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"Dibs In Search of Self" is a book that is written about a five year old male patient of the therapist Virginia Mae Auxline. Dibs father is a brilliant scientist and the mother was a top heart surgeon before she decided to start a family. They lived in New York and were of an upper class wealthy background. The boy was silent and withdrawn. He kept to himself and when he responded, if at all, it was usually to express his displeasure at one thing or another. At home, he was usually in seclusion and mute and considered to be hard to manage as well as a source of shame to the family. His family even considered taking him to a school of the mentally retarded children.
Virginia Axline is a talented therapist and one of the pioneers in the concepts of play therapy. In the book she attempts to assist Dibs to become the person he was meant to be over many weekly one hour play sessions. She employs the principles of cognitive psychology with emphasis on reflective listening. The process of development and healing turned out to be difficult and emotionally demanding. Dibs is confronted with the task of finding himself and confronting his fears and anxieties with the gentle nudging of Axline.
"Dibs in search of self" is a case study intended to depict the implementation of play therapy. Play therapy provides a way for children aged between three and eleven to express their experiences and feelings in a process that is self-guided, natural and leads to self-healing. Play is important for children to communicate their knowledge and experiences and in the process to know and accept themselves and those around them. Virginia Axline claims that a play experience is therapeutic because it is a source of a secure relationship that is exhibited between the child and adult. In this case, the child is ensured with abundant freedom and an opportunity of expressing himself in ways that he understands better. This is approved at that time as the child is found to be acting in his own way and within the stipulated time frame.
Play therapy is mostly a diagnostic tool. The therapist observes the child, who is usually the client in this case, playing with toys or other objects to ascertain the cause of the disturbed behavior. The reasons for behavior during and after the session can be inferred from the patterns and objects of play. Play therapy is also a self-help mechanism so long as children are allowed time for unstructured play. From the point of view of development psychology, play is acknowledged to be an important part of healthy child development. Play therapists also use a type of relearning therapy or desensitization to change disturbing behavior in formal or informal settings. These processes are not only applied with children but also with verbally-impaired persons, slow learners, brain-injured or drug-affected persons. However mature adults are more difficult to treat using these techniques because of the cultural and traditional association of play with children. Therefore highly skilled therapists are required to deal with mature individuals to enable more unguarded spontaneity to develop.
Axline states that successful therapy begins with the therapist. In Dibs in search of self, she follows eight basic principles or concepts. First; she aims to establish a warm, friendly relationship with the child as early as possible in the client-therapist relationship. She does nothing other than observing the child at play during her first very brief visit and immediately notices the child's intelligence.
Secondly, the therapist has to accept the child exactly as he is. She reassures him that no one would hurt him and accepts him unconditionally. Dibs felt secure and confident in the therapist's acceptance of his behavior and comments in spite of what he said or did. Axline does not behave as though the diagnosis is important. Most of the characters in the book believe that Dibs had either suffered brain damage or was mentally retarded but neither diagnosis was correct.
The third concept is to establish a feeling of freedom of expression in relationship so that the child is free to display his feelings completely. Dibs expresses his physical and emotional pain and frustration in his play. Very little dialogue has been used effectively to allow the boy to act out his feelings. The fourth concept is that the therapist must be alert to recognize the feelings that the child is expressing, and be in a position to reflect such feelings in a way that will help the therapist to expand the overall insight about the child's behavior. Axline's play therapy technique allows Dibs to gain increasing self knowledge and to deal with the society with confidence, security and dignity.
The fifth concept is that the therapist must maintain a profound revere for the child's capability to solve most of the issues surrounding him within a humble opportunity. Choosing and initiating the required change is a responsibility of a child. Dibs learns to be himself, to gain self-belief and to free himself of all his fears. The therapist acted simply as a facilitator while Dibs underwent a process of self-discovery culminating in him facing his fears and eventually conquering them. The sixth concept is that the therapist is not supposed to give clear direction towards the conversation and actions of the child within any circumstance. The therapist is expected to take a role of a follower, as the child takes the lead. The therapist is to stay in the background allowing the client to lead at all times and to let him work through his problems as well as he could. Axline gives Dibs complete freedom to direct his recovery process. Axline stresses that in order for the client to understand himself, he has to learn to respect himself and to feel worthwhile. The book reinforces the importance of active listening and less talking.
The seventh concept is that the therapist should not make any attempt to hasten the therapy process, but rather to let it take its course. It remains a gradual process and the therapist should recognize that. This could make the therapy appear to be a very frustrating and exasperating process but the necessity of allowing Dibs to find himself emotionally and socially cannot be overstated. However, a less intelligent child would probably need some form of gentle prompting to make as much significant progress as Dibs. Further research could establish whether Dibs was the norm rather than the exception. The eighth concept in the book is about the idea that the therapist should only makes a number of limitations that are only significant in anchoring therapy to the world of reality.
They should also be in a position to make the responsibility of a child in the relationship to be known. Dr. Axline uses even the smallest response or incident to further her goal of assisting her client to achieve emotional independence. She does not show him any extra affection than was required. The play theory is anchored in developmental psychology. This is an approach to psychology which explores lifelong changes; more specifically it is the scientific study of growth, development and behavior changes of humans from conception to death. The developmental theory that is most closely related to play theory is the Jean Piagets theory of cognitive development. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) studied children and their mental processes. Cognition to Piaget was a biological process and therefore he considered himself to be studying the 'biology of thinking'. He concluded that development proceeded in an orderly sequence characterized by specific growth stages. These stages enable the child to develop certain concepts necessary for intellectual maturity. We could therefore conclude that Axline was an excellent student of Jean Piaget.