Basic Principles and Theories of Play Therapy

Program Goals

This workshop is designed to provide a basic understanding of the historical development of play therapy as a legitimate therapeutic approach, describing the major theories of play therapy, and Axline’s foundational principles of child-centered play therapy. This workshop will then demonstrate how directive and non directive approaches in play therapy can be used separately or in unison and participants will have experiential opportunities to practice several play therapy principles and approaches. In addition, information will be provided on how play therapy strategies can be utilized to promote and advance therapeutic goals when working with a range of behavioral problems and concerns. Specifically, this program will:

  • Define play therapy and provide curative aspects of play;
  • Provide theoretical frameworks for the practice of play therapy;
  • Discuss a contextual approach for providing play therapy;
  • Differentiate between directive and nondirective play therapy approaches and discuss an integrative approach;
  • Describe Axline’s basic principles of play therapy;
  • Provide guidelines for the active observation, documentation, and processing of play metaphors, symbols, and activities;
  • Offer a rationale for the integration of expressive therapies and cognitive behavioral strategies;
  • Offer opportunities for consultation of specific clinical questions utilizing verbal, audio, or video case presentations.

Program Schedule

The daily schedule will consist of didactic presentations, experiential work, clinical case presentations, and group work to process specific clinical presentations of play therapy.

This course is presented in two full-days (six hours each day).

Day 1
9:00 – 9:30 Introductions and needs assessment: Participant’s “wish list”
9:30 - 10:45 Didactic information will be provided on the definition of play
therapy, curative aspects of play, major theories of play therapy (psychoanalytic, humanistic, behavioral, developmental, client-centered, and mention of others such as Gestalt, filial, etc)
10:45 - 11:00 Break
11:00 - 12:00 Review of videotapes illustrating play therapy models Child-centered play therapy (Garry Landreth) Developmental play therapy (Theraplay model)
12:00 – 1:00 LUNCH
1:00 - 2:30 Discussion of Axline’s principles of child-centered play; Experiential exercise
2:30 - 2:45 BREAK
2:45 - 4:30 Continuation of Axline’s basic principles of non directive play therapy and the benefits of non directive play
Day 2
9:00 – 10:30 Directive play therapy techniques: When therapists set the agenda Experiential exercise
10:30 - 10:45 BREAK
10:45 - 12:00 Identifying play themes in assessment and treatment planning Review of video from Dr. Clark Moustakas Discussion of gender, culture, and age issues
12:00 - 1:00 LUNCH
1:00 - 2:30 Setting up a play therapy office: Suggested toys for symbolic utilization Review of tape by Dr. John Allan and discussion
2:30 - 2:45 BREAK
2:45 - 5:00 Questions and answers

Course Objectives

By the end of the course participants will be able to:

  • Name two major theories of play therapy;
  • List four of Axline’s basic principles of play therapy;
  • Define play therapy and differentiate from generic play;
  • Give a rationale for the integration of play therapy and other expressive techniques with cognitive behavioral strategies;
  • Describe three specific play therapy techniques to be utilized for assessment;
  • Give an example of how specific therapy goals can be advanced through the use of play therapy;
  • List two benefits of play therapy;
  • Discuss two ways to involve the family in play therapy.

General Course Information

This course is limited to 15 participants and is designed to facilitate experiential work, group discussion, and processing of clinical material. Participants will have ample opportunity to discuss their specific needs and clinical questions. Participant feedback will be sought out throughout the two- day class.

Continuing Education Credits: Starbright Training Institute is an Approved Provider with the Association for Play Therapy (Provider #96-029) and is approved to provide Continuing Education Credits related to play therapy. STI maintains responsibility for the program. Starbright Training Institute has contracted with Commonwealth Educational Seminars ( to provide CEUs in the professional categories of Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology, and Professional Counseling. (Please note that CEUs for LPCs is only available in VA but not for MD or DC).


Andrea Driggs McLeod is a full-time psychotherapist with Gil Institute for Trauma Recovery and Education. Previously she spent many years working in the DC public school system and specializes in working with young traumatized children and their families. Andrea is a Certified Child-Centered Play Therapist and a Registered Play Therapy Supervisor. Phone: 513-312-8609 Email: