Description: Developed by clinicians such as Bruno Bettelheim and Virginia Axline, psychoanalytic and humanistic play therapies involves having an individual with autism spectrum disorders play with a therapist. Play activities are thought to reveal past conflicts or traumas that the individual has experienced, and the therapist provides a supportive environment to encourage the individual to reveal more and more of these conflicts or traumas, and to develop a bond with the therapist.

Research Summary: Many studies have shown that autism spectrum disorders are not caused by past conflicts or traumas (Cantwell & Baker, 1984). Attributing autism spectrum disorders to such conflicts or traumas may make parents or other caregivers feel guilty even though they have done nothing wrong (Schopler, 1971). Also, in psychoanalytic play therapy, individuals may receive the most support when they display the most problems; this has been shown to reinforce the problems and thereby make them worse (Lovaas, Freitag, Gold, & Kassorla, 1965).

Recommendations: Psychoanalytic play therapy is not a useful intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Selected References:

Cantwell, D. B., & Baker, L. (1984). Research concerning families of children with autism. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.), The effects of autism on the family (pp. 43-68). New York: Plenum Press.

Lovaas , O. I., Freitag, G., Gold, V. J., Kassorla, I. C. (1965). Recording apparatus and procedure for observation of behaviors of children in free play settings. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2, 108-120.

Schopler, E. (1971). Parents of autistic children as scapegoats. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 4, 17-22.

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