COE Professor Charts New Directions for Play Therapy Research

Dr. Dee Ray, Professor of Counseling and Higher Education, and Director of the Child and Family Resource Clinic, is recognized as a leading scholar in the field of child-centered play therapy, adult-child relationships, and counselor education. Her research focuses on the quantitative effectiveness of play therapy, with a specific interest in school settings. Expertise extends to support parent-child relationships and teacher-child relationships in managing stress. Ray is an active member of the Association for Play Therapy, and she has created many opportunities for students to conduct their dissertation studies and gain professional experience in various settings, including schools and the family clinic, where she is responsible for their training, supervision and evaluation.

Dr. Dee RayMental health disorders represent the most costly child condition in the United States for noninstitutionalized children, costing up to 9 billion dollars by even conservative estimates (Soni, 2009). Children across the country are exhibiting emotional and behavioral difficulties that impact their own growth, achievement, and relationships with others. In the mental health field, as well as the general culture, there is a tendency to blame the child. Blaming the child typically takes the form of identifying a "deficit" within the child, such as an attention problem, an aggression/oppositional problem, or a depression problem. The result of a deficit-based approach to mental health is to identify a diagnosis, label the child with the diagnosis, and then begin to treat the child. Treatment usually takes the form of behavioral or pharmaceutical measures acted upon the child.

The problem with the medical model of treating mental health disorders in children is the assumption that there is one problem within the child that can be fixed with a magic bullet (Whitaker, 2010). And this is the precise reason that mental health treatment is failing children.

Children present for therapy with multiple and complex contexts and behavioral symptoms.  In today's world, children are raised in a culture where they are expected to achieve and act beyond their developmental capabilities at early ages, where family complications lead to little support for children, and in some cases, where there is a breakdown of any relational support for their growth. When mental health interventions focus on what is wrong within children, they are missing the mark. Effective mental health intervention for children involves equipping them with the internal and external sources to thrive in their environments, and the greater culture.

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