I just finished reading this book: – Dibs – In search of self. I discovered this book accidentally. Whilst at a recent meeting we were trying to prop up the projector in order that everyone could see the slides. As is usually the case in our high tech world this was achieved using various things that came to hand, including some books. So, in an effort to rig up this high precision device I was stood clutching this book in my hands whilst talking with another meeting participant who commented: “Ooh – are you reading about Dibs? That was one of the books that most influenced me during my training” [counselling psychotherapy]. After hearing this I somewhat shamefacedly admitted that I was actually using it as a projector prop, but that I would now resolve to read it by way of penance.
In this book Axline tells us about the therapy experiences of a young boy named Dibs. In the course of this therapy we see Dibs’ progression from almost complete withdrawal to being a more independent, highly functioning, child. The book is alternately charming and harrowing. Charming in its vivid description of Dibs, his development and manner of viewing the world. But harrowing with regard to the distress that Dibs clearly experienced in his life, and was able to partially address during the course of therapy.
Axline’s therapeutic style is interesting – she appears cautious but considerate in her manner; she works hard to ensure that at no point does she foreclose on Dibs’ experience, preventing any misinterpretation of his experience, or enforcing of her own view point. As such we see Dibs develop over a period of several months worth of weekly play therapy. The change is dramatic, heartening and fascinating.
To me this book is important – not only in its inspirational message that recovery and development are possible, even in the face of severe trauma. However there is a message here that I feel is at risk of being lost in modern mental health care. In the course of his therapy Dibs is allowed to explore and come to terms with himself in his own time. This to me is essential and seems to be the therapeutic drive to Axline’s approach. However how often in modern care do we have the opportunity to allow individuals to develop at their own rate? In the face of target driven care through the deliver of ‘evidence based’ therapies the space for exploration and play are missing. We should mourn their loss.