7/30/2014 Addressing the
An Ecosystemic Play Therapy Model
SOCW 6980:021 SPECIAL TOPICS – PLAY THERAPY
Addressingthe Whole Child Crutcher 1
This research paper focuses on the whole child and not just the child’s behavior. There
are many layers to the whole child, including their community and their family system. Many
systems play a factor in children’s daily stressors. This paper will explore the daily stressors of
a child and how they play a part in the child’s behavior. After acknowledging the child’s
stressors and how they contribute to the child’s behavior, there will be discussion on engaging
the child in Ecosystemic Play Therapy (EPT). EPT will allow provide insight on why the child is
displaying problematic behaviors and then work on correcting them.
The saying goes; it takes a village to raise a child. What happens when that village is
unstable? An unstable village produces an unstable child. Children who grow up in an unstable
environment tend to have behavioral problems. The child’s behavioral problems and fixing the
behavior seem to be the only focus. For example, when the child is in school and the child’s
behavior is not acceptable in the classroom, the child is sent to the office. As a result of being
sent to the office the child can be suspended or given detention and the caregiver is called.
When the child goes home the caregiver punishes the child for their socially unacceptable
behavior at school. Often times no one wonders what the underlying cause of the child’s
behavior may be. The cause can be found within the child’s family or at school. Ecosystemic
Play Therapy focuses on finding the underlying cause of the behavior and changing the though
process of the child to change their behavior.
Children’s Daily Stressors and Behaviors
Daily stressors are the irritation, frustrating, distressing demands that to some degree
characterize everyday transactions with the environment (Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-
Baena, & Trianes, 2013, pp. 227-278). Stressful events for children within the schools setting
include; academic demands, problems relating to teachers, difficulties concentrating, low grades,
being in too many afterschool activities, and difficulties with peer relationships (lack of
acceptance, conflicts, fights, or being teased) (Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-Baena, &
Trianes, 2013, p. 228).
Functionality of the family as a collective unit has implication for child behavior
problems (Watkins, Pittman, & Walsh, 2013, p. 2). The family system can be a stressor for the
child in terms of financial difficulties, lack of parent supervision when at home, fighting among
siblings, and parent demands (Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-Baena, & Trianes, 2013, p.
2728). Daily stressors are associated with life events such as divorce, a new sibling, or death
(Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-Baena, & Trianes, 2013, p. 228). Chronic experiences
like inadequate housing or degenerative disease also are linked to daily stressors (Eschobar,
Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-Baena, & Trianes, 2013, p. 228). Children from disadvantaged
communities present a higher level of daily stressors (Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-
Baena, & Trianes, 2013, p. 228). The child is often faces problems with family tension, parental
unemployment, parental neglect, parental psychopathology, exposure to neighborhood violence,
inadequate housing, overcrowding, learning disabilities, and psychical and emotional health
Addressingthe Whole Child Crutcher 2
(Eschobar, Alarcon, Rosel, Fernadanez-Baena, & Trianes, 2013, p. 228). The psychologically
distressed parent who is lacking the care and resources they need to function as an individual
may neglect their child in the endeavor to pursue such resources (Watkins, Pittman, & Walsh,
2013, p. 2). A child whose family is living in an economically disadvantaged area often
manifests behavioral problems (Rijlaarsdam, et al., 2013, p. 126).
Foundation of Ecosystemic Play Therapy
Ecosystemic Play Therapy (EPT) requires a therapist to always consider the children,
their problems, and the therapy processes within the context of the children’s entire ecosystem
(O'Conner, 2001, p. 33). There are three elements of Ecosystemic Play Therapy. The first
element is humanism and phenomenology are two philosophies of Ecosystemic play therapy.
