Virginia M. Axline, the originator of play therapy, recounts the story of an emotionally tangled and withdrawn five-year-old named Dibs. In her book, Dibs: In Search of Self (1964), she takes an emotionally neutral approach to therapy in order not to interfere with Dibs’ self discovery. Virginia captures and beautifully describes the themes, textures and major shifts in the world of little Dibs. Like in her sessions with Dibs, I, too, seek to honor the therapeutic space in such a way that every client has the freedom to unfold naturally.
Dibs’ success and growth greatly contributed to my belief in human potential, the infinite capacity of the self. We all possess the tools necessary to attend to our personal growth and point ourselves in a healthy direction. This is not easily achieved in isolation; the love and aid of others truly promotes the healing process. Fortunately for Dibs, he received this kind of attention and was able to stand up on his own two feet and choose his own path. During his journey he climbed many mountains and broke through many barriers to begin freely making personal choices. Virginia created a space in which he could do just that, an open setting framed with thoughtful and refreshed boundaries which no longer discounted him. The lack of nurturing and acceptance he received at home became very apparent in his play. I was impressed that when he became more sure of himself, his parents naturally readjusted, playing more of a helpful role in Dibs’ healing process. I was deeply touched by his spontaneous musings of poetry and song, his expression of affection toward Virginia. Like all children (people), Dibs was worthy of respect and was treated accordingly, like a vibrant person seeking growth and self-empowerment. Once Dibs understood that he was entitled to such things, his inner-most, greater-most self began to emerge and he was ultimately recognized as the special and talented boy that he truly is.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in expanding his knowledge about play therapy and therapy in general. Virginia’s approach can be expanded to all ages. Creating an open and caring environment is essential to the therapeutic process. Therapy can be about staying emotionally neutral and refraining from the ever-so-frequent intervention. Dibs’ journey and his phenomenal self-awakening is a testimonial — I, too, have taken it to heart — that good therapy always embraces a client’s natural storehouse of strengths and skills.