992) referred to the self-concept as a
learned perceptual system involving a feedback loop that influences
behavior and is in turn changed by behavior. As an individual moves
through the developmental stages of life, the self-concept both influences
and is influenced by learning and interpersonal relationships (Myrick, 1993).
Self-concept helps shape the attitudes and personal styles of the individual
which in turn become an important part of the learning process. Significant
attitudes about self, others, school, and society are formed while the child is
growing. The interactions the child has will affect how learning takes place,
and also, how the person will function as a mature adult. Gerler and Myrick
(1991) suggested that children cannot realize their full potential unless they
have healthy self-concepts, high self-esteem, and effective interpersonal
skills. Further, Landreth (1993) cited poor self-esteem as a basic cause of
many academic and social problems in elementary school-age children.
The developmental approach attempts to identify certain skills and
experiences that are necessary for children to be successful in school. It
helps students learn effectively and efficiently within a learning climate that
fosters academic and personal growth by examining the specific
developmental concerns and identifying appropriate counseling interventions
(ASCA, 1990; Myrick, 1993; Neukrug, Barr, Hoffman, & Kaplan, 1993).
In the school setting, developmental concerns typically include peer
relationships, getting along better with parents, siblings and teachers,
making new friends, and dealing with feelings (Dinkmeyer & Muro, 1977).
Further, emphasis is placed on assisting individual students with the
resolution of special problems and concerns (Morrill, Getting, & Hurst,
1974). Developmental counseling is an attempt to meet the needs of all
students, addressing their concerns, helping them to find answers to their
questions, and helping them to make appropriate choices. Those learning
behaviors and tasks that are considered important are offered to
complement the academic curriculum. Further, the life skills necessary for
adulthood are emphasized as part of the program (Hoffman, 1991).
The opportunity to learn about oneself and relationships with others
before encountering a problem is a cornerstone of the developmental model.
The children learn interpersonal skills, then, if a crisis situation does occur,
they are able to draw upon skills to work out the problem. As students
learn to interact with others in a positive and effective manner, they take a
more active part in learning, and in doing so, help create a positive school
environment (Myrick, 1993).
The developmental counselor incorporates skill building within a
framework related to the developmental stages, tasks, and learning
conditions encountered by the child. Since the child is usually more open to
learning when not on the defensive, the counselor will often use
hypothetical situations to explore ideas, feelings, and behaviors. In this
way, the child is able to look calmly at a situation rather than simply
reacting in an excited manner (Myrick, 1993).
Myrick (1993) identified eight points which characterize almost all
developmental guidance and counseling programs, a number of which are
particularly important to this study. Specifically, the goal of understanding
self and others is vital in helping children learn more about their own
abilities, interests, and personal characteristics. Children learn to identify
their strengths and explore areas in which they want to improve.
Relationships with peers, teachers, and other adults are stressed as children
learn self-acceptance and develop self-confidence. Expanding this goal
leads to understanding attitudes and behaviors. Children learn that habits,
attitudes, and perceptions influence behavior. Further, understanding how
feelings and behaviors are related to goals and consequences is explored,
allowing children to change their behavior, if desired. Another goal of
particular interest to this study is the goal of interpersonal and
communication skills. These skills emphasize the value of developing
positive interpersonal relationships and the importance of communication
skills in getting along with others and forming friendships. Since a primary
goal of a developmental approach is school success, a final point with
special significance to this study is the goal of school success. Here,
conflict resolution with peers and teachers and the development of positive
attitudes and habits are stressed, enabling children to get the most out of
the school experience.
Learning and growth is emphasized through programs designed to
enhance the positive development of individuals and groups. To accomplish
this goal, developmental counselors frequently make use of a unit, an
organized set of understandings and experiences designed to facilitate
personal, social, and academic growth. Through a series of counseling
sessions delivered individually, in small groups, or in the classroom setting,
the normal concerns or target problem situations are addressed through a
sequential set of procedures and activities.
In 1970, Dinkmeyer published Developing Understanding of Self and
Others (DUSO). This is a guidance program that can help children learn
about themselves and others through a variety of activities suitable for use
in the classroom and small groups. This structured program set an example
for the development of guidance units and sessions at all grade levels
Many developmental guidance units have been successfully
implemented in small groups on the elementary school level. For example,
units have been designed to increase social competence (Coppock, 1993;
Mehaffey & Sandberg, 1992), build self-esteem (Coppock, 1993), reduce
disruptive behavior (Brake & Gerler, Jr., 1994; Bleck & Bleck, 1982), teach
anger management techniques (Phillips-Hershey & Kanagy, 1996), raise
academic achievement (Bourwell & Myrick, 1992; Lee, 1993), reduce stress
(Romano, Miller, & Nordness, 1996), improve attitude and motivation
toward school (Myrick & Campbell, 1990; Myrick & Dixon, 1985) and
increase cultural awareness (Blum & Toenniessen, 1992). The use of the
developmental units in the schools is an effective counselor intervention that
is structured to take advantage of time and allows children to work together
in a natural, comfortable setting.
Developmental Play Counseling
Play counseling may have a developmental focus when children are
helped to cope with stressful situations in their lives (Campbell, 1993b).
Child-centered play therapy has been used effectively in elementary schools.
Landreth (1993) suggested that it is, perhaps more than any other play
therapy approach, truly developmental in nature, because there is no
pressure on children to change. Child-centered play therapy can be used
effectively by elementary school counselors to aid change and growth in a
variety of developmental problem areas experienced by children such as lack
of self-control, socially inappropriate behavior and the development of self-
esteem (Landreth, 1993).
DeMaria and Cowden (1992) pointed to the conceptual fit of the
child-centered approach and the development of the self-concept. Many of
the techniques used to enhance self-concept are similar to Axline's non-
directive, client-centered play therapy techniques (DeMaria & Cowden,
1992). Unconditional acceptance, a basic tenet of client-centered play
therapy, conveys to a child that he or she is wanted, liked, and valued.
Coopersmith (1967) listed parental warmth, respectful treatment, and
clearly defined limits as antecedents of self-esteem. These are also used as
guidelines in client-centered play therapy. Axline's client-centered play
therapy has provided a sound foundation for impacting self-concept
(DeMaria & Cowden, 1992).
For many years, the term play media was used to refer to the use of
play techniques in counseling. The use of the term play therapy was
avoided, because of its original use with disturbed or maladjusted children.
Dinkmeyer and Muro (1977) advised elementary counselors to stress that
although there is some overlap in the techniques and basic philosophy in the
use of play media in counseling and play therapy, the two are not the same.
More recently, Hoffman (1993) suggested that despite the differences in
terminology and the populations served, few other substantial differences
exist between the use of play media in counseling and play therapy. The
only important difference concerns the use of interpretive techniques that
are rarely used by school counselors in developmental counseling. The use
of the term play therapy has become increasingly popular to refer to the
elementary counselor's use of play techniques in counseling children
(Barlow, Strother, & Landreth, 1985; Landreth, 1987). Others prefer the
use of the term developmental play counseling because it conveys the
essence and purpose of developmental counseling with children in the
elementary school (Hoffman, 1991).
The developmental play counselor relies on the effective use of
counseling responses to help the children. It is the communication of
understanding, respect, and nonjudgmental acceptance that encourages the
free expression of emotions and behavior (Hoffman, 1991). The use of
facilitative responses helps the child express and understand feelings,
behaviors, relationships, and life experiences. As the child plays, the
counselor responds by reflecting feelings, thoughts, and actions and by
clarifying and summarizing. These responses are focused on the feelings,
ideas, actions, and circumstances being expressed in the play. They are not
personalized to the child and, therefore, are not threatening (Hoffman,
1991). When questions seem to be necessary to expand on the feelings,
ideas, behaviors, or situations in play, open questions are used to encourage
further expression. In this way, the counselor not only learns more about
the child, but conveys understanding, acceptance, respect, interest, and
It is important that the counselor convey the feelings of genuineness,
respect, empathy, acceptance, and warmth identified by Rogers (1951) to
foster the therapeutic relationship and positive growth. The counselor must
be emotionally present and communicate a genuine belief in the ability of
the child to be self-directed and personally effective (Hoffman, 1991).
Developmental play counseling encourages children to take
responsibility for themselves and to make choices in the counseling
situation. In doing so, children increase feelings of competence and self-
confidence which are necessary for positive growth (Hoffman, 1991).
Play has been called a universal behavior in children. It is a "serious
purposeful business through which (children) develop mentally, physically,
and socially...through which confusion, anxieties, and conflicts are often
worked through" (Oaklander, 1978, p.160). Schaefer (1993) pointed out
the importance of play in the lives of children. Play is to children what
verbalization is to adults--the most natural medium for self-expression. He
reported that by the time a child has reached the age of six, more than
fifteen thousand hours have been devoted to play. Ginott (1961) referred to
play as the language of children, and toys as the words. Similarly,
Oaklander (1978) stated that play serves as a symbolic language for
Play has been defined in many ways. Bergen (1988) cites definitions
for play offered by educators and philosophers such as: the natural
unfolding of childhood; the motor habits of the past persisting in the
present; and instinctive practice of activities which will later be essential to
life. Berlyne defined play as "a self-motivated activity that satisfies a child's
innate need to explore and master his environment" (Schaefer, 1993, p. 7).
It would seem that Erikson (1964) was right when he said, "in its own
playful way, it (play) tries to elude definition" (p. 4).
Although there are many definitions offered in the literature for play,
lately there has been an emerging consensus of the common characteristics
of play behaviors (Schaefer, 1993). First, play is intrinsic versus extrinsic.
Play activities are intrinsically motivated because the activity is pleasurable.
Play does not need extrinsic rewards, but rather, it seems to satisfy an inner
desire. Second, the process of play is more important than the end result.
The concern of the child at play is with the play activity itself, not the
outcome of the activity. Third, positive feelings accompany play and can be
observed in the smiles and laughter of the child. Fourth, the child often
becomes so involved in play that awareness of time and surroundings is
lost. Fifth, play has a nonliteral quality. The "as if" feelings associated with
play lend realism to make-believe. Sixth, the freedom to impose novel
meanings on objects and events is possible in play. Play is concerned with
what can be done with an object instead of what the object was designed
to do (Schaefer, 1993).
Rationale for Children's Play
The definitions of play offer many explanations for why people,
especially children, engage in play. Bergen (1988) pointed out that efforts
to understand why children play has been going on for hundreds of years.
Gilmore (1971) identified six theories of play that he categorized as either
classical or dynamic theories to explain play. However, as Schaefer (1993)
cautioned, while the different explanations or theories of play have some
validity, there is no unifying theory that integrates all the positive qualities
The older, classical theories, were formulated in the mid to late
nineteenth century. The Surplus Energy Theory was proposed by the
nineteenth century British philosopher Herbert Spencer (1873) based on the
writings of Friedrich von Schiller (Millar, 1974). This theory postulates that
there is a certain quantity of energy available to an organism, and the
organism tends to expend that energy either in goal-directed activity (work),
or in non-goal directed activity (play). Animals lower on the evolutionary
scale than man use more of their energy in survival activities such as
looking for food and escaping from predators. Children are likely to have a
greater range of skills than animals and will tend to have extra energy
beyond that which is needed for survival. The surplus energy will build up
and exert internal pressure which is released through activity such as play
(Millar, 1974; Schaefer, 1993). Any time the children have more energy
available than is needed for work, play occurs. The content of the play is
not important and one form of play can be easily substituted for another.
The Relaxation, or Recreation Theory, states that play is used to
replenish energy expended in work. Proposed by the German poet Moritz
Lazarus, this theory suggests that we play to restore energy expended in
work. Energy is regenerated by doing an activity different from the work
that used it up. Play, the opposite of work, is an ideal way to restore this
lost energy (Schaefer, 1993).
The Pre-Exercise Theory, proposed by the Dutch philosopher Karl
Groos (1901), suggests that play is instinctive behavior. Based on Darwin's
principle of natural selection, Groos believed that play is essential to
survival. Play enables the child to practice and perfect skills needed to
survive (Millar, 1974). A child will instinctively become involved in play
activities that are essentially a form of the more mature behaviors that will
have to be performed as an adult. Therefore, play is seen as preparation for
future work and the content of a child's play is determined by adult activity.
G. Stanley Hall is credited with developing the Recapitulation Theory
that suggests the individual relives the activities of earlier stages in the
development of the human race through play. Hall's theory of play is based
on the idea that children pass through all the stages of man, from protozoa
to human, in their existence before birth. Some of the stages are thought to
resemble the developmental sequence of structure and behavior from fish to
man. "This seemed to provide evidence that individual development
ontogenyy) repeats that of the race (phylogeny)" (Millar, 1974, p.17). Hall
believed that play resembled the activities of primitive man and allowed
children to discharge some of their primitive and unnecessary instinctual
skills (Bergen, 1988) and prepare for the sophisticated activities of the
The dynamic theories offer explanations of why people play by
looking at the play process. Two theories are identified by Gilmore (1971).
The first is derived from psychoanalytic theory which considers play to be a
cathartic activity. Catharsis refers to the arousal and discharge of strong
emotions, both positive and negative, for therapeutic relief (Schaefer,
1993). Catharsis allows for the expression of difficult emotional feelings
and their ultimate mastery. By playing out difficult circumstances and
having the opportunity to master feelings through play, children internalize
what has been learned and are better able to handle the reality. Play helps
children cope with difficult situations such as the first day of school, going
to the hospital, or the birth of a new sibling.
A second dynamic theory is based on the work of Piaget (1962).
Piaget viewed the development of intelligence as a process of assimilation
and accommodation. In assimilation, an individual takes information from
the outside world and fits that information into the organizing framework of
what is already known. In the process of accommodation, the individual is
able to modify these frameworks when needed to deal with new knowledge
and information. Therefore, to Piaget, the process of play promotes a
child's creativity and flexible thinking. It is a way of taking elements from
the outside world and manipulating them so that they fit into the individual's
Theories of Play Counseling
The role of play in the lives of children has been recognized as
significant for centuries. In the late 1700s, Rousseau wrote about the
importance of observing the play of children in order to understand them
(Landreth, 1991). In 1903, Froebel emphasized the symbolic nature of play.
His belief was that play has definite conscious and unconscious purposes
and could be examined for its meaning. As quoted in Landreth (1991),
Froebel wrote, "Play is the highest development in childhood, for it alone is
the free expression of what is in the child's soul...Children's play is not
mere sport. It is full of meaning and import" (Froebel, 1903, p.22).
In 1909, Sigmund Freud published the first case of "Little Hans," a
five year old boy who was phobic. This case represented the first
description of a therapeutic approach to working with a child. Freud saw
Little Hans only one time and treated him by advising the child's father of
ways to respond based on the father's notes about the child's play. The
case of "Little Hans" is significant because it is the first case in which a
child's problem was attributed to emotional causes. Further, the play
behavior was key in determining the child's problem and its ultimate
resolution. Landreth (1991) noted that today, emotional factors are so
readily accepted that it may be difficult to appreciate the magnitude of what
was then a new concept of psychological disturbance in children. Reisman
(1966) explained that at the turn of the twentieth century, professionals
generally believed childhood disorders were caused by deficiencies in the
child's education and training (Landreth, 1991).
At the start of the twentieth century, there was no uniform
therapeutic psychological approach being used with children. Play therapy
developed from early efforts to apply the principles of psychoanalytic
therapy to children.
