Date of Award

Fall 12-17-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Counselor Education


Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundations

Major Professor

Louis V. Paradise

Second Advisor

Barbara Herlihy

Third Advisor

Zarus Watson

Fourth Advisor

Erin M. Dugan


Much effort has been expended to increase the awareness and understanding of play therapy among consumers and practitioners (Landreth, 1991) since its introduction by Virginia Axline during the 1940s. As with any form of counseling, Leblanc and Ritchie (1999) have noted there are factors considered key to successful play therapy treatment outcomes. Play therapy research shows a positive relationship between parent's involvement in play therapy and successful outcomes (LeBlanc & Ritchie, 1999; Bratton, Ray, Rhine, & Jones, 2005) but little research exists to document specific practice patterns and perceptions of play therapists in relation to achieving caregiver engagement. The purpose of this study was to identify the practice patterns of play therapists, their perceptions of the factors that influence caregiver engagement, their perceptions of the relationship between caregiver engagement and the therapeutic outcome for the child client, and their perceptions of the barriers to achieving caregiver engagement in play therapy. The Caregiver Engagement Inventory (CEI), a 36-item, structured and semi-structured questionnaire developed for this research, was electronically sent to 4854 members of the Association for Play Therapy (APT), resulting in 539 responses, 431 of which were deemed appropriate for inclusion. Of the 423 participants who responded, 292 (69%) strongly agreed and 107 (25%) agreed that caregiver engagement is related to a child’s therapeutic outcome in play therapy. Fifty-three percent (n=228) of respondents strongly agreed that they are prepared to facilitate caregiver engagement in play therapy, and 35% (n=151) agreed. These results suggested that, while 94% of play therapists who responded believe caregiver engagement is a large factor in successful play therapy outcomes, only 88% of the participants feel prepared to accomplish the task with caregivers of their child clients. The results indicated a relationship between training and play therapists’ practice patterns related to caregiver engagement, but participants reported minimal exposure to training specific to working with caregivers in both their graduate programs and workshops. Findings indicated that play therapists value caregivers’ roles in play therapy; however, barriers exist to caregiver engagement. Implications for play therapists, educators of mental health professionals, and future research are discussed.

Keywords: play therapy, caregiver, engagement


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