You are on page 1of 5

Strengths and Limitations

While researching this article, I found several articles that define Adlerian play
therapy and how to use it, but empirical data with regards to its efficacy was
lacking. Snow, Buckley & Williams (1999) present a case study of Adlerian
therapy wherein they laud the egalitarian relationship between child and therapist
and the encouragement the child receives during treatment, but it does not offer
any conclusive evidence that Adlerian play therapy works any better than other
modalities such as Child-centered or filial play therapy. Daigneault (1999) argues
that Adlerian play therapy is compatible with other modalities, specifically
narrative therapy. The author points out that both modalities hinge on a strong
therapeutic relationship between client and therapist, and both address the impact
of social influence on development. Portrie-Bethke, Hill & Bethke (2009) suggest
that Adlerian play therapy can be integrated with adventure-based counseling to
treat children with ADHD. These three articles all state that Adlerian play therapy
works best with school-aged children and that social context and the therapeutic
relationship are two of its strongest components. While I did not find supporting
empirical data, I did not find any literature that criticized its use. To that end, the
discussion about strengths and limitations will be based on my opinions as a future
While I do not agree with some of Adlers beliefs, such as the importance of birth
order, I believe social interest is crucial. How we relate to others, how we are
accepted by others, and how we are affected by relationships is critically important
to mental health. While I consider myself a cognitive-behaviorist, I do think that
many of our irrational thoughts come from the social environment in which we
live, so to that end, I see the two theories as complimentary. I also believe that a
therapeutic relationship is crucial, and that encouragement, especially with
children, is the key to empowering change. Adlerian play therapy is also more
directive, at least in some phases, than other play therapies such as child-centered.
While I do not have any criticisms about child-centered play therapy, Adlerian play
therapy better suits my personality and style, given the attention is pays to goals

and behaviors within a social context. Finally, several articles note that Adlerian
play therapy works best when the parents and even the school can be involved
(Dewes & Schaefer 2010; Kottman 1999; 2001). While this strikes me as difficult
to accomplish, it is nonetheless important if one is to understand the child within
the context of his or her family and social surroundings. Perhaps its greatest
strength is that it promotes encouragement and ultimately strives to empower both
the child and his or her parents with positive lifestyle changes. I find this directive,
results-driven model to be quite appealing.
As I previously noted, empirical data about Adlerian play therapy is lacking.
While this is not necessarily a limitation, it could conceivably be an issue with an
agency that prefers empirically based therapies. Adlerian therapy also works best
with children under the age of 10, which means its target population is somewhat
limited in scope. I also do not know if Adlerian play therapy can be used with
developmentally delayed or mentally retarded children, as I found no research in
that area. Finally, one of Adlerian play therapies strengths is also a potential
limitation. If including the family is crucial, is Adlerian play therapy effective if
the family, for whatever reason, is unable or unwilling to participate? In my career,
I work with children who are in DSS custody and are moved from placement to
placement. One child on my case load has been moved 3 dozen times over the last
nine years. I would think that this mode of therapy would be difficult to execute in
a situation like that. It seems like Adlerian play therapy hinges on the assumption
that the child lives in a relatively stable home, in that he or she has at least one
parent or guardian who is a constant. This is often not the case for foster children.
There are certainly aspects of APT that would be beneficial, but given the
importance of family in the process, I wonder how effective it would be with a
child who is essentially a nomad.

While I agree with its major tenets and beliefs, Adlerian play therapy is probably

not a therapeutic model I would use in my practice, simply because this is an age
range with which I do not intend to work. However, it is clear to me that play
therapy can be beneficial to children. Several articles note that play therapy works
best with children under the age of 10 (Kottman 1999; Kottman 2001; Dewes &
Schaefer 2010). I see myself working with teenagers and adults.
If anything, my research into this subject has served to remind me of the Adlerian
principles that do make the most sense to me. While I do not offer much credence
to birth order, I do think we all have a desire to belong, and that ones social
interest is directly related to ones mental health. Perhaps the most important
principle of Adlerian play therapy that I plan to use is the notion that behavior is
purposeful and goal-directed. In my current position as a case manager, I often
discuss this idea with parents and foster children. For example, I have a 15 year old
female in one of my placements who tends to make hurtful statements about other
family members that she passes off as jokes. In a recent supervision session with
her, I actually told her about Adlers view of behavior, and challenged her to look
at her own motivations for saying such hurtful things. Was it anger that motivated
her, or jealousy, or something else? As she spoke with me about the issue, she
began to talk about her biological father, and the abuse she had suffered from him.
What she did not realize was that she was allowing the anger she felt about her
father to poison the positive relationships she had in her current placement. It was a
profound moment for us both, as she realized how that anger had shaped her
behavior, and I saw firsthand the efficacy of that Adlerian intervention.
In summary, I do not see Adlerian play therapy or its interventions only as ways to
address negative behaviors. While the example I used was used for that purpose, I
had spent most of that meeting praising this young girl for the tremendous amount
of progress she has made over the last year. When I first met her, I had to have her
hospitalized on suspicion of suicidal intent. Now, she is doing so well that I can
nit-pick with her and address comparatively smaller issues, such as her
sometimes inappropriate sense of humor.
Adlerian play therapists use encouragement as a direct intervention with children,
and I find this to be both a simple and effective technique to use with any client, be

they child, teenagers, or adult. It is especially helpful with my foster children, as so

many of them have grown up in environments that turn them into the very essence
of an Adlerian disturbed individual.
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.).
Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Daigneault, S. D. (1999). Narrative means to Adlerian ends: An Illustrated
comparison of narrative therapy and Adlerian play therapy. The Journal of
Individual Psychology, 55(3), 298-315.
Drewes, A. A. & Schaefer, C. E. (Eds.). School-based play therapy (2nd
ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Evan, T.A. & Armstrong, S. (2011). Sandtray for early recollections with children
in Adlerian play therapy. The Journal of Individual Psychology, (67)4, 391-407
Kottman, T. (1999). Integrating the crucial cs into Adlerian play therapy. The
Journal of Individual Psychology, 55(3), 288-297.
Kottman, T. (2001). Adlerian play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy.
10(2), 1-12.
Kottman, T. (2003). Partners in Play (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American
Counseling Association.
Kottman, T. (2009, July 1). Adlerian play therapy video. [Video file]. Retrieved
Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). New
York: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Lew, A & Bettner, B.L. (1996). A parents guide to motivating children. Newton
Center, MA: Connexions.
Menassa, B. M. (2009). Theoretical orientation and play therapy: Examining
therapist role, session structure, and therapeutic objectives. Journal of Professional
Counseling, Practice, Theory, and Research, 37(1), 13-26.
Portrie-Bethke, T.L, Hill, N.R., & Bethke, J. (2009). Strength-based mental health
counseling for children with ADHD: An integrative model of adventure-based
counseling and Adlerian play therapy. Journal of Mental Health
Counseling.(31)4, 323-339.
Schaefer, C.E. (1993). What is play and why is it therapeutic? In C.E. Schaefer
(Ed.), The Therapeutic Powers of Play. New York: Aronson, p. 1-15.
Snow, M. S., Buckley, M.R., & Williams, S. C. (1999). Case study using Adlerian
play therapy. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 55(3): 329-341.
Van der Smissen, G. (2003). Adlerian play therapy. Retrieved from pdf_files/ARTICLES%20VOL%201-9/02-03%20