Psychoanalytic play therapy
The psychoanalytic approach to play therapy makes no attempt to
pressure the child in any predetermined direction or alternate course of
action. Play is used as a means of establishing contact with the child, a
method of observation and source of data, and as a vehicle for
interpretative insight. Landreth (1991) termed the work of Hermine Hug-
Hellmuth, Anna Freud, and Melanie Klein as revolutionary in changing
attitudes about children and their problems.
Hermine Hug-Hellmuth (1921) was one of the first to emphasize the
use of play in child analysis by providing children with play materials to
facilitate self expression. She called attention to the difficulty of applying
adult therapeutic approaches to working with children. She stressed that
children are unable to express their anxieties verbally as adults do, making
free association, a fundamental technique in adult psychoanalysis, of little
Melanie Klein began using play in 1919 as a way of analyzing children
under six years of age. She assumed that the children's play was
equivalent to free association in adults and used play to encourage children
to express their fantasies, anxieties and defenses which could then be
interpreted. Klein believed that play therapy provided a direct access to the
preconscious and unconscious mechanisms of children.
Anna Freud also used play in the process of analysis. Unlike Klein,
however, Freud's use of play was intended to establish an emotional
relationship between the child and the therapist--to get the child to like the
therapist. Anna Freud made little direct interpretation of the child's play.
Her belief was that play had little emotional value because it consisted of
only a conscious repetition of recent experiences (Landreth, 1991). Freud
delayed the use of direct interpretation of the child's play until she had
gained extensive knowledge by observing the play of the child and
interviewing the parents. Since free association was not appropriate for
children, Anna Freud encouraged the child to verbalize daydreams or
fantasies, and when they had difficulty discussing these feelings, she had
them sit quietly and "see pictures." In this way, the child was able to learn
to verbalize thoughts and discover their meaning based on the
interpretations offered by the therapist (Landreth, 1991). Gradually, as the
child developed a stronger relationship with the therapist and the ability to
verbalize thoughts, the emphasis of the sessions was shifted from play to
more traditional interactions.
Active plav therapy
Solomon (1938) developed a technique called Active Play Therapy
which was used with impulsive and acting-out children. Through play, a
child could be helped to express emotions such as rage and fear without
experiencing negative consequences. The therapist's interactions with the
child helped redirect the energy previously directed toward acting-out to
more socially acceptable play behaviors.
Release plav therapy
Melanie Klein visited the United States in 1929. She later reported
(Klein, 1955) that play was not used very often as part of the therapeutic
procedure with children (Landreth, 1991). A major step in increasing the
use of play as a therapeutic intervention with children occurred with the
work of David Levy. Levy (1939) developed Release Therapy, a structured
play approach used with children who had been through a specific stressful
situation. Levy believed in the abreactive effect of play. Abreaction is the
reliving of past stressful events and the emotions associated with them
(Schaefer, 1993). In Release Therapy, the therapist provides the materials
which help the child to recreate the stressful experience through play. After
a brief period of free play during which the child becomes familiar with the
materials, the child is encouraged to reenact the traumatic situation. By
reenacting the traumatic event through play, the child is able to deal with
the stresses and traumas and gradually achieve mastery over the feelings
associated with the event. The process of play allows the child to be in
control of the situation and move from a passive role of having been 'done
to' into an active role of being the 'doer' (Landreth, 1993). Since the
situation is being reenacted in play, there is less anxiety because it is just
"pretend." The therapist reflects the verbal and nonverbal feelings
expressed by the child during play. In the process of therapy, situations can
be set up that allow the child to reexperience an event or a relationship in a
different way, with a more positive outcome than that of the original event.
The child can use play to gain mastery over events which may be interfering
with development (Schaefer, 1993).
Structured play therapy
Gove Hambidge (1955) extended the work done by Levy with an
approach known as Structured Play Therapy. Hambidge was more direct in
his approach than Levy. After the establishment of a therapeutic
relationship, Hambidge would directly recreate the anxiety producing
situation, have the child play out the situation, and then allow the child to
play freely to recover from the difficult activity.
Relationship play therapy
A significant development in the history of play therapy was the work
of Jesse Taft (1933) and Frederick Allen (1934) which is referred to as
Relationship Therapy. This approach signified a major break from the
psychoanalytic school and evolved from the work of Otto Rank (1936).
Rank deemphasized the importance of past history and the unconscious.
Instead, he stressed the importance of functioning in the present and the
development of the relationship between the therapist and client.
Relationship play therapy places its primary emphasis on the curative
power of the emotional relationship between the child and the therapist.
There is no interpretation of past experiences. Rather, the primary focus of
attention is on present feelings and reactions. Relationship therapists stress
children's capacity to modify personal behaviors. The play technique allows
children to choose whether to play or not to play, and to direct the activity
in their own way. Children gradually come to realize their existence as
unique, separate individuals who can exist in a relationship with others. The
responsibility for growth is given to the child. The therapist then
concentrates on the difficulties that are of concern to the child rather than
on those concerning the therapist or other adults.
Non-directive olav theraov
The work of the relationship therapists was studied and expanded by
Carl Rogers (1942) who developed non-directive therapy. Once referred to
as client-centered therapy, the approach is known today as person-centered
or child-centered therapy. Virginia Axline, a student of Carl Rogers, applied
the principles of the non-directive approach to children using play as a
The non-directive, or person-centered approach to counseling takes a
positive view of human nature and holds that we have an innate striving
toward self-actualization. We move toward increased awareness and strive
to become fully functioning. Further, we have the potential to be aware of
our problems and how to resolve them. The role of the therapist within this
structure is to provide a safe climate for the exploration of self. The
relationship between the client and the therapist is of primary importance.
The attitudes and qualities of the therapist such as genuiness, warmth,
empathy, and respect and the communication of these attitudes to the client
are vital. The relationship with the therapist is used to transfer the learning
during counseling to other relationships (Corey, 1986).
Play therapy is the process by which the child plays out feelings,
brings the feelings to the surface, gets them out into the open, faces them,
and learns to either control them or abandon them. Play helps children
understand their feelings in an objective way without additional anxiety,
fear, or guilt (Axline, 1947). When a child's feelings are expressed,
identified, and accepted, the child is able to internalize them and then is free
to deal with those feelings.
Child-centered play therapy is characterized by a relationship of
understanding and acceptance between the child and the therapist. It is
through this special relationship that the child is able to change and grow,
as well as to consider new behavioral possibilities which lead to an
expansion of self-expression (Landreth, 1993). According to Axline (1950),
a play experience is therapeutic because it provides a secure
relationship between the child and the adult, so that the child has the
freedom and room to state himself in his own terms, exactly as he is
at that moment in his own way and in his own time. (p. 68)
In the child-centered approach, the child determines the areas that
need to be explored and takes the lead in pursuing them as well as the
course of the relationship. The child-centered play therapist recognizes the
child's ability to move toward adjustment, independence, and self-
actualization and allows the child to set the pace. The child is free to play
or remain silent while the therapist actively reflects the child's thoughts and
feelings. There is no attempt to question or evaluate the child's thoughts or
expressions since this is considered to be interfering with the child's
responsibility in the relationship (Landreth, 1993).
The child-centered approach is grounded in the belief that behavior is
shaped by the individual's movement toward growth and the capacity for
self-direction. Behavior is caused by the drive toward complete self-
realization (Landreth, 1993). The child's behavior is seen as an effort to
satisfy needs within a personal framework of reality. Therefore, in order to
understand the child, the counselor must understand the child's perception
of reality (Landreth, 1993). Since the counselor tries to understand the
child's internal frame of reference, the counselor avoids judging the child's
behavior or trying to change the child.
