Virginia Axline (1964) Dibs: Personality Development in Play Therapy.

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  • Created on: 04-06-13 17:14

Virginia Axline (1964) Dibs: Personality Development in Play Therapy.

Aims and Background

The aims of this case study was to help a young 5-year-old boy, Dibs, "find himself" through the use of play therapy. Dibs comes from a wealthy and highly educated family who is clearly very gifted, but his mother and father percieved him as "mentally retarded" because he presented abnormal behaviour. Dibs continuously isolated himself, rarely spoke, physically lashed out at his parents, sister, caretakers and teachers at school. He would kick, bite, hit etc. It was said that he had murderous ideals and displayed anti-social behaviour in which lead to his teachers to believe that he was either retarded or possibly autistic as they could not get him to participate in class. Axline believed that play-therapy would help Dibs to "break out of his shell" and discover his personality.

The case study starts with Dibs at school. Axline gained permission from Dibs' mother (who made it clear that she did not want to be interviewed or answer questions about Dibs at that time). Axline observed Dibs in the classroom, to see how he would interact with the teachers and other pupils around him. After observing Dibs, Axline arranged for Dibs to have a weekly play-therapy with her, where she could observe Dibs' behaviour and take notes. This is how Axline obtained most of her data. However, Dibs' mother visited also visited Axline, which gave her more data to draw up on. Axline never asked questions towards Dibs, or his mother, she simply observed and waited for the data she needed to be given to her. 

The play-therapy room was set up with various play objects: A dolls house, a sand-pit, toy soldiers and other various doll figures, paints, crayons and clay for Dibs to play with as freely as he wanted. Everything that Dibs said or did was recorded accurately. There was also a one-way mirror in the room, for other researchers to observe Dibs in covert. Both of Dibs' parents gave permision to this research and for Axline to release her book Dibs: In Search of Self. All of Dibs' actual words and actions were put into the book, although words involving family members names were taken out and other words were manipulated to make the story flow better. 

Axline was Dibs' therapist, she was not carrying out the study as a researcher but rather responding to Dibs in order to help him. She did not ask direct questions, manipulate the way he acted or responded to an object, but let Dibs play and say whatever he was comfortable with. She wanted Dibs to discover his personality himself.

Case Description

Dibs was 5-years-old when the play therapy started, and was 6 when it ended. He had a younger sister and lived with both her and their parents.  They had many servants, including a gardener who befriended him. Dibs also had a grandmother that he loved, but did not see often as she did not live near…


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