Humanism is the belief that behavior must be evaluated in context by weighing the good versus
the harm it can cause, which helps identify and rank treatment goals (Boyer, 2010, p. 203). For
example, lying is wrong but can be used for good if it protects a victim in hiding from a killer
(O'Conner, 2001, p. 35). Phenomenology is subject dependent and frames how individuals
perceive facts (Boyer, 2010, p. 203). For example, a child doesn’t care if anyone else views their
mother as mean: if the child experiences her as mean all the time, then she is mean (O'Conner,
2001, p. 35). Personality is the second element of EPT, which defined as the sum of intra and
interpersonal characteristics, attributes, cognition, beliefs, values, and so forth that make a person
unique (Boyer, 2010, p. 203). Maximizing reward and minimizing punishment to meet one’s
needs while avoiding pain, stress, and unpleasantness is the first feature of personality (Boyer,
2010, p. 203). The second feature to personality focuses on early attachment where children are
driven to attach to caregivers or connect socially, which allows them to see others as emotional
supportive (Boyer, 2010, p. 203). Pathology is the last element of EPT developed by three
components. The first component occurs when children are unable to get their needs met at a
level they consider to be satisfactory, or those who are unable to get their needs met in ways that
do not substantially interfere with the abilities of others to get their needs met (Boyer, 2010, p.
203). The second component involves the examination of disrupted attachment patterns in the
child of youth’s relationships (Boyer, 2010, p. 203). The last component of pathology is reduced
problem solving ability, which arises from the effects of time on components one and two of
pathology (Boyer, 2010, p. 203).
Role of the Therapist
Breaking set is defend as helping children redefine their problems, thereby enabling
creative problem solving; breaking set is the primary goal of the play therapist (Shaffer, 2011, p.
261). The therapist must help the child understand the nature of treatment and do most of the
work establishing the initial therapeutic alliance (Shaffer, 2011, p. 261). The therapist actively
helps the child engage in problem solving (Shaffer, 2011, p. 261). By the end of intake with the
child the therapist will present a potential treatment contract focusing on the child’s unmet needs
make a parallel contract with the parent that focuses on the child’s behaviors (Shaffer, 2011, p.
262). After the contracts are made the play therapist then engages the child and/or the caregivers
and/or those in the child’s environment in active problem solving to ensure quality change
(Shaffer, 2011, p. 262). The therapist must help the child identify and express emotions in
Addressingthe Whole Child Crutcher 3
developmentally, socially, and culturally appropriate ways (Shaffer, 2011, p. 262). The therapist
must motivate a child to change by having the child experience negative consequences for their
behavior (Shaffer, 2011, p. 262). This is achieved by setting limits within the play room and
having the caregiver set limits outside of the playroom (Shaffer, 2011, p. 262). TABLE 14.1
Ecosystemic Play Therapy Model
Boyer,W. (2010). GettingtoKnowO'Connor:Experencingthe UrbanEcosystemicPlayTherapyModel
WithUrban FirstNationsPeople. TheFamily Journal:Counseling and Therapy forCouplesand
Families , 202-207.
Eschobar,M., Alarcon,R.,Rosel,J.f.,Fernadanez-Baena,F.J.,&Trianes,M. V. (2013). DailyStressorsin
School-Age Children:A MultilevelAppproach. SchoolPsychology Quartley,28,227-238.
O'Conner,K.(2001). EcosystemicPlayTherapy. InternationalJournalof Play Therapy,33-44.
Rijlaarsdam,J.,Stevens,C.W.,Ende,J.V.,Hofman,A.,Jaddoe,V.W., Mackenbach,J.P., . . . Tiemeier,H.
(2013, January). EcomonicDisadvantage andYoungChidlren'sEmotional andBehavioral
Problems:Mechanismsof Risk. Journalof AbnormalChild Psychology,41(1),125-137.
Shaffer,C.E. (2011). Foundationsof Play Therapy. Hoboken,New Jersey:JohnWiley&Sons,Inc.
Watkins,D. C.,Pittman,C.T., & Walsh,M. J.(2013). The Psycological Distress,Work,andFamilyStessors
on ChildBehaviorProblems. Journalof ComparativeFamily Studies,44(1),1-16.