Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Masterson Approach with Play Therapy

Mulherin, M. A. (2001). The Masterson Approach with Play Therapy: A Parallel Process between Mother and Child. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY. 55, 251-272.

This article illustrates the principles of the Masterson Approach with a long-term case study involving a child and his mother in adjunct therapy. The Masterson Approach (with which I am not very familiar) is a psychodynamic developmental self and object relations approach. It involves providing opportunities for diagnostic assessment, developing a working relationship within therapy, assisting in the breakdown of defenses, facilitating verbalization, providing cathartic release, and preparing the child for future life events. As will be seen, the diagnosis has a large effect on which treatment strategies are deemed appropriate.

The initial diagnosis for both the mother and son was distancing borderline disorder. As a result, the technique of confrontation was used as intervention. However, as confrontation led to increased anxiety in both patients, the diagnosis was changed to schizoid disorder of the self and interpretation of the schizoid dilemma became the primary therapeutic technique. This seemed to have drastic effect, as both patients responded positively. The new diagnosis was thus confirmed.

An interesting aspect of this case study was the enmeshment, or parallel progression of the mother and son. Often the son would act out (in his sand trays) the very same conflicts his mother struggled with in her verbal therapy. They both exhibited signs of the splitting defense mechanism, with the son accepting his mother while rejecting his father, and the mother having panic attacks as she fantasized about reuniting with her separated husband.

Two interesting events in the play therapy are also worth noting. First was when the son explicitly acknowledged the symbolic nature of his play by remarking (after destroying one of his sand worlds) that he was glad those "bad feelings [were] gone". And second was when the creation of a loss/death-themed sand world in his fifth year of treatment seemed to usher in a much more integrated child. After this cathartic experience, his regressive defenses completely disappeared.

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