Students with ADHD benefit from Child-Centered Play Therapy

KindergartenChild-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) conducted by school counselors helps decrease symptoms of children with ADHD, such as off-task behavior, according to a recent study in Professional School Counseling.

“Play therapy developed out of the realization that traditional talk forms of counseling did not seem to be effective with young children due to their developmental levels and capabilities,” the researchers write. “Children under the age of 10 have not developed the cognitive and verbal abilities to participate fully in talk forms of counseling and instead their natural form of communication occurs through play.”

In this small single-case design study, play therapists conducted CCPT with 4 elementary school students with ADHD symptoms. During the intervention, children received 30-minute sessions of play therapy during the school day twice a week. Researchers monitored the children’s on-off task behavior with the Direct Observation Form 3 times a week.

To prevent bias of observations by the researchers, the children were randomly assigned to receive CCPT or reading mentoring. None of the children, who were between the ages of 5-10, were on medication for ADHD. The study reports that children only showed improvement from CCPT after 12 CCPT sessions so that school counselors would need to provide that level of service for a decrease in symptoms.

During the sessions, the therapists provided nonverbal responses such as appearing interested in the child, appearing relaxed and comfortable in the playroom and using tone and expression congruent with the child’s affect. Additionally, therapists provided appropriate verbal responses to communicate understanding to the child such as tracking behavior, reflecting content and feeling, facilitating responsibility/creativity and enlarging the meaning of play.

Because ADHD is a common diagnosis in childhood and many children do not receive out-of-school services, it is important for elementary school counselors to be aware of interventions they can use to help decrease ADHD symptoms that affect learning, the researchers write.

“ADHD Symptom Reduction in Elementary Students: A Single-Case Effectiveness Design,” by April Schottelkorb and Dee Ray, Professional School Counseling, October 2009.

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