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DVD - Group Activities that Heal
Play Therapy continuing education Addiction Counselor CEUs

Section 17
Child-Centered Group Therapy

CEUs Question 17 | CEU Test | Table of Contents
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

Intervention of Child-Centered Group Play Therapy
Our purpose in providing child-centered group play therapy was to address participants’ emotional or behavior problems such as low self-esteem, depression, aggression, or defiance that were not remedied by classroom guidance lessons, group activities, or behavior management plans. Our intervention endeavored to honor the African worldview and facilitate self-confidence. This intervention was applied to 22 African American boys ages 5 to 10 years attending elementary school in a major southeastern city. Participants were referred for play therapy by their parents or by teachers who had concerns about the boys’ behavior and emotional wellbeing.

Parental permission for participation was obtained by explaining the project to childrens’ parents and asking them to sign a consent form. To maintain confidentiality, pseudonyms are used in the following descriptions.

Procedures for Child-Centered Group Play Therapy
Because Sweeney and Homeyer (1999) indicated that group play therapy can consist of two members, participants in our sessions were placed in groups of two based on (a) sibling relationships, (b) friendships, or (c) convenience. Each group received from 9 to 11 child-centered group play therapy sessions from a registered play therapist supervisor (the first author, identified as "counselor" in the session dialogues that follow) who had completed three play therapy graduate courses and over 2,000 hours of play therapy experience.

Child-centered group play therapy sessions, as defined above, were conducted either once a week or twice a week at the school the boys attended. We implemented the basic child-centered play therapy principles of following the child’s lead; avoiding judgmental statements; creating a safe, accepting atmosphere; reflecting feelings; facilitating decision making; enhancing self-esteem; setting therapeutic limits; and providing therapeutic toys (Landreth, 2002).

Play materials used in the play therapy sessions included Landreth’s (2002) suggestions for a play therapy tote bag: (a) real-life items such as a bendable doll family, a cardboard box top with rooms indicated by strips of tape, a nursing bottle, plastic dishes, a small car, a small plane, and a telephone; (b) aggression release items such as handcuffs, dart gun, rubber knife, toy soldiers, and an inflatable plastic punching toy; and (c) items that could be used for creative expression such as Play-Doh®, a small plain mask, construction
paper, crayons, and blunt scissors. In addition, African American dolls were added to enhance diversity.

The general goals of the child-centered group play therapy intervention we implemented were to help participants learn self-control, responsibility, expression of feelings, respect, and acceptance of self and others; to improve behavior, social skills, and self-esteem; and to decrease depression and anxiety (Landreth, 2002; Sweeney & Homeyer, 1999). The more specific goals we had were to honor the African worldview and facilitate self-confidence in African American boys. These goals are consistent with Personal/Social Standard "A" in ASCA’s (2002) National Model, which states, "students will acquire the attitudes, knowledge and interpersonal skills to help them understand and respect self and others" (p. 32).

The African Worldview Facilitated in Play Therapy
A brief explanation of the four components of the African worldview as identified by Parham et al. (2000), verbal data exemplifying each component, and methods to facilitate child-centered group play therapy sessions with African American boys in elementary school are given in the following paragraphs.

Emotional vitality. Emotional vitality refers to a sense of aliveness, intensity, and animation that is often manifested in music, dance, art, song, language, and life style (Parham et al., 2000). Because emotions are viewed as positive, feelings of love, joy, and so forth are expressed openly. Toys and the permissive atmosphere of the playroom facilitated children’s rhythm, movement, and celebration (e.g., in their spontaneous dance). The children’s spontaneous bursts of energy, aliveness, and celebration were matched through the counselors’ genuine, empathic reflections of the children’s excitement. For example, an African American boy celebrated in dance and song a recent accomplishment.

Darnel: "We graduated from cooking class." (singing and dancing)
Counselor: "You are proud of yourself for graduating! Doing that makes you so happy."

The counselor facilitated emotional vitality by creating a safe, free environment where children were self-directed. This was communicated through statements such as "In here, you can play with all the toys in most of the ways you would like" and "In here, you can decide what to do." In addition, intense expression of feelings was accepted through statements such as "You’re so mad you felt like yelling" and "You’re excited, dancing around!" In this environment, the belief "It’s OK for me to be a lively and expressive African American male" is more likely to be integrated into the selfconcept of these young boys.

