Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Jannah Mather

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


An innovative qualitative methodology of "thematic analysis" was developed to describe the early relationship development process of non-directive play therapy. Through the analysis of individual and focus group meetings, six themes and hundreds of categories emerged which together describe the early process of play therapy and examine how these themes, separately and together, might facilitate the relationship development process. The themes identified are: description, qualities, goals, therapeutic support, process and indicators of growth. A new category emerged through the videotape analysis process of the research indicating that children resort to 'comfort play' when in time of distress. In addition, relationship qualities that occur between child and play therapist are indicated as respect, sensitivity, empathy, exploration, clarification, intuition and patience. Play provides an environment of safety, creativity and privacy with careful preparation from outside supports such as family, caretakers and school settings. The child, consequently, acquires 'a voice' by developing a common language with the play therapist and a sense of self-protection. The child indicates growth as a result of the early relationship development process when he or she is able to share his or her narrative, develops a sense of empowerment and control, enters into a new attachment situation, experiences a gradual trust and facilitates self-realization. An extensive literature review provided a foundation for this research study which included the examination of play as a facilitator of relationships, play therapy models that recognize the importance of the relationship development process, research studies of this early phase, the temporal analyses of the play therapy process and various methodologies that have been and could be employed to study the early relationship development phase. An all encompassing review of the early relationship development process of non-directive play therapy has resulted from this study.

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Convocation Season