Jungian Play Therapy : Bridging the Theoretical to the Practical

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Jungian Play Therapy: Bridging the Theoretical to the Practical
Eric J. Green
Sexual abuse of young children may produce deep
Jungian play therapy is a spiritualized approach
psychical scars: children may internalize the aberrant
to counseling children and emphasizes symbolic
feelings, images, and bodily sensations associated with
meaning (Jung, 1959). Jung believed that children
abuse, which obfuscates and obstructs psychological
contain a transcendent function—an innate striving for
development (Allan & Bertoi, 1992; Allan & Brown,
wholeness and personality integration that occurs by
1993). Jungian play therapy promotes psychical
symbolic identification (Jung, 1963). Symbols are
healing by emphasizing the salience of the positive
produced unconsciously and appear most commonly
therapeutic dyad and encouraging the emergence of the
in dreams, artwork, and fantasies. Jungians grasp
self-healing archetype that is embedded within
children’s symbols only in the context of the
children’s psyches (Allan, 1988). Once the self-healing
macrosystem in which they are contained (Allan, 1988).
archetype unfolds within the therapeutic container,
Allan and Bertoi (1992) stated that one reason
children will play out themes significant to their inner
Jungian therapy is appropriate and efficacious as a
struggles (Thompson & Allan, 1987). By reconciling
treatment modality when counseling elementary school
polarities that surface within the playroom, Jungian play
children affected by sexual abuse is because of the
therapists facilitate children’s inner healing by working
specialized communication that occurs between
through complexes centering on internal struggles,
therapists and clients. Allan (1988) described children’s
which may include the dichotomies of good and evil,
understanding of the world through visual and symbolic
shame and pride, and condemnation and redemption
methods. Children express their perceptions of the
(Kalsched, 1996).
world most easily through graphic representations, such
as picture drawings or symbolic play under
Jungian Play Therapy Rationale
metaphorical guises (Allan, 1988; Allan & Bertoi, 1992;
Landreth, 2002; Oaklander, 1978). According to Piaget
With its origins in psychoanalytic theory, Jungian
(1962), the symbolic function of play with elementary
play therapy focuses on the psyche’s role in personality
children bridges the gap between concrete experience
development. Jung (1963) explained that the evolving
and abstract thought most efficiently. Jungian therapists
nature of the collective unconscious, with its archetypal
utilize different symbolic interventions, such as
manifestations, influences the process of individuation.
spontaneous drawings, to engage children in expressing
Individuation characterizes a progression from
wishes and repressed or unconscious emotions (Allan,
psychic fragmentation toward wholeness—the
acknowledgement and reconciliation of opposites
(Jung, 1964).
Role of the Jungian Play Therapist
Jungian theory describes the instinctive yearnings
in humans as archetypal remnants that are motivated
The therapist’s role is an observer-participant,
by a psychospiritual proclivity for growth and soulful
utilizing nondirective or semidirective techniques that
evolution. Jung (1959) believed humans have a capacity
harness children’s creativity in spontaneous drawings
for conscious self-growth through innate symbols, or
to bolster their available ego-energies (Allan & Bertoi,
archetypes. Allan (1988) stated the self-healing
1992). Jungians utilize art interpretation and analysis
archetype is an innate symbol that promotes
of transference to assess the archetypal or symbolic
psychospiritual healing by recognizing and achieving
complexes within which children are operating (Jung,
a balanced intrapsychic communication between the
1959). Jungian therapists facilitate children’s discovery
ego and the self.
and integration of the dark side of their personality, the
shadow, in an effort to maintain psychic equilibrium
and promote psychological health (Allan, 1988).

