Underlying constructs in play therapy themes : an exploratory factor analysis.


Play therapy and play are vital to understanding the inner world of children. Children initially lack the vocabulary to fully express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Benedict (2001) has developed a classification system of themes for identifying repeated behaviors and ideas expressed in play. The current study conducted an exploratory factor analysis to determine if there is an underlying structure in this system of themes. The themes that were enacted in the play therapy sessions of 352 children enrolled in Head Start were analyzed. The children ranged in age from three to six years and attended an average of fourteen play therapy sessions. The results of the factor analysis indicated that most of the play themes can be categorized into one of nine factors. The nine factors are empowerment/loss of self control, safety, violent violations, parentified internalizing, hyperarousal/dissociation, maltreatment communication, people pleasing, attack/protect from self, and uncertainty/loss. These nine factors are statistically sound and clinically useful. A literature review supported the factors with theoretical, case study, and empirical evidence. Correlational analyses were run between each of the nine factors and demographic or background information about the children included in the study. These analyses revealed that relationships do exist between specific historical information and play behaviors. Extreme poverty, sex of the child, sex of the therapist, and witnessing domestic violence were all found to correlate with specific clusters of themes. Clinical implications of the nine-factor model were discussed.



Play therapy. Play themes. Trauma. Children.