Play Timeline

Why Play Therapy
State of the Art
Play Timeline

A Short History of Play Therapy

James W. Drisko, PhD, LICSW
Smith College School for Social Work

This is an expansion of  D. L. Rheaume’s The History of Play Therapy which is no longer available on the web.  It was a very useful resource.  Retrieved July 18, 2000 from the World Wide Web:    I've added quite a bit and dropped some commentary I thought was not fully accurate.  

1903 Sigmund Freud outlines the stages of childhood instinctual development - oral, anal and genital.

1909 Freud first applies psychotherapy with children:  his own!.

1913 Hug Hellmuth interprets play in terms of Freud’s drive theory.

1925 Anna Freud uses play to better understand her child patients.

1927 Advocacy for High School "counselors" to aid healthy development.

1930 Goodenough developed the "Draw-A-Man" test for assessment.

1933 Levy introduces the "Experimental Play" method.

1934 Fred Allen and R. Rogeson begin non interpretive play methods.

1937 Melanie Klein uses interpretations in play therapy.

1938 Strong advocacy for the use of play in the growing Child Guidance Movement.

1939 Levy’s "Release Therapy."

1939 Gesell and Ilg establish developmental norms from birth to 10.

1940 Carl Rogers "Client Centered Play Therapy."

1944 Sandplay (Sandtable) therapy.

1949 Buck’s "House-Tree-Person" Technique.

1954 Erikson’s "Eight Ages of Man" offers a broad epigenetic outline of developmental tasks that address adaptation to external events.

1955 Hambridge "Specific situations" instructing the child to enact specified situations.

1957 Levitt’s review suggests child therapy is ineffective.

1960s Fritz Redl writes pioneering work about treating children in residential settings.

1961 Ginott advocates for widespread use of play: "the play of a child is talk with toys as words."

1962 Piaget examines children’s cognitive development, defines cognitive differences by age spans.

1964 Winnicott’s Squiggle technique.

1970 Dinkmeyer’s portable play kit, the DUSO [Developing Understanding for Self and Others]

1971 Gardner’s "Mutual Storytelling Technique." 

1971 Davidson involves mothers directly in play therapy.

1972 Woltman uses of hand puppets in play therapy.

1972 Heimlich introduces "Paraverbal Therapy," using music, dance, and drama.

1970s  Brief and Time Limited models of play therapy are developed by Rosenthal and Levine and Proskauer.

1980s Structured storytelling applied to trauma treatment.

1985 Costantino and Malagay's Cuento Therapy emphasizes cultural connections (specific to Puerto Rican children).

1990s Tremendous growth in books, games and charts linked to techniques of play (but not to theories or named approaches to therapy -- often more educational in nature than psychotherapeutic) .

1990s Growth in services to mothers and toddlers using the child’s play to help parents understand their infants and toddlers better.

1992 Standardized training in play therapy begins.

1990s Growth of managed care emphasizes "results" on specific issues, cognitive approaches gain favor, play approaches wane in the public sector.

1998 LeBlanc shows .66 standard deviation effect size for play therapy. (This is comparable to effect sizes for other effective therapies.)

back to top

back to Play Therapy

back to Social Work Resources Home

last update  12/10/01