The child-centered therapist does not use techniques as such, but
instead relies on eight basic principles as defined by Axline (1947) that
serve as a guideline for therapeutic contact with the child. These principles
1. the development of a warm, friendly relationship with the child
2. the acceptance of the child exactly as he is
3. the establishment of a feeling of permissiveness in the relationship
so that the child feels free to express his feelings completely
4. the feelings of the child are recognized and reflected back in a
way as to help the child gain insight into his or her behavior
5. the respect for the child's ability to solve his or her own problems
6. the child takes the lead in actions or conversation and the
7. the recognition that therapy is a gradual process that cannot be
8. the establishment of only those limits that are necessary to anchor
the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his
responsibility in the relationship.
In the child-centered approach, it is the child in the present moment
and not the problem that serves as the point of focus. Landreth (1993)
pointed out that focusing on the child's problem may lead the play therapist
to lose sight of the child. The therapist tries to experience the child's world
of the moment. The counselor communicates this willingness to experience
the world as the child sees it through four messages: "I am here, I hear
you, I understand you, I care about you" (Landreth, 1993, p. 21). The
counselor is highly interactive verbally and responsive to the child so that
the child feels as though the therapist is part of whatever the child is
engaged in at the moment, even though the therapist may not be physically
participating. The child-centered counselor is never just an observer but is
always a participant on an emotional and verbal level (Landreth, 1993).
Guerney (1983) suggested that compared to many other therapeutic
play approaches, a great deal of outcome research exists in client-centered
therapy. These studies have consistently demonstrated positive treatment
effects both with professional counselors and non-professionals providing
the intervention. For example, a study by Bills (1950a) involved poor
readers who were considered by their teachers to be maladjusted in the
classroom. After a six week period of child-centered play therapy,
significant gains in reading achievement were noted. These gains were
sustained through an additional follow-up period of six weeks. Bills (1950b)
repeated the study with poor readers who were considered to be well
adjusted by their teachers and other school personnel. This time, there
were no significant improvements found in reading achievement. Bills
concluded that the gains in reading found in the first study were related to
improvement in adjustment (Guerney, 1983). The importance of these
studies point to the efficacy of the child-centered approach.
Dorfman (1958) matched a group of children considered to be
maladjusted to a control group of maladjusted children. After an average of
nineteen weeks of child-centered play therapy delivered on a weekly basis,
the children receiving treatment showed significant improvement in
adjustment over the controls. Important factors in this study were that the
therapeutic sessions took place in school and the children were considered
maladjusted by their teachers.
A 1964 study by Seeman, Barry, and Ellinwood using random
assignment to experimental conditions demonstrated positive results among
children with poor school adjustment and aggressive behavior. After
treatment in child-centered play therapy concluded, a one year follow-up
was conducted. At this time, children in the treatment group had lower
than average scores on aggression, whereas the control group had higher
than average aggression scores.
Reif and Stollak (1972, as cited in Guerney, 1983) conducted a study
that used undergraduate students as therapists. The study intended to
demonstrate that non-professionals (in this case undergraduate students),
when trained and supervised in conducting child-centered therapy, could
produce therapeutic conditions and demonstrate positive changes in
essentially normal children (Guerney, 1983). The control group was offered
a placebo therapy. The untrained undergraduates played in whatever way
they chose to provide the child with a positive experience. The results
indicated that children receiving child-centered play sessions delivered by
the trained undergraduates were more expressive and tended to deal more
appropriately with both intrapersonal and interpersonal situations than
children not receiving child-centered sessions (Guerney, 1983).
More recently, Crow (1989) held ten, thirty-minute, individual, child-
centered play therapy sessions with twelve first grade students who had
been retained due to low achievement in reading. The results of the study
demonstrated significant improvement in the self-concepts of these children
when compared to those in a matched control group.
Sixteen incarcerated fathers were trained by Landreth (1993) to use
child-centered play therapy techniques with their children in filial therapy
sessions. The fathers held thirty-minute play sessions on visitation day
once a week for ten weeks. The self-concepts of these children improved
significantly when compared to those in a control group of incarcerated
fathers and their children (Landreth, 1993).
Although the professional play therapist typically has a background in
a clinical area, Guerney (1983) reported that there is nothing inherent in the
method that requires such a background.
The children seem to have a positive experience during the play
sessions regardless of who the therapists are, and show improvements in
play session behaviors. When supervised by a professional, many
nonprofessionals have been trained to use child-centered methods and have
demonstrated the ability to effect desirable changes in the children,
paralleling those created by professionals. (Guerney, 1983, p. 28)
Therapeutic Uses of Play
An approach to therapy or counseling is therapeutic if it results in a
verifiable improvement. The improvement itself may be a decrease in
symptoms (e.g. inappropriate talking in the classroom) or an increase in
desired behaviors (e.g. observing classroom rules). Schaefer (1993)
identified fourteen therapeutic factors in play that contribute to its
effectiveness. The factors relevant to this study are discussed.
Play, by its very nature is fun. It is a behavior that is pleasurable in
its own right and needs no incentive. The positive affect which
accompanies play contributes to a sense of well-being and relieves stress.
Further, research indicates that enjoyment of a task encourages children to
persist at that task (Schaefer, 1993). In this respect, play may be viewed
as therapeutic due to its motivational nature.
The establishment of rapport is a vital component in most theories of
counseling. Researchers have reported that poor therapeutic outcome has
been associated with lack of rapport (Colson, Cornsweet, & Murphy, 1991).
Rapport is particularly important when one is working with young children
since in most cases they do not voluntarily come to counseling. Typically,
children come to counseling because their parents or teachers want them to
be there. Usually they do not feel troubled, but they are troublesome to
those around them (Schaefer, 1993). Play can be particularly helpful in
establishing rapport with a child (Campbell, 1993b). Play provides an
excellent means of establishing this rapport since it is an interesting,
enjoyable, and natural activity.
A related therapeutic function of play is the enhanced relationship
that develops between the child and the counselor. Play facilitates a
positive relationship because the interactions are fun and concerned with
enjoyment rather than achievement. Play fosters positive feelings which
contribute to a sense of well-being and a spirit of acceptance and
cooperation (Schaefer, 1993). Rogers (1951) recognized that when a child
feels accepted, respected, and esteemed, a positive self-concept is
facilitated. On the other hand, if a child feels rejected or devalued,
behaviors such as defiance, aggression, and withdrawal are likely to occur.
Sachs (1983) cited a number of studies that support the positive correlation
between good relationships and desirable clinical outcomes.
Communication is another therapeutic factor facilitated by play. Play
is the child's most natural form of expression. The elementary school child
may have difficulty using words to fully communicate feelings, needs, and
thoughts. As noted by Schaefer (1993), "Toys are a young child's words,
and play is his natural language" (p. 6). Play allows children to
communicate thoughts and feelings they may be aware of but unable to
express verbally. The play process also allows the child to symbolically
express unconscious wishes, conflicts, and emotions. Through play, the
child is able to communicate feelings and emotions that may be causing
conflict and inhibiting natural development.
A third therapeutic factor is the power, control, and mastery of the
environment that is facilitated through play. Play is a self-motivated activity
that satisfies children's innate need to explore and master their
environments. Apart from play there are few areas in children's lives that
produce a sense of mastery (Schaefer, 1993). A major function of play is to
provide children opportunities to learn to cope with difficult situations
(Landreth, 1993). Play offers an enjoyable structure in which children are
able to learn about the world and gain skills needed to live in society. Since
children engaged in an enjoyable activity tend to persist at it longer, play is
likely to lead to success.
