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There is a paucity of literature on the application of client-centered play therapy to diverse cultures. In this regard, the purpose of the article is to discuss considerations related to using Axline's eight principles of play therapy with Mexican-American children. The principles involve multicultural acceptance and understanding, relationship building, expression of feelings, and issues of control. Implications for play therapy practice with Ibis population are provided.
Despite the growing recognition of cultural issues in play therapy (Cochran, 1996; Coleman, Parmer, & Barker, 1993; Hinman, 2003; Landreth, 2001), there is a paucity of literature on the application of play therapy theories to children of diverse cultural backgrounds, especially Mexican-American children. The child/client-centered (hereafter referred to as client-centered) approach to play therapy has been recommended when the child and therapist are from culturally different backgrounds (Ramirez, 1999: Trostle, 1988). Specifically, goals of client-centered play therapy have the therapist continually strive to see the child's point of view, understand and accept the child, not impose beliefs or solutions on the child, and work within the framework of the family's values and beliefs to ensure a better chance of cooperation and positive outcomes (Ramirez, 1999).
Axline's (1947) eight principles of play therapy are commonly cited guidelines for client-centered play therapy (e.g., Harris & Landreth, 2001). The principles are the following (Axline, 1947, pp. 73-74):
The use of Axline's principles with Mexican-American children has not been addressed systematically in the literature. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss Axline's eight play therapy principles as they may relate to traditional Mexican-American culture. It is important, however, to first define key terms used in this article. Mexican-American refers to individuals of Mexican descent, regardless of their country of origin (the United States or Mexico). Culture is "the ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview treated and shared by a group of people bound together by a combination of factors (which can include a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and/or religion), and how these are transformed by those who share them" (Nieto, 1996, p. 390). Worldview pertains to the subjective reality of both the child and therapist, and involves their "beliefs, values, and assumptions about people, relationships, nature, time, and activity" in their world (Ibrahim, Roysircar-Sodowsky, & Ohnishi, 2001, p. 429), Ethnicity refers to membership in a group that has an historic origin, shared heritage and tradition, and characteristics that set it apart from other groups (Banks, 2003). Finally, race usually has been defined in terms of biological/physical differences (e.g., hair texture and skin color) (Atkinson, 2003).
Therapists are cautioned not to over- or under-emphasize cultural variables in their work with culturally different children (Kerl, 1998; Sue & Sue, 2003). Within-group differences exist, e.g., related to socio-economic status (SES), language proficiency, region, and acculturation level (Hanson. 2004). For example, mainstream American values may be reflected in childrearing practices of first-generation Mexican-American families who overall may be viewed as having traditional Mexican values. Additionally, therapists are reminded to always be aware that each child is an individual, and commonly cited group values, beliefs, and norms may not be relevant to or explanatory of any individual child's circumstances (Hanson, 2004; Kerl, 1998).
Summary and Conclusions
Among the most critical issues discussed were the need for therapists to have a deep awareness of their own specific culture and how that affects their worldviews; to be sensitive to their values, biases and assumptions that might interfere in play therapy with the Mexican-American child; and to convey their respect for the child regardless of cultural differences. It is recommended that therapists attempt to understand as much as possible about the worldview and culture of the Mexican-American child and be able to engage in culturally appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication. Also discussed were recommendations for developing rapport, such as, using materials that are culturally familiar, and the particular need to assure a positive relationship with the parents due to the centrality of family in traditional Mexican-American families. Other issues addressed included the therapists' Spanish proficiency, and the role of language in the expression of the child's emotions. Therapists are reminded, however, that they should not over- or under-emphasize cultural variables; individuals are members of multiple groups (e.g., SES, geographic, and ethnic); there are significant within-group differences in cultural variables; and each individual may or may not be reflective of commonly recognized group values, beliefs, and norms.
In conclusion, this article represents a first step in the exploration of cultural considerations relative to Axline's principles in play therapy with Mexican-American children. Supportive evidence is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. Additionally, many of the recommendations discussed also may be helpful to therapists as they work with other Hispanic groups. A thorough understanding of cultural beliefs, attitudes, values, practices, and, in many cases, language will assist therapists in establishing rapport, and working effectively with culturally diverse children.
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