Role of Play in the Therapeutic Process Explored in the American Journal of Play

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

June 30, 2014

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Kim Della Porta, 585-410-6325,

Role of Play in the Therapeutic Process
Explored in the American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, NY—Therapists often rely on clinical intuition—such as hunches, gut feelings, or behavioral impulses—to help guide their interactions with patients. This type of intuition cannot be taught, but it can be cultivated through play, according to Terry Marks-Tarlow, psychologist and author of Awakening Clinical Intuition: An Experiential Workbook for Psychotherapists. In an article in the most recent issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play, Marks-Tarlow explores the role that play takes in the dynamic relationship between therapist and patient.

Marks-Tarlow argues that being playful helps therapists to follow natural flows of emotion, energy, and information during their sessions with patients. She says, “Too much of the human communication is nonverbal and body-to-body. So much of the story takes place below the radar of conscious awareness. From this perspective, the play of clinical intuition appears a brilliant solution to an almost unfathomable level of human complexity.”

In turn, Marks-Tarlow posits, play allows patients to be more open to experimentation and emotional risk taking. She argues that it’s important for patients to access their intuitive side in a playful way in order to expand self-awareness and lead to healthy change. She says, “Sometimes the play of imagination blasts open hope, inspirations, and a newfound capacity to envision a future significantly different from blocked or traumatized past experience.” Marks-Tarlow encourages this response through guided imagery in her sessions—asking patients to imagine themselves at a beach “where the breaking waves can guide mindful, rhythmic breathing” and to follow a path of footprints through the sand that allows the patient to travel backward in time into his or her past.

Marks-Tarlow also views the therapeutic process itself as a form of play, which includes playful dialog and interaction between therapist and patient, and argues that this provides a cornerstone of serious therapeutic work. She says, “Whether practitioners work with adults or children, whether or not they explicitly use play therapy, play constitutes an important aspect of all forms of psychotherapy at the intuitive level of implicit exchanges.”  

Additional articles in Vol. 6, No. 3 of the American Journal of Play include:

“Strategy and Sociability: The Mind, Body, and the Soul of Chess” by Gary Alan Fine, professor of sociology at Northwestern University, observes that the game of chess demands deep thought of individual players, calls out strong emotion, and even tests competitors’ physical endurance. But Fine posits that in order to truly understand chess, one must examine how the player, the opponent, and the audience all shape the competition.

“Validating the Adult Playfulness Trait Scale (APTS): An Examination of the Personality, Behavior, Attitude, and Perception in the Nomological Network of Playfulness” by Xiangyou Sharon Shen, owner and principal researcher in social and behavioral sciences with Inno-Solution Research LLC; Garry Chick, professor and head of recreation, park, and tourism management Pennsylvania State University; and Harry Zinn, associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism management at Pennsylvania State University. The authors discuss the Adult Playfulness Scale (APTS)—a measure that they developed—which assesses an individual’s disposition for uninhibited and spontaneous fun. They lay out their research on personality and playfulness and argue that the APTS can successfully and effectively distinguish individuals with different levels of playfulness.

“A Behavioral Investigation of Preference in a Newly Designed New Zealand Playground” by Rebecca Sargisson, senior lecturer of psychology, and Tina M. Bourke, graduate student, at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Bourke and Sargisson studied the playground preferences of children and found that children prefer playground activities that involve risk—such as swinging, spinning, and climbing. They argue that by increasing positive risk-taking experiences, playground designers can ensure use of the facilities and maximize the learning and developmental benefits associated with this kind of outdoor play.  

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at

About the American Journal of Play

The Strong’s American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.