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Behaviorally, this means remaining three or four feet from the child and moving as he moves, unless closer or greater distance is indicated. (A game involving throwing can require greater distance to be a meaningful experience.)
Another question frequently addressed to the client-centered play therapist is whether the empathic responses are not in fact reinforcements. Implied is the notion that these responses are "teaching the child selectively" whatever provokes a response from the therapist, and shaping the child's behavior toward an increase or decrease of such responses (as would suit the child's dynamics).
It would seem foolish to deny that such expressions of understanding and acceptance are not reinforcing. Countless studies of reinforcement have demonstrated that a mere shake of the head, smile, or touch are reinforcers even to infants. The therapist is aware that by selecting and responding to only some of the material available (it would be impossible to respond to every word and act that takes place for most children), there will be a differential effect upon the child. Therefore he or she attempts to be responsive to all types or categories of expressions emanating from the child, in order to avoid unintentionally communicating that certain ones have greater value than others. Thus the child's choice of expressions is not limited by the therapist but still rests with the child. For example, a child is throwing rings on a ring-toss.
to the child's Yea! with: That one landed just where you wanted it (warm tone).
THERAPIST: That one didn't quite make it (in same tone as when ring landed).
therapist should respond with a comment relating to the child's perception of
the situation with about the same amount of emotion in both cases. Without this
equal attention, the child might in time begin to feel that the therapist is attracted
by success and turned off by failure. The play session must be a place where the
child can dare to fail and still be accepted. This basic concept cannot be violated
if the therapist wants to maintain the attitude of acceptance believed necessary
for full growth in the sessions. Therapists must monitor themselves to be certain
that their own spontaneous approvals of certain behaviors do not communicate that
these are preferred. A safeguard is to be certain that equal attention and affect
are offered the child for success and failure, mature versus immature reactions,
pretty versus ugly products. Reviewing tapes of the sessions, receiving supervision,
or observer feedback can help the therapist accomplish this important task.
Reflection Exercise #2
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
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