This is the story of a successful use of play therapy with an emotionally disturbed five-year-old boy named Dibs. In nursery school Dibs is very withdrawn and resists his teachers' attempts to engage him. Dibs' parents and teachers had all but given him up as mentally retarded. Axline is brought in as a last resort, and in a series of play therapy sessions over a period of several months, cures him. (Dibs turns out to have an IQ of 168.) Axline takes an emotionally neutral approach to her patient, in spite of his obvious need for emotional support, in order not to interfere with his discovering of the self that had been severely repressed at home.


This is an educational and heart-warming therapeutic tale beautifully told in the first person by the author, a psychologist who is the originator of play therapy. The story is unusually engaging in part because Dibs himself is an extraordinary human being, not only a mistreated innocent, but a genius whose precocious (verbatim) words are amazingly accurate and heartbreakingly expressive of his shifting thoughts and feelings in the various stages of therapy.

Adding to the emotional drama is the highly counterintuitive emotional distance Axline maintains with this obviously love-starved child, understanding that what this patient needs is to find himself by himself and in ways that are satisfying to him without the confusion of adult approval. Intellectually, this is an eye-opener to most undergraduates--and they feel afterward that they wish their parents had read this book.


First published:1964



Place Published

New York



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