Select Page

SSW Research Brief: Child-Centered Play Therapy in Schools

SSW Research Brief: Child-Centered Play Therapy in Schools

Ray, D., Armstrong, S., Balkin, R., & Jayne, K. (2015). Child-centered play therapy in the schools: Review and meta-analysis. Psychology in the Schools, 52(2), 107-123.

Article summarized by Minji Kim, MSW Student studying School Social Work at Loyola Chicago

What is the study about?

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of child-centered play therapy (CCPT) in elementary school settings.

Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT):

Child-centered play therapy is an intervention that uses developmentally appropriate means of interacting (play) to help children express feelings and thoughts in healthy ways and build a foundation for behavioral self-control. In CCPT, the relationship between clinician and child is emphasized as a primary tool that allows children to explore and express themselves in a non-judgmental environment.

Types of responses that clinicians use in CCPT:

• Reflection of feelings       • Reflection of content        • Encouraging creativity

• Behavior tracking             • Relationship Building       • Limit-setting

• Fostering decision-making processing

What did they find?

• CCPT had small to medium size positive effects on student internalizing problems, externalizing problems, self-efficacy, academic achievement, social skills, attitude toward school, and teacher-child relationships.

• The changes in behavior for students who received CCPT were statistically significant when compared to students who received no treatment.

• On average, 12 sessions (typically 30-minutes long) yielded statistically significant results (compared to no treatment).

• Both individual and group CCPT sessions were effective.

Why is it important?

CBT is the most widely known and used intervention in schools. But sometimes CBT may not be suitable for younger students and/or students with cognitive or speech impairments. It is important for school social workers to know various evidence-based interventions that are feasible for use in the school setting, so they can choose the most appropriate intervention for each unique client.

What can School Social Workers do?

• School social workers can consider using CCPT with younger students and students who have difficulty communicating verbally.

• School social workers can find more information about the intervention at and

How was the study done?

Researchers systematically reviewed the literature base for studies examining the effectiveness of CCPT in elementary schools. They found 23 studies that used and evaluated CCPT in elementary schools. From the 23 studies, authors were able to assess the efficacy of CCPT across all of the studies.

About The Author(s)


Michele Patak-Pietrafesa is a LISW-S, LSSW with over 10 years experience in schools. She serves on the Ohio School Social Work Association board as Past-President and Director of Communications. Michele currently works in private practice providing school social work services for college students in Columbus Ohio. She also works as a graduate research associate while working toward her PhD at OSU's college of Social Work. Her areas of interest are school social work, special education and school reform, education policy, and educational equity for racial minorities and students with disabilities.

Subscribe to our newsletter

RSS Community Discussions

  • question December 15, 2018
    Who’s schools use MTSS and has successes implemented it??
  • post December 14, 2018
    Gratitude Friday:  Feeling Like a Kid AgainAs the semester ends and everybody feels a bit ground to bits (myself included), I found myself at the movies last night with our 3 teenage sons watching "Into the Spider-verse." And for 2 hours, it was a rush of remembering being a middle school kid again (just like […]
  • question December 13, 2018
    Looking for information detailing the required/suggested ratio of SSW to students in their state? (Dr. Uretsky, PSU Prof.) Share state and links plz.
  • post December 7, 2018
    Early Childhood SW PLC face-to-face meeting with other EC social workers on Friday, January 11, from 1-3:00 pm at Ann Reid Early Childhood Center at Naperville #203. Donna Nylander from the Governor’s Office will be joining us for a brief discussion on the Pyramid Model. Please let me know if you would like to join […]

Join the SSWN Community

Pin It on Pinterest