Creative thinking during play leads to improved problem solving skills
by allowing the child to experiment with different options without the fear of
making a mistake. Sylva, Bruner, and Genova (1976, as cited in Schaefer,
1993) point to numerous studies indicating that prior play experience in
areas of concern actually improved the child's problem solving related to
those areas. The process of play appears to help a child find alternatives
and more effective solutions to problems in the areas of social relationships
and emotional health. Play provides the child with an opportunity to
develop and practice new behaviors that may be useful in everyday life
The therapeutic process of catharsis refers to the reduced physical
and emotional tension achieved through acting aggressively on inanimate
objects such as punching bags, pillows, and bobo dolls. The play
experience allows a child the opportunity to experience emotional release
without fear of retaliation or disapproval (Schaefer, 1993). Further, the play
experience allows the release of intense feelings such as anger and anxiety
that had been hard, if not impossible, for the child to express before.
Another therapeutic factor associated with play is its ability to
facilitate abreaction, the reliving of past stressful events and the emotions
associated with them (Schaefer, 1993). Piaget (1962) pointed out that
young children use play to symbolically relive unpleasant past experiences.
Through play, the child gains a sense of mastery over an event that they
tend to have no control over. The outcome may be changed or reversed
allowing children to achieve resolution of a problematic situation. Children
are then better able to cope or adjust as necessary (Landreth, 1993).
Erikson (1940) stated that playing out troublesome situations is a natural
process of childhood. Further, since children are engaged in pretend play,
they can control the events and will likely feel less anxiety.
Play offers children the opportunity to try out new behaviors through
role-playing. Children are able to try out new behaviors that may not have
been considered before, and to experience what it feels like to behave in
this new way. Another advantage of role-playing is that it allows children to
explore their own behaviors from the perspective of another whose role they
assume in play. Further, role play encourages the development of empathy,
the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another, leading to increased
understanding of the other person's thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Schaefer (1993) pointed out that the more children are able to experience
situations from the perspective of another, the less egocentric they become.
Role playing has been found to be positively related to teacher ratings of
social competence, peer popularity, empathy, and prosocial behavior among
children (Rubin, Fein, & Bandenberg, 1983; Strayer & Roberts, 1989).
Play enhances the flexible and varied use of imagery (Schaefer,
1993). Children learn about themselves and enlarge their world by
fantasizing. In the world of imagination, children do not have to be satisfied
with current realities or their own limitations. Fantasy or make-believe play
allows children to create characters, settings, and events that may not be
part of their environment. Fantasy gives children power over their world,
even when that control is lacking is real life. Imagination can help children
overcome fears and anxieties through the development of feelings of
mastery over their environment.
Metaphoric teaching, or myths, is an important therapeutic function
of play. Schaefer (1993) called humans myth-making beings who create
reality by believing in stories they have told about it. Myths help shape an
individual's belief system. Through the use of myth, or story telling,
messages can be communicated to the child that address conflicts, fears,
and other problems the child may be experiencing. The story may offer
more adaptive solutions for problems. Gardner (1993) employed the use of
mutual storytelling to help a child discover different solutions for and
perspectives in troubling situations. Mills and Crowley (1986) supported the
therapeutic value of metaphor. Through identification with characters in a
story, the child may be able to replace feelings of isolation and hopelessness
with a sense that a problem is shared by others and has a solution.
Play may be helpful in the mastery of developmental fears. Behavioral
theory incorporates a therapeutic technique known as counterconditioning.
Through this process, the child learns a new response to a stimulus that is
incompatible with the previous response, leading to a decrease in anxiety.
The principle behind this process is known as reciprocal inhibition (Wolpe,
1958) which states, "If a response inhibitor of anxiety can be made to occur
in the presence of anxiety-evoking stimuli, it will weaken the bond between
these stimuli and the anxiety" (p. 15). A response that inhibits anxiety is
the enjoyment a child feels during play (Schaefer, 1993). Barnett and Storm
(1981) cited physiological evidence that play has been found to reduce
A final therapeutic advantage of play was offered by Campbell
(1993b). She explained that play allows children to distance themselves
from emotional material that is too difficult to deal with by projecting their
feelings onto a doll or other inanimate object. Play enables children to
transfer anxieties, fears, fantasies, and guilt to objects instead of people.
The counselor uses play media to direct the attention to objects, not the
children themselves. This reduces the threat and makes it easier for the
children to talk about difficult emotional material. In this way, they feel safe
from their own feelings and reactions because the play provides an
emotional distance from the troubling experiences. Children are not
overwhelmed by their own actions because it takes place in fantasy
"As all play helps a child to share himself and, in varying degree, to
re-enact, re-live and release, all play has some therapeutic value" (Amster,
1943, p. 68). Play provides a healing and growth process that the child is
able to use naturally and independently, except when that healing and
growth process is significantly interrupted (Cochran, 1996). Play serves as
the basis for a working alliance between the child and the counselor. It is a
natural form of communication for the child, which contributes to
understanding, self-esteem, problem solving, insight, emotional adjustment,
and interpersonal growth and development. It is the therapeutic function of
play which allows change to take place.
Just as the literature suggests many meanings of play, play therapy
has been defined in many ways. For example, Axline (1947) explained that
play therapy is based on play as children's natural medium of self-
expression. Children are given the opportunity to play out their feelings and
problems just as adults talk out their feelings and problems. Further,
Schaefer (1993) defined play therapy as an interpersonal process during
which a trained therapist uses the therapeutic powers of play to help
children resolve their emotional difficulties.
During the 1940s and 1950s, play therapy was the major form of
therapeutic intervention for children. As newer approaches became popular
such as behavior therapy and family therapy, play lost its appeal to
therapists, but found a niche with counselors in the schools. Now, play is
again being viewed as a promising approach to work with children exhibiting
difficulties as well as a vehicle within the structure of developmental
counseling. Allport (1968, as cited in Schaefer, 1993) offered a partial
explanation for the resurgence of interest in play with the observation that
the average life of most theoretical concepts spans about two decades. As
Schaefer (1993) suggested, "It seems time, then, for play therapy to be
viewed as new and exciting again" (p. 4).
Play therapy as an intervention
Landreth (1991) stated that play therapy can be an effective
intervention for all children except those who may be completely autistic or
the out-of-contact schizophrenic. Various behavioral problems have been
directly addressed in the literature. Among the behaviors listed by Landreth
(1991) are: alleviation of hair pulling, amelioration of elective mutism,
improved emotional adjustment of children of divorced parents, improved
emotional adjustment of abused and neglected children, reduction of stress
and anxiety in hospitalized children, correction of poor reading performance,
increased academic performance in learning disabled children, correction of
speech problems, decreased emotional and intellectual problems of the
mentally retarded, amelioration of stuttering, relieving of psychosomatic
difficulties, and the reduction of separation anxiety. Of particular are the
studies that demonstrate a decrease in aggressive, acting-out behaviors
(Willock, 1983); better social and emotional adjustment (Andriola, 1944;
Axline, 1948, 1964; Baruch, 1952; Miller, 1947; Moustakas, 1951; Pothier,
1967; Schiffer, 1957), and improved self-concept (Bleck & Bleck, 1982).
In 1964, Virginia Axline published Dibs In Search of Self, the account
of a child's work in play therapy. The book related the story of a young
child, Dibs, and illustrated the child-centered techniques used by Axline.
Not intended to be a report to professionals, the book did serve as an
introduction to the world of the child in play therapy. Similarly, Dorothy
Baruch (1952) related the story of Kenneth to sensitize parents as well as
others who work with children to the fact that children have strong
emotions that can cause difficulty with adjustment. Through play therapy,
these problems of adjustment may be overcome.
There is no lack of accounts of play therapy in the professional
literature. Axline (1948) reported the results of experimental work done
utilizing group play therapy with a group of four children, ages six, seven,
and eight, who were having difficulty adjusting to other children. The
children were described as either extremely withdrawn or aggressively
antisocial (Axline, 1948). Results of this work indicated that the children
learned to adjust to each other in a free play situation. Further, Axline
reported a considerable diminishing of destructive, aggressive play as time
passed (Axline, 1948).
Willock (1983) presented an approach to working with an aggressive,
acting-out child. The play therapy intervention was conducted over a period
of two years, one year of which was in a residential setting. Willcock
reported that although the treatment was terminated prematurely, the child
was successful in achieving an acceptable level of adjustment.
Moustakas (1951) utilized play therapy with children who were facing
new family experiences which they perceived as threatening such as the
arrival of a new sibling (Moustakas, 1951). The arrival of a new baby in the
family is a common source of confusion, aggression, stress, and anxiety for
children. Moustakas (1951) reported therapeutic gains in terms of
emotional insight and feelings of security and comfort within themselves.
Schiffer (1957) related an early attempt to work with small groups of
young children in the school setting who were exhibiting emotional
disturbances that could not be addressed in the classroom. The cases
reported were of children in the second and third grade. While no statistical
data was offered, the author reported that many of the children
demonstrated improved functioning in the classroom and in the
neighborhood as a result of their participation in the play group (Schiffer,
Bleck and Bleck (1982) related the results of a play group for
disruptive children in a public elementary school setting. These researchers
were able to increase the self-concepts and decrease disruptive behavior
through a ten session small group approach featuring play.
Play therapy and plav counseling
Most of the literature of play therapy is found in the field of
psychology. With roots going back to Hermine Hug-Hellmuth's use of play
in a counseling relationship in 1921, play therapy is the terminology most
commonly found in the literature. However, as developmental counseling
became accepted in the elementary schools, the term "therapy" took on a
negative connotation. The original use of the term referred to working with
children who were disturbed or maladjusted. Since the developmental
model of counseling addresses the normal, developmental concerns of all
children in the schools, many questioned whether the use of the term
"therapy" was appropriate in the school setting. Dinkmeyer and Muro
(1977), early developmental proponents, cautioned school counselors that
although there is an overlap in the techniques and basic philosophies of play
therapy and counseling using play media, there is a difference in the two
systems in terms of the children served. Others, such as Hoffman (1993),
do not object to the use of the term play therapy as a counselor
intervention. Hoffman pointed out that although the terminology is
different, there really isn't a difference between play therapy and play
counseling. The use of the term play therapy has become an increasingly
popular way of referring to the elementary counselor's use of play
techniques for working with children (Barlow, Strother, & Landreth, 1985;
Regardless of the terminology used to describe the process of using
play and play media in school counseling programs, the use of play therapy
has received more attention in the literature than has play counseling or play
media. Landreth, Homeyer and Bratton (1993) compiled a bibliography of
the literature in play therapy. More than one thousand, eight hundred titles
of books, journal articles, dissertations, and unpublished documents were
included in the volume dating back to 1933. This reference source
indicated that it was 1969 before an article appeared in a journal published
by the American Counseling Association. In the years from 1970 to 1979,
four articles appeared in the counseling literature that addressed play while
over seventy published works appeared in the professional literature of
psychology and related disciplines. The early 1980s produced three articles
in the major journals of the American Counseling Association. In 1987, the
journal Elementary School Guidance & Counseling devoted a special issue to
counseling using expressive arts, and included articles on the use of play
therapy and various play media in the elementary school. In the early
1990s, play and play media began to receive attention with an entire issue
of Elementary School Guidance & Counseling devoted to play in October,
1993. However, since that issue, only three additional articles have
appeared in the same journal. The School Counselor, another publication of
the American Counseling Association has published only one article on the
use of play since 1993. The Journal of Counseling and Development has
devoted only two articles to this area in the last three years. It would
appear that the use of play as a counseling intervention has not reached the
popularity that play therapy has held in the mental health field, perhaps
accounting for the continued emphasis on play therapy rather than play
media or play counseling.
Play Counseling in the Elementary School
The use of play in the elementary grades is not new. Kindergarten
and primary grade teachers have utilized various play media such as
puppets, art, and creative dramatics as teaching tools in the classroom.
Further, they have recognized that play helps children build confidence in
dealing with academic and interpersonal environments. The elementary
school counselor builds upon the natural use of play with the young child.
As Landreth (1983) indicated, it would seem that it is not a question of
whether the elementary school counselor should use play, but how play
should be used in elementary schools.
Until the 1960s, play therapy was used mainly by private practitioners
who were treating children considered to be maladjusted. However, during
the 1960s and early 1970s, play counseling became a popular form of
intervention in the schools. Many counselor educators such as Landreth
(1969), Myrick and Haldin (1971), and Waterland (1970) began to publish
their experiences using play as a therapeutic vehicle. To these and other
educators, play in the school setting was helpful in addressing a broad
range of developmental needs of all children, not just children who were
Several factors contributed to the increased use of play techniques in
the elementary schools. The development of guidance and counseling
programs in the elementary grades added many counselors to the primary
level. Among those professionals seeking a developmentally appropriate
approach, there was the realization that the use of a primarily verbal
approach would not be effective with children. Words are often foreign to a
child whose natural means of communication is the world of play. Children
below the age of eleven years may experience great difficulty expressing
their emotional world by verbal means. Reliance on speech alone confines
children to a potentially awkward and restrictive level of communication.
Given this developmental factor, Landreth (1993) advised elementary school
counselors to leave their verbally bound approach to communication and go
to the level of communication natural to children, play.
A primary objective of elementary schools is to provide opportunities
for children to develop intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally.
Play approaches can prepare children to profit from the learning
experiences. Children cannot be made to learn. Even the most effective
teachers cannot teach children who are not yet ready. Play counseling
serves as an adjunct to learning by helping children maximize their
opportunities to learn (Landreth, 1993). Play offers children an opportunity
to resolve emotional and social issues that may be interfering with academic
progress (Campbell, 1993b). It is through the process of play that the
counselor can touch the emotional world of children (Landreth, 1993).
Elementary school counselors use play and play media as therapeutic
tools to meet a broad range of developmental needs of all children, not just
those who are having difficulties. Developmental educators realize that
counseling should sometimes be playful and activities that are fun can be
used to motivate children to give full attention to serious thoughts. Play
may be used on an individual basis, in small groups, and in classrooms.
Further, play may be used by elementary school counselors as an
educational tool to help children explore concepts, develop self-awareness,
appreciate each others' positive differences, and practice new behaviors
One of the first guidance programs, Develooina Understanding of Self
and Others (DUSO), was developed by Dinkmeyer and Dinkmeyer (1970).
This program uses puppets, music, and drama to help children develop a
positive self-image. Campbell (1993b) noted that the last thirty years have
seen increasing use of guidance materials that use play media to motivate
and involve children in the counseling process.
Play counseling in the elementary school has a developmental focus.
It addresses the normal growth and understanding of self in children who
may be experiencing a variety of emotional stresses such as death, divorce,
or new siblings. The use of play allows children to work out these issues
which then enables learning to take place more efficiently in the classroom.
Elementary counselors use play because it takes advantage of children's
interest, creativity, and spontaneity and provides them with a
developmentally appropriate medium for self-expression (Campbell, 1993b).
Many forms of play and play media have been used with children.
The play media used in this study involved art, clay, creative dramatics,
games, guided imagery, and puppets.
Nickerson (1983) described art as "instant graphic communication
directed toward someone or the self as an expression of emotion" (p. 236).
The use of art as a play media intervention provides a nonthreatening
approach by which the child can express concerns that are sometimes
difficult to verbalize (Gladding, 1992). Art encourages creativity and self-
expression. Further, the completed art production can be used as a vehicle
for the exploration of feelings, ideas, and concerns (Nickerson, 1983).
Clay is a medium that "almost asks the child to do things with it"
(Gardner, 1994, p. 20). Since it takes little skill to work with clay, it is
appealing to a child. Like art, clay provides a nonthreatening way by which
the child can expresses feelings and concerns. Clay provides a safe outlet
for aggressive feelings since the clay often requires the child to pound,
poke, squeeze, or cut to achieve the intended form (Webb, 1991). Further,
clay can be used as a concrete expression of an idea. For example, a child
might be asked to make a gift to give to someone in the group. Using the
clay, the child could make a puppy to give to a friend, providing a more
concrete meaning than words or a drawing.
