Adlerian Play Counseling Interventions


Christy Darji
Karen Doll
Dayna Wood

MHS 6421: Play Counseling
Sondra L. Smith, Ph.D.

Fall, 2003

Target individual: This Adlerian Play Therapy intervention was designed specifically for a middle school population. The target population would exhibit inappropriate social skills demonstrated by difficulty interacting with others, and by their trouble making and keeping friends. This intervention would work towards helping this group relearn the skills needed to interact appropriately. We feel that it can be tailored for use with other populations as well.  

Theoretical Orientation:
Basic Concepts
a)    Behavior is purposeful.
b)    People are social beings who have a need to belong. Therefore, behavior must be examined in a social context.
c)    Human beings can learn social interest.
d)    People must be viewed holistically. (Kottman & Schaefer, 1993)

Nature of the Therapeutic Process:
Stages & Strategies:
1)    Building a relationship with the child (tracking, restatement of content, reflection of feelings, encouragement, limit setting)
2)    Investigating the child’s life-style (goals of behavior, family atmosphere and constellation, early recollections, life-style     hypotheses)
3)    Helping the child gain insight into life-style (tentative hypotheses, therapeutic metaphors)
4)    Reorientation/Reeducation (generating alternative behaviors, consultation) (Kottman & Johnson, 1993)

Relevant History
: Alfred Adler was one of the first four members in Freud’s psychoanalytic circle. However, Adler’s views, emphasizing the subjectivity of perception and social factors, became more and more divergent from psychoanalytic theory, and he left the society in 1911 (Sharf, 2000). Adler, Dreikurs, Dinkmeyer and others worked with children from an Adlerian framework, yet they did not use play therapy techniques. Others wrote articles suggesting using Adlerian play therapy techniques as appropriate interventions. However, it was Kottman who formulated a method for combining play therapy and Adlerian techniques (Kottman & Schaefer, 1993).


Goals of behavior: The four goals of misbehavior are attention, power, revenge, and inadequacy. The most common goal of behavior is attention. However, most of the children referred for play therapy are children whose goal is power (Kottman & Johnson, 1993).
Social interest: The caring and concern for the welfare of others that can serve to guide people’s behavior throughout their lives. It is a sense of being a part of society and taking responsibility to improve it (Sharf, 2000).
Family atmosphere: The characteristic pattern established by parents and presented to their children as a standard for social living (Kottman & Johnson, 1993).
Family constellation: The number, birth order, and personality characteristics of members of a family are important in determining lifestyle. (Sharf, 2000)
Early recollections: Moments, usually from the first 4 to 6 years of life, that a person remembers, and represents how the child views self, others, and the world (Kottman & Johnson, 1993).
Life-style hypotheses: Based on the goals of behavior, family atmosphere, family constellation, and early recollections, the counselor can begin to formulate hypotheses about the child’s beliefs about self, other, and the world (“I am…” “Others are…” “The world is…”)(Kottman & Johnson, 1993).

Advantages & Limitations:
    Adlerian psychotherapy is diverse and takes into consideration the importance of familial and social factors. It is also practical and goal oriented, and techniques are geared to change beliefs and behaviors within a short amount of time. Furthermore, its education emphasis can be applied to both children and their parents.
    The short-term nature of this approach may make it difficult to fully understand a client’s lifestyle and show how earlier experiences are influencing current functioning (Sharf, 2000).

Session One (& Two): Getting to Know You

Purpose: Stage 1 - Building a relationship (with the child)

Objectives: To build an egalitarian relationship with the child and to explain the logistics of play therapy.  

Materials Needed: Playroom equipped with standard play therapy material.

Verbal Components
: This session is primarily verbal.

Procedures: (30 minutes)
1.    Explain the logistics of the play therapy process.
2.    Ask the child what his/her parents said the reason for coming is.
3.    Reframe the presenting problem in a way that is more hopeful and acknowledges the child’s assets, uniqueness, and creativity. Express your joy for having the opportunity to work with him/her.
4.    Let the child free play for the remainder of the session. Use tracking, reflection of feelings, restatement of content, tentative hypotheses, encouraging, and questioning strategies. Feel free to engage in play with the child.
5.    Set limits on the child hurting him/herself or others, damaging toys or property, and other destructive behavior.
    - Use a four-step limit-setting procedure.
    - First, state the limit in a nonjudgmental manner.
    - Then reflect the child’s feelings and make guesses about the purpose of the behavior.
    - Fourth, help the child generate appropriate alternative behaviors. If the child continues to break the limit the counselor can set up logical consequences (Kottman & Johnson, 1993).