Interdependence. Interdependence refers to the concept that people are interconnected and as concerned about the health and welfare of others as they are for themselves (Parham et al., 2000). This African worldview could be reflected by the thought "I am because we are, and we are, therefore I am." Peer social skills of interdependence were evident in group play therapy sessions. In beginning play sessions, children often hoarded toys, were overly dominant or submissive, and experienced conflict. As the counselor reflected each child’s feelings, strategies, and thwarted desires, children became aware of their unsatisfactory relational styles and began to pursue cooperative interactions. As a result, children balanced power among themselves and learned to trust each other for help.

For example, in the second session, Damon, who was usually dominant, grabbed a toy from Saquan, who was usually submissive.
Damon: "Give me that knife."
Saquan: "I was playing with it."
Damon: "I need it to get the bad guy." (Grabs it from Saquan,
who then plays with another toy by himself.)
Counselor: "Saquan, you’re mad he took that and don’t want
to play with him. Damon, seems you wanted him to play
with you, but now you’re playing alone."
By the fourth session, interdependence developed.
Damon: "Let’s get the bad guy. I need the knife."
Saquan: "I’ll use it to get him. You get the handcuffs and we’ll
take him to jail."
Damon: "OK. Bring him here."
Counselor: "Damon, you decided to cooperate, and Saquan,
you decided to play with him. You are working together."

Here, the progression from independence to interdependence is seen. Children began to exercise interdependence and value a "we" identity rather than a "me" identity. The African worldview of interdependence was enhanced by the counselor’s reflection of the impact of one child’s behavior on the other child and also of their cooperative interactions. The procedure of linking (i.e., pointing out that the other child shares the child’s concern) also facilitated interdependence (Gladding, 2003).

Collective survival. Collective survival refers to a tribal concept that is based on sharing and cooperation to the end so that everyone survives or succeeds (Parham et al., 2000). Children’s play revealed the concept that "we are in this to the end." Fighting the bad guy and eating together were common themes that demonstrated the collective survival.

For example, two boys found a way to share the responsibility for the evening meal.
Dixon: "I’m cooking chicken wings and greens."
Jarik: "I’ll go to the store to get some Sprite."
Counselor: "You are both doing your share of the work for dinner."

The counselor’s reflection of content and cooperation reinforced the importance of sharing responsibility and, thus, of collective survival.  The collective survival worldview was also demonstrated when participants played a fatherly role of provider and protector. One African American boy fed, kissed, and bathed a baby doll and then said, "This is my baby. Here’s money. I pay child support. See, I love you!" Collective survival was encouraged through the counselor’s trust in children’s self-direction and her reflection of synergy. Allowing children to discover the joy of sharing responsibility rather than directing them to do so affirmed their innate social interest.

Harmonious blending. Harmonious blending refers to the natural rhythm of life, or the belief in "going with the flow" (Parham et al., 2000). Harmonious blending is also the belief that "things will work out in due time." This component was evident when two brothers who had an absent father pretended that the bop bag was a close male friend.

Tyvin: "This is my friend! He’s dying. Call a doctor."
Keshaun: "I’m the doctor. I’ll give him a shot."
Tyvin: "He’s alive. He’s back!"
Counselor: "There’s hope! You were worried but worked
together to make him come back."

As the counselor reflected the underlying feelings and dynamics throughout this process, the brothers experienced the natural rhythm of loss and the harmonious blending of a desired successful ending. Sibling play was particularly powerful in developing harmonious blending because siblings had a common social script and frequently cooperated in playing out familiar scenes to seek a satisfying resolve, which is a dynamic also found in other studies (Black, 1989; Tyndall-Lind, 1999). In the play therapy sessions, the counselor
facilitated harmonious blending between siblings by reflecting these dynamics through verbalizations such as "You both seem to know what usually happens" and "Now you are looking for a way to make it different."
- Baggerly, Jenifer, & Max Parker; Child-Centered Group Therapy with African American Boys at the Elementary School Level; Journal of Counseling & Development; Fall 2005, Vol. 83, Issue 4, 387-396.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about child-centered group play therapy with African American boys. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 17
What are the four components of the African worldview? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Test.

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