Elementary aged children often benefit from creative dramatics such
as role playing (Gladding, 1992). The use of creative dramatics allows
children to explore alternative behaviors to a situation and gain insight into
experiences. Acting out a situation can often help children see it in a new
light (Lansdown & Walker, 1991). By maintaining a pretend, or "as if"
approach, children are able to explore different alternative behaviors without
risking embarrassment or shame. According to Gardner (1993), most
children enjoy plays and will welcome the chance to act in them. Play
acting a situation of significance can provide children with a more
meaningful experience than merely talking about it.
The use of games in play counseling generally refers to card games,
board games, and fine and gross motor games. Games tend to be separate
from real life (Reid, 1993). Children generally enjoy games and often
counselors are able to deal with significant experiences in game language
(Gladding, 1993). Similarly, Gardner (1993) stated that games may be
therapeutic in their own right because pleasure is generally therapeutic.
One of the most therapeutic factors in game play involves the
socialization between players (Webb, 1991). Since the game is removed
from real life, children are able to learn new skills needed to interact with
others in an enjoyable and nonthreatening way. As children relax and lose
themselves in the game, they often begin to talk about feelings and ideas
that are important to them (Reid, 1993). Further, since games contain
rules, children learn to conform to rules, cooperate with others, and
demonstrate self-discipline in waiting for their turns (Webb, 1991).
Guided imagery has been used for many purposes. Myrick and
Myrick (1993) cited various authors who used guided imagery to increase
artistic expression, personal awareness, and concentration. Teachers have
also used guided imagery as part of their curriculum to help children retain
information presented. Further, guided imagery has been shown to be
effective in helping students to remain on task and control their classroom
behaviors (Anderson, 1980; Matthews, 1986; Oldfield, 1986; Oldfield &
Petosa, 1986). Gladding (1993) addressed the use of guided imagery to
raise self-esteem. He suggested that elementary school children with low
self-esteem could enhance their self-concept through guided imagery.
The use of guided imagery as a developmental counseling intervention
can be an effective tool in helping children learn more about themselves and
others and to help achieve more in school (Myrick & Myrick, 1993). Guided
imagery can provide a structure whereby children can examine common
concerns as well as specific troubling issues (Myrick & Myrick, 1993).
Through the use of a planned script, the counselor leads the students
through school-related images and experiences. Following the guided
imagery, the experience is discussed with the students. The learning value
of the experience is found in the processing or discussion of the activity
(Myrick & Myrick, 1993). Through discussion of feelings accompanying the
experience, as well as specific images that were evoked during the guided
imagery, children can be helped to look at their functioning in the school
setting and improve school success.
Woltman (1994) explained that puppets occupy a special place in the
play activities of the child. A major benefit of using puppets in counseling is
that puppets can be an effective vehicle for self-expression. Puppets
provide a safe way to express feelings and allow the child to communicate
concerns in a comfortable way (Carter, 1987). Since it is the puppet that is
"talking", the child is able to express feelings in a nonthreatening way
The process of play counseling may take place with individuals or in
small groups, and may be non-structured or structured in approach. In a
non-structured approach, children are free to select their play medium from
a variety of items (such as puppets or clay), set their own rules, and use the
playthings and the time in any way they wish (Carter, 1987). The counselor
attempts to establish a relationship of trust and acceptance by following the
lead of the child as he expresses himself with toys (Myrick & Haldin, 1971).
This child-centered approach however, may be time consuming and ill-fitted
to today's counselor caseloads.
In a structured approach, the counselor is more assertive and
directive. The counselor designs the activity, chooses the play medium, and
makes the rules (Carter, 1987). Through the structured use of activities
such as drawing, clay sculpture, puppetry, creative dramatics, games, and
guided imagery, the goals of an intervention can be addressed in a short-
A peer facilitator is a student who uses helping skills and concepts to
assist other students and sometimes adults to think about ideas and
feelings, to explore alternatives to situations, and to make responsible
decisions (Myrick, 1992; Myrick & Bowman, 1981b; Tobias & Seagraves,
1994). Similarly, Tindall (1989) wrote that peer counselors are
nonprofessionals who use counseling skills to help their peers.
A search of the literature revealed that there are many terms used to
identify peer facilitators: peer counselors, peer helpers, peer leaders, peer
mentors, peer pals, big brothers, big sisters, and peer tutors (Myrick,
Highland, & Sabella, 1995). For the purpose of this study, these terms are
considered to be synonymous with the term peer facilitator.
The idea of using students to help other students is not new. Its use
can be traced back to the one-room schoolhouses of the 1930s where the
older, more skilled students helped the younger, less skilled students
(Campbell, 1993a; Myrick 1993). School counselors were among the first
to recognize that peer helpers could extend developmental guidance
services to students at all grade levels (Myrick, 1992; Myrick, Highland, &
There was some early resistance to the concept of peer counseling.
Much of the early opposition came from parents, teachers, administrators,
and counselors who objected to the term peer counselor. These people
were skeptical that youngsters could actually counsel. Further, the term
"counseling" has been used synonomously with therapy. Therefore, many
parents and educators were resistant to the programs. The term "peer
facilitator" was introduced to describe the role and function of youngsters
serving as helpers. Peer facilitator communicates what students are asked
to do when helping others and provides enough flexibility to incorporate
several helping roles and functions (Myrick, 1993). The concept of the peer
facilitator has become viewed as a valuable part of a developmental
guidance program rather than a replacement for the skilled professional.
The American School Counselor Association first recommended that peer
counseling be part of a school's guidance services in 1978. In 1984, the
ASCA changed the term peer counselor to peer facilitator and upheld their
previous recommendation. As recently as 1990, the position statement was
In the 1960s, the idea of using a student as a helper became very
popular, partly as a result of an increasing problem with drug use among
school aged children. Counselors as well as other educators searched for
ways to reach students before they became drug abusers. Since surveys
during that time indicated that students with problems turned to their peers,
then counselors and coaches (Campbell, 1993a; Myrick & Folk, 1991), the
idea of peer helping began to flourish, especially at the high school level.
As the use of peer helping programs expanded, peer facilitators were trained
to serve in many roles such as leading preventive guidance groups with
elementary students, helping cancer projects in hospitals, and working with
incarcerated youth (Sanborn & Myrick, 1983).
Peer helping spread to the elementary grades in the 1970s.
Counselors trained older students to work with younger children in a variety
of projects such as orientation programs for new students, special friends,
small and large group leaders, and teacher and counselor assistants. Since
the early 1970s, hundreds of articles have been written in professional
journals as well as popular magazines describing successful peer facilitator
programs and substantiating their effectiveness with a wide variety of
problems including drop-out prevention, increasing appropriate school
behavior, and improving positive attitudes toward school (Campbell, 1993a;
In 1991, Myrick and Folk introduced the term "peervention" which
emphasized the idea that there were interventions that peer facilitators
might initiate that could be considered prevention projects. Such areas as
preventing interpersonal and social problems and helping others to get the
most out of school are two areas where peers can make a positive impact.
This idea follows the premise of the developmental model where concerns
and issues are addressed before they become a problem.
Peer facilitator programs have been successfully implemented in the
high school setting for over thirty years (Tindall & Gray, 1984). However, it
has just been in the last twenty years that students in the lower grades
have been systematically trained as peer helpers. Currently, peer helpers
are assisting younger students to think about ideas and feelings, explore
alternatives to situations, and make responsible decisions (Myrick &
Bowman, 1981b). Bowman and Myrick (1987) reported many benefits
when students participate as peer facilitators including improved academic
performance and improved classroom behavior.
Myrick, Highland, and Sabella (1995) pointed out that although only a
few quantitative studies exist in the literature, the findings have been
positive. For example, Briskin and Anderson (1973) obtained positive
results when sixth-grade students served as peer helpers in working with
disruptive third graders. In a 1987 study, Bowman and Myrick found
evidence that fifth grade students were effective in improving the classroom
behaviors and school attitudes of second and third grade students who were
considered to be exhibiting behavioral problems in the classroom. Foster-
Harrison (1995) cited studies providing evidence of increased school
attendance (Fantuzzo, Polite, & Grayson, 1990; Tobias, 1992), and
decreased disruptive or inappropriate behavior (Greenwood, Carta, & Hall,
1988; Hymel, 1986; Tobias, 1992). Each of these works has relevance to
the present study.
There are basically four peer helper roles: student assistant, tutor,
special friend, and small group leader. The student assistant may be the
oldest and most traditional helping role that students have performed.
These students work with teachers, administrators, and counselors in roles
such as answering telephones, greeting visitors, distribution of materials, or
other routine office or classroom tasks. Although there is some interaction
with peers, this role is generally concerned with indirect assistance to peers
(Myrick, Highland, & Sabella, 1995).
The tutor works with peers to improve academic performance. Peer
tutors provide a supportive relationship that begins by acknowledging what
the person is experiencing and how feelings and ideas about self enter into
study habits and skills (Myrick, Highland, & Sabella, 1995). Research has
shown increases in academic performance of both the students being
tutored and the tutor.
When a peer facilitator works as a special friend, the emphasis is on
developing a close helping relationship with another student who may need
support or just need to know that someone cares about him or her. This
relationship can make an important difference for students who may feel
uninvolved, left out, or alienated from school (Myrick, Highland, & Sabella,
Small group leaders have historically been used to make learning
experiences for large groups more personal and involving. In a
developmental guidance program, large group sessions are common. Often
class sizes are over thirty students. The use of peer facilitators as small
group leaders allows everyone the opportunity to participate. Myrick,
Highland, and Sabella (1995) support the use of a trained peer facilitator as
a small group leader. When a peer facilitator is leading a small group,
members are more likely to stay on task, take turns sharing, and accomplish
Peer facilitation has been shown to have desirable effects in various
programs and projects. Mathur and Rutherford (1991b) reviewed the
literature to evaluate the success of peer facilitated interventions to improve
the social skills of children and adolescents exhibiting behavior disorders.
Twenty-one articles were reviewed. The investigators concluded that peer
mediated approaches were successful in improving behavior.
Bowman (1982) investigated the effects of third grade peer
facilitators who were paired with classmates considered to be disruptive.
After a combination of individual and small group meetings, significant
positive changes in classroom behaviors and attitudes about school were
noted for the paired, disruptive students as compared to student behaviors
and attitudes in a control group.
Canning (1985) utilized fifth grade peer facilitators as special friends
to younger students in a play situation. The objectives of this program were
increased self-awareness, improved interpersonal relationships, increased
feelings of self-worth, and enhanced learning.
Huey and Rank (1984) conducted a study of the effects of group
assertiveness training on adolescent boys who were considered aggressive.
Their results suggested that professional counselors and peer facilitators
were equally effective in teaching skills and reducing aggressive classroom
behavior. Further, it was found that participants in the study were equally
pleased with peers or professional counselors as group leaders.
Fouts (1985) investigated the effects of a unit led by eighth grade
boys on the study skills, self-concepts, school attitudes, classroom
behaviors, and academic achievement of sixth-grade students. The results
of this study indicated an improvement in self-concept and school attitudes.
Bowman and Myrick (1987) paired trained fifth grade peer facilitators
with second and third grade students who were disruptive in their
classrooms. These investigators found a significant increase in appropriate
classroom behavior among the paired students. Similarly, Tobias (1992)
studied the effectiveness of eighth grade peer facilitators working with sixth
grade disruptive students. It was found that peers were able to effectively
help decrease disruptive behavior.
Children who are disruptive in the classroom have a harder time
learning and may interfere with the learning of other children as well. The
teaching process becomes more difficult as the teacher must spend more
time handling the disruptions. Disruptive behavior is a source of stress and
frustration for children, teachers, and other school personnel. Research has
demonstrated that peer facilitated interventions have been successful in
helping counselors reach more children and in achieving research goals.
Further, play has been effective in raising self-esteem and reducing
disruptive behavior with elementary school students.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a
developmental guidance unit featuring play media on disruptive elementary
school students. Specifically, this study focused on the use of play
counseling strategies with groups of fourth and fifth grade students who
were identified as exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviors. The impact of
the unit on the children participating was examined in terms of students'
acting-out behavior, peer-relationships, self-concepts, and classroom
behaviors. The unit was delivered three experimental conditions: 1) a
counselor-led play group; 2) a peer facilitator-led play group; and 3) a
control group which received no planned intervention.
METHODS AND PROCEDURES
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a
developmental guidance unit featuring play media on disruptive elementary
school students. More specifically, this study focused on the use of play
counseling strategies with fourth and fifth grade groups of children who
were identified as exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviors. The impact of
the unit on the children participating was examined in terms of students'
acting-out behavior, peer-relationships, self-concepts, and classroom
behaviors. The investigation involved three experimental groups: 1) a
counselor-led play group; 2) a peer facilitator-led play group; and 3) a
control group which received no planned intervention.
The population and sample, research design, hypotheses, the
developmental unit, leadership selection and training, dependent variables,
and instrumentation are discussed in this chapter.
Population and Samole
The population for this study consisted of six hundred sixty-four
fourth and fifth grade students attending the single intermediate school in
the South Country School District in Suffolk County, New York. As of
February 1, 1997, the total elementary school (K-5) population in the district
was one thousand, nine hundred, of which three hundred thirty-six were
enrolled in the fourth grade and three hundred twenty-eight were enrolled in
the fifth grade. These totals represent only students enrolled in regular
classes; special education classes were not included.
South Country Schools is located on the south shore of Long Island,
approximately fifty miles east of Manhattan. It serves the communities of
Bellport, Brookhaven Hamlet, East Patchogue, Medford, and North Bellport.
These communities represent a broad spectrum of socioeconomic
backgrounds and ethnic groups resulting in a student population that
reflects a diversity of cultural influences. The majority, approximately sixty
percent, of the school population is Caucasian. Approximately twenty-eight
percent of the district population is African-American or Hispanic.
Approximately ten percent of the district population is comprised of
students of Asian descent. Another two percent of the population comes
from other minority groups.
The Frank P. Long School serves as the fourth and fifth grade center
in the South Country Schools. The administration was invited and agreed to
participate in the study. All twenty-three teachers of non-special education
fourth and fifth grade classes were invited to participate. Eighteen teachers,
twelve fourth grade and six fifth grade, agreed to participate and were
asked to identify students whom they believed were exhibiting disruptive
behaviors. A descriptive paragraph defining "disruptive behavior" was given
to each teacher for use in identifying students. Seventy-two disruptive
fourth and fifth grade students were identified and invited to take part in the
study. Each identified student was randomly assigned a number beginning
with 01 and ending 72. Of these students, sixty-five returned the
necessary Institutional Review Board consent forms and using a table of
random numbers, were assigned to one of the experimental groups: the
counselor-led developmental unit (El); the peer-led developmental unit (E2);
or control (E3). Thus, twenty-four students were assigned to the four
counselor-led (El) groups, twenty-four to the three peer-led (E2) groups,
and the remaining seventeen to the control groups (E3). Classroom
teachers completed a Walker Problem Behavior Identification Checklist
(WPBIC) and a Disruptive Behavior Rating Scale (DBRS) for each of the
Students identified by a psychologist or other qualified mental health
professional as ADHD or Conduct Disordered, or taking medication for a
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