Processing Leads/Possible Responses:
“Sometimes you feel alone.”
“You feel sad about that.”
“Wow, you look really proud of yourself!”
 “It is against the rules in the playroom to (state behavior).”
“It sounds like you really don’t like people telling you what to do. You get mad when I tell you it is against the rules to do (state behavior).”
“In here, people are not for hurting. I bet you can think of something else you can do with (name object) that wouldn’t hurt anything.”
“What do you think should happen if you choose to do (state behavior) again?”
Recommendations: While building rapport in these initial sessions begin to watch the child’s actions in the playroom and in the waiting room. Examine the child’s behavior, the reactions and feelings of other people toward the child, and the child’s responses to correction so to gain initial information about the child’s goals of behavior. Also monitor your own reactions to the child (Kottman & Schaefer, 1993).

Session One (& Two): Building a Relationship – parent consultation (20 minutes)

Objectives: Begin building a partnership with the parent(s) by making the parent(s) feel heard and understood. It is important during this stage to validate feelings and to look for positive aspects of the parent-child relationship (Kottman & Schaefer, 1993). Use reflection of feelings, restatement of content, tentative hypotheses, encouraging, and questioning strategies.


Session Three: Reflections

Purpose:  Stage two – Investigating the child’s life-style

Objectives: Child will be able to demonstration goals of behavior, family atmosphere and family constellation.

Materials Needed: crayons, paper

Experiential and Verbal Components: This session has some of each.

Procedures: (30 minutes)  
      1.  Have child draw a picture of an early recollection involving their family.
      2.  When child has completed his or her picture, if time is available, have the child fill in the blanks in the following: I am _____; others are _____; the world is _____.
      3.  Have the child explain his or her picture to you.
             - ask open-ended questions to stimulate discussion (i.e., What is the family doing? What are they each feeling?)
      4.  Ask the child to explain how he or she filled in the blanks to the sentences above.  
Session Three: Investigating the Child’s Life-Style – parent consultation (20 minutes)

Objectives: Gather information regarding parent(s) family(ies) of origin, and what they learned about parenting, and about themselves, others, and the world as they grew up. The therapist will also gather the parents’ perspective(s) on the child’s goals of behavior, family constellation, and family atmosphere.


Session Four: Aggravation  

Purpose: Stage three - Help child gain insight into his or her life-style.

Objectives:  Child will come to understand the affect his or her behavior has on others.

Materials:  A game for two or more players (consider the client‘s skill level when choosing the game), several index cards with an inappropriate social skill written on each  (i.e. interrupts others, doesn’t take turns).  Try to make some cards with the specific behaviors the child is having trouble with.

Experiential and Verbal Components: This session has some of each.

Procedures:  (30 minutes)
1.  Explain that you will be playing a game using bad social skills (this is a form of paradoxical intention).
2.  Make sure the child understands the rules of the game.
3.  The game can be played with parents or counselor or all of these.
4.  Have each person choose a card.  This card is his or her prescribed behavior throughout the game. For example, if a person draws the “doesn’t take turns” card, he or she would steal the dice (if one is being used) and move out of turn.
5.  After the game is over, process the experience with the players of the game giving everyone a chance to speak.
        - How was it when _____ kept going out of turn?
        - How did it make you feel when _____ kept interrupting what you had to say?
        - Was it difficult to play the game?
        - Did you feel like finishing the game?
        - Finally, you might want to ask: “Is it possible that in everyday situations these types of behaviors are frustrating to others? What type of situations can you think of other than playing a game when these behaviors would be frustrating?
6.  Discuss how the game should have gone.
7.  If time allows and the child seems interested, the game could be played again this time using more appropriate social skills.
8.  Discuss how the game went this time.
        - How was it different this time?
        - Was it more enjoyable? Explain.

Homework:  Practice “catching oneself.”

Session Four: Gaining Insight – parent consultation  (20 minutes)

Objectives: Assist the parent(s) in understanding their child’s life-style. Helps the parent(s) understand their own life-style, and its impact on their parenting effectiveness, and teach parenting skills.

Session Five:  Bright Ideas!

Purpose:  Stage 4 - Reorientation/Reeducation (with the child)

Objective:  Brainstorming alternative, more appropriate behaviors.

Materials Needed:  Pencil or pen and paper, list of specific situations.

Verbal Components: This session is primarily verbal. Experiential components can be used as needed, such as using puppets or dolls.

