Within a decidedly here and now framework, child-centered play therapists face a dilemma regarding use of background information. Gathering a psychosocial history is commonly recommended, but there is little discussion about how to make use of that information within a fundamentally nondirective approach. In child-centered play therapy (CCPT), the therapist does not direct the focus or content of therapy, nor does he or she aim at changing the child. Rather, the therapist attempts to understand the child from his or her own frame of reference and to accept the child exactly as he or she is in the present moment to facilitate the child’s own constructive, creative, and self-healing power. This article explores a tension in the CCPT literature concerning whether or not therapist use of client background information impedes this nondirective, empathic attitude. Theoretical assumptions underlying the debate are examined, and empathy is theorized from a phenomenological perspective as both affective and cognitive, deeply relational, and aimed at understanding the child’s present and past experiences. Case examples illustrate circumspect use of client background information consistent with CCPT. The article concludes with training and research implications.
Provide readers with knowledge about the use of client background information within child-centered play therapy.
Examine empathy from a theoretical perspective that draws on phenomenology and person-centered practice.
Provide readers with examples of skills for using client background information to enhance empathy within child-centered play therapy.