Jungian Play Therapy Techniques
symbols. Because children are free to draw and because
play therapists empty all preconceived notions of the
The spontaneous drawing is a semidirective
meaning of the healing symbols in play, therapists are
technique that assists young children affected by sexual
able to facilitate an open path for children to experience
abuse to express their thoughts and feelings in
inner healing and psychological wholeness (Allan,
nonthreatening ways (Allan, 1988). According to Allan
and Bertoi (1992), the purpose of a spontaneous
Allan and Brown (1993) stated that once the self-
drawing is to provide children a safe, therapeutic
healing archetype surfaces, children’s identification to
container in which they exhibit self-control and mastery
the archetype and feelings associated with the archetype
by freely choosing the content of their drawings.
permeate throughout their inscapes. The image tells
With autonomy, clients are allowed to
children where they are, and therapists trust a vis
symbolically and artistically abreact repressed
naturalis (a natural life force) is working between
emotional anguish, stemming from the abusive anomaly
children’s minds and bodies to help release the power
they experienced (Kalsched, 1996). As critical issues
and emotion of living in an unconscious, mythical
sometimes appear during the course of treatment,
underworld (Allan & Bertoi, 1992).
Jungian play therapists may choose a more directive
drawing technique, emphasizing a topic germane to the
Case Study
client’s psychosocial healing and adaptation to the
traumatic event (Allan, 1988).
A 32-year-old male relative sexually abused Jana,
When utilizing spontaneous drawings in play
an 8-year-old Native American female living in an
therapy, the client chooses the content to draw:
underprivileged section of an urban city. Jana reported
perceptual distortions, reenactment of the trauma, and
the sexual abuse to a teacher whom she trusted, and
regressions may appear in children’s artwork (Allan,
she was referred immediately to counseling.
1988; Allan & Bertoi, 1992). Moreover, compensatory
Jana’s presenting problems were decreased
symbols from the unconscious may appear in
socialization, mild depression, and diminished
spontaneous drawings, expressing the psyche’s need
academic performance in school. Jana’s counselor, a
for healing through fantasy. Compensatory symbols
Jungian play therapist, utilized spontaneous drawings
illustrated through spontaneous drawings may facilitate
from the initial counseling session. The counselor
curative change through psychic integration and
noticed Jana’s decidedly artistic abilities: Jana’s vivid
balance, by bringing the neglected areas of the
and colorful creations were exquisite with detail. Jana
unconscious to conscious awareness (Kalsched, 1996).
symbolically depicted many of the issues related to the
Identification with salubrious symbols in play therapy
sexual abuse that she was unable to express verbally.
activates the healing potential that exists in children
Jana drew images of a white picket fence
(Allan, 1988); thus the self-healing archetype emerges.
surrounding a two-story home with a yard and dogs
and a bright sun with a smiling face. Jana’s therapist
Self-Healing Archetype
observed that her drawings conveyed wish fulfillment,
which possibly depicted her need to feel loved in a safe
Jungian play therapists facilitate children’s
way. After processing the pictures and exploring her
activation of the self-healing archetype by encouraging
individual perspective, the counselor conceptualized
creativity and accepting the inexplicable mystery and
Jana’s drawings as internalizing positive affects of hope
psychic energy associated with the unconscious symbol
and stability in a fantastic, mythical world that Jana
(Allan & Bertoi, 1992). Specifically, symbols tell
children where they are by pointing to the area of the
unconscious that is most neglected. Therapists
Goals of Therapy
unconditionally accept children’s symbolic and
developmental position and support children along their
One of the primary goals of Jungian play therapy
therapeutic journey. After the self-healing symbol
is to restore a child’s functioning to a developmentally
appears, Jungian therapists explore children’s inner
appropriate level (Allan, 1988). The spontaneous
language by reconciling the meaning of the symbol,
drawing technique became a significant component of
utilizing a phenomenological perspective (Allan &
Jana’s therapeutic journey because it partially assisted
Bertoi, 1992). Therapists assist children in reconciling
her in restoring hope to her insecure outlook on life,
the meaning of their symbols by asking them what the
following the feelings of uncertainty from the sexual
symbols mean and by asking them to externalize the
violation that she experienced. Jana conveyed her
accompanying inner dialogue associated with their
unconscious or tacit psychic longings through

spontaneous drawings in a warm, therapeutic
psychically and engaged in positive self-talk: “I feel
relationship, and her self-healing archetype emerged.
better now, and I know it’s not my fault anyway.”
After contemplating the images, Jana internalized
Furthermore, play therapy facilitated Jana’s inner
feelings of security and contentment, previously
healing because of the frequency of the counselor’s
obliterated by the sexual abuse she experienced. Jana
affirmations—consistent verbal acknowledgements of
commented, “When I don’t feel good, I can think about
Jana’s personal struggle with overcoming self-
the sun, ‘cause that makes me happy.” Once Jana
condemnation. The counselor’s affirmations were
internalized positive affects of her world as stable, and
praises of Jana’s efforts: “Jana, you are putting so much
connected those internalizations to her outer world,
effort and energy into this exercise. I just wanted to
Jana’s school grades began to show improvement. After
acknowledge that I appreciate your commitment to this
approximately 6 months of therapy, Jana’s mother
reported an elevation in Jana’s socialization—evidenced
Spontaneous drawings are a therapeutic
by an increased level of peer interaction in school and
mechanism utilized to reconnect children’s inner beauty
at home.
and creativity with the sometimes painful external
A second goal of Jungian play therapy is for
realities of human existence (Allan, 1988). Jungian play
therapists to facilitate children’s dynamic inner and
therapy espouses reintegration of all parts of the child—
outer struggles by supporting their heroic self-efforts
including happiness and sorrow, death and rebirth, light
in healing through symbolic play (Allan, 1988). The
and darkness—into a functioning being that feels
traditional paradigm of counseling children that utilizes
valued and loveable (Allan & Brown, 1993). The
talking methods, often associated with adult
spontaneous drawing technique, coupled with a warm,
psychotherapy, is sometimes insufficient to guide a child
nonjudgmental therapeutic relationship, benefited Jana
through self-healing (Landreth, Baggerly, & Tyndall-
by the process of connecting her ego to her inherently
Lind, 1999). Spontaneous drawings are an integral,
healing, numinous self. The process of Jungian play
nonverbal technique utilized in Jungian play therapy
therapy facilitated Jana’s awareness of the slow
because drawings assist children in artistically
transformation occurring within. She discovered inner
externalizing emotions stemming from sexual abuse.
strength to transform her pain and darkness into love
Drawings and interpretations of drawings may enable
and light.
children’s psyche to consciously identify the self-
healing potential that talking alone cannot accomplish
(Allan & Bertoi, 1992). Spontaneous drawings are one
way to encourage children affected by sexual abuse to
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penetrate deep psychic substrates, where hidden fears
counseling in schools and clinics. Dallas, TX: Spring.
and ambivalent feelings are made conscious and
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Throughout the clinical play therapy process of
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bringing the unconscious to the conscious, and by
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and Counseling, 28, 5-25.
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healing archetypes activate (Thompson & Allan, 1987).
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In the therapeutic container, Jana’s self-healing
and the collective unconscious. New York: Pantheon.
archetype emerged when she shared her individual
creative art expressions with her therapist. After 6
Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, dreams, and reflections.
months, the therapist noted the combination of the
New York: Pantheon.
nonjudgmental therapeutic dyad, along with the
spontaneous drawings that Jana enjoyed and frequently
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. Garden City,
shared during play therapy, as effective in alleviating
NY: Doubleday.
Jana’s psychic pain and reducing her morbid self-
alienation stemming from the sexual abuse she
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma:
Archetypal defenses of the personal spirit. New York:
Once the recognition of opposites occurred within
the therapeutic container, Jana felt empowered

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