Procedures: (30 minutes)
1.    Read one specific situation that you have designed to meet the client’s needs.
2.    Brainstorm alternative behaviors for the situation.
        - May need to use play media such as puppets to de-personalize this experience if the client is not inclined to help in the brainstorming process.
        - You can either have the client come up with a situation for the puppets (dolls, drawing, etc.) or you can make one up yourself. You may choose to use the same situations you planned on using before.
        - If the situation is different than what was initially intended, it does not necessarily have to relate to the client’s problems, but would be best if it was easily generalized to his/her situation.
        - If the client is having problems brainstorming, you may want to have them just say what comes to mind, without thinking of possible consequences. You can also add some to the list.
3.    Review brainstormed list and process possible outcomes for each suggestion. Choose two or three of the behaviors to try out with teachers, parents, and/or friends.
        - It may be necessary to role-play with the client before asking him/her to try out the new behaviors. If this is the case, it may take an additional session to prepare the client to practice the skills outside of the playroom.

Possible situations:  (tailor situations to the client)
1.    You are walking down the hallway at school and see a group of fellow students whom you do not want to run into, what should you do?
2.    A fellow student at school has played an embarrassing practical joke on you. You feel as though everyone is laughing at you. How can you handle this?
3.    You forgot your completed homework assignment at home and feel anxious that the teacher is not going to let you turn it in tomorrow. What is a good way to present the situation to her, so she may consider allowing you to?
4.    Your friend is mad at you for a reason that is unclear to you. How can you make this situation change?

Possible Responses:
        - During brainstorming phase, if client is having trouble thinking of alternative behaviors:
“Just think of any type of response, without considering what would happen if you did it.”
        - If you need to bring in play media, such as puppets, to help:
“Let’s ask our favorite puppets how they would behave!”
        - During review of brainstorming actions:
“What do you think would happen if you chose to behave in that way toward your teacher/friend?”  
“Should you practice this behavior this week?”

Homework:  If the client is ready, make sure he/she knows which skills to practice and with whom. Be clear that he/she needs to do so before your next session together.

Remember:  It may be necessary to prepare the client for the addition of his/her parent(s) into the play session next time. It is then that the client will practice behavior changes and communication changes with the parent(s).

Session Five:  Reorientation/Reeducation – parent consultation (20 minutes)

Objectives: Supporting and encouraging the changes in parent(s)’s approach to self and parenting process. Continue to gather information on both the client’s and the parent(s)’s changes are going.

Processing Leads/Possible Responses:
May want to ask the parent(s):
“What types of communication have you tried when communicating with (child’s name)?”    
“How has that been working?”
“What types of responses have you been seeing from (child’s name)?”
“Sounds like you are doing a great job!”
“Yours and (child’s name) communicating seems to be getting a lot better!”
“Is there anything you would like to do differently?”
“What are some other ways you could respond?”
“Great ideas!”

Session Six: Reorientation/Reeducation Stage continued – child and parent(s)

Title:  Practice! Practice! Practice!

Objectives:  Assisting the client and parent(s) to communicate better with each other. Showing the parent(s) alternative ways of communicating (using media such as puppets, etc.) if needed.

Materials:  All play materials should be accessible for the client to choose what he/she would like to use in case media is necessary to assist in the communication.

Experiential and/or Verbal Components: Dependent on what is chosen by the client and/parent(s). The counselor has a very small role during this session.

Procedures: (50 minutes)
1.    Ask the client and parent(s) what issue/situation they would like to work on first.
2.    Allow them to practice communicating with each other without interfering with the communication.
        - If the client or parent(s) look to you for support or suggestions, be sure to redirect the conversation to them. You may something like, “(Parent’s or child’s name), can you tell (child’s or parent’s name) what you are thinking about (state the situation).
        - If play media has become involved, you can say something like, “Can you tell (child’s name)’s puppet what you are thinking about (state the situation).
3.    Practice as many issues/situations as time allows.

***You may want to have additional sessions with the client and a friend – possibly many different friends at different times – to assist in the client’s communication in friendships.


        Kottman, T. (1995). Partners in play: An Adlerian approach to play therapy. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
        Kottman, T. & Johnson, V. (1993). Adlerian play therapy: A tool for school counselors. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 28 (1), 42-52.
        Kottman, T. & Schaefer, C. (Eds.). (1993). Play therapy in action: A casebook for practitioners. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
        Sharf, R. (2000). Theories of psychotherapy & counseling: Concepts and cases (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Brooks/Cole.