One major focus of research has been play therapy and assessment with young children. We have developed a reliable coding system for identifying both themes and interpersonal relationships expressed in the play of children in play therapy. Several studies have been conducted examining gender and ethnic differences in play themes. Other studies have looked at different patterns of preferred play themes in children who have experienced different interpersonal stresses and traumas in the early years of life. For example, children who have witnessed family violence play subtly different themes than do children who have been physically abused and both groups show major differences in play themes from children who have suffered attachment problems. More recently, we have been looking at such interpersonal stresses and traumas as sexual abuse, parental depression, parental substance abuse, parental personality disorders, abandonment, neglect, and emotional abuse in terms of the primary impact on the child. We are just beginning to develop a standardized play assessment instrument using play themes and students working in the lab will be conducting play assessments for both normative and clinical samples. Work is also ongoing studying changes in play themes across the play therapy process.
The second major research impetus has been on disturbances in parent-child attachment. We are now collecting data on effective assessment measures for use with foster and adopted children. We are also beginning to explore the relationship between attachment difficulties and therapeutic process, especially play therapy.