Speaking of children: A study of how play therapists make meaning of children

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Sari Knopp Biklen


Play therapists, Filial therapy, Counseling, Children

Subject Categories

Education | Student Counseling and Personnel Services


This dissertation presents the findings of a qualitative study that explored how play therapists constructed stories of children and childhood to understand children and the culture of childhood. Using the language of narrative theory, it examined how play therapists made meaning of children and childhood based on the commonality of the experience of working with children in the context of play therapy.

Play therapists' perspectives on the role of play therapists and on play therapy developed through the complex matrix of professional identity, status, roles, and their own social values and belief systems. Play therapists demonstrated roles of allies, phenomenologists, and co-authors. In the role of children's ally play therapists provided advocacy for children. Regardless of theoretical orientation, play therapists adopted the role of phenomenologist determined to achieve empathy and insight into the world of children. As co-authors of children's stories, play therapists translated stories from children's perspectives into forms that could be accessed and were acceptable to adults.

Play therapists also positioned themselves as strict believers in the innocence of children. Children, as described by the play therapists in this study, were free from blame, responsibility, and ownership of psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems. For play therapists this perspective paradoxically resulted in difficulty in situating themselves as collaborators with children's parents. Play therapists struggled personally and professionally with how to be allies both to children and to their parents. Furthermore, they had not been sufficiently prepared through their education and preparation to be collaborative with the parents of their clients. Implications for specialized education and preparation for counseling children and collaborating with parents is offered.


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