The 5 Best Play Therapy Books for Psychological Development

I jumped on the back of the monster, holding for dear life around its neck as it continuing stomped and bellowed.

My heart was racing but I mastered my fear, and gave the monster an ultimatum – gift me the sweetest chocolate in all the land or face the consequences.

In case you were wondering, the above wasn’t real – rather, I was in the lounge at home after school, playing one of my favorite games with my grandmother…

Who moved around the room on her hands and knees in what I can only describe as some of my fondest memories together.

Such is the power of play therapy in our formative (and even adult!) years.

In this article, we look at the 5 best books on the topic to learn more.

The Best Play Therapy Books

1. Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline

In her book Dibs in Search of Self, Virginia M. Axline tells the story of a young boy who is institutionalized and how he is helped by play therapy.

The book follows Dibs as he gradually opens up and begins to express himself through play.

Through the course of therapy, Dibs slowly begins to reveal his true identity, which has been hidden behind a wall of anger and aggression.

As he learns to trust himself and others, Dibs gradually comes to understand the events that have shaped his life and the people who have influenced him.

The result is a powerful and moving story that offers valuable insights into the human experience.

Axline does an excellent job of explaining the process of play therapy and how it can be used to help children who are dealing with emotional difficulties.

She also provides insight into the mind of a child who’s struggling to make sense of the world around him.

It’s an insightful and compelling case study of a young boy’s journey to self-discovery.

The book is well-written and easy to follow, and it would be a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about play therapy or child development.

2. Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship by Garry L. Landreth

In Play Therapy, Landreth offers readers a detailed and insightful look at the theory and practice of play therapy.

Landreth is a well-respected figure in the field, and his book provides a wealth of information on everything from the history of the approach to specific techniques that can be used in session.

In sum, it’s a comprehensive guide to using play to treat a wide range of psychological disorders in children.

He begins by discussing the theory behind play therapy and its benefits, before providing detailed instructions on how to implement the recommended strategies, including how to select the appropriate toys and activities.

Landreth also offers insights into common challenges that therapists may face when working with children, emphasizing the importance of the therapist-client relationship, and offering valuable advice on how to build a strong rapport with clients.

Throughout the book, he draws on case studies and research to illustrate the effectiveness of play therapy.

With its clear explanations and practical advice, Play Therapy is an essential resource for anyone who works with children.

3. Windows to Our Children by Violet Oaklander

In Windows to Our Children, Oaklander provides readers with a detailed look at the importance of nonverbal communication.

She explains that children are natural communicators and that they use facial expressions, body language, and gestures to express themselves long before they learn to speak.

By paying attention to these nonverbal cues, parents and caregivers can gain valuable insights into a child’s inner thoughts and feelings.

Oaklander also discusses the importance of mirroring, which is when adults reflect back the emotions that they see in a child.

This helps the child to feel understood and validated, and it can also be used as a tool to teach new skills.

For example, if a child is displaying angry faces, an adult can mirror that emotion back and then help the child to identify more appropriate ways to express anger.

Throughout the book, Oaklander provides readers with numerous examples of how nonverbal communication can be used to enhance parent-child connections.

Windows to Our Children is an essential guide for anyone interested in adolescent development.

4. Play Therapy by Virginia M. Axline

In Play Therapy, Axline describes how children use play as a means of communication and explores the various techniques that therapists can use to encourage self-expression.

She also discusses the importance of setting limits and maintaining a non-judgmental attitude in order to create a safe and supportive environment for therapy.

Throughout the book, Axline draws on her extensive experience as a play therapist to provide readers with an invaluable resource.

Play Therapy is a book that changed the way I think about the topic, highlighting the specific needs of children and how best to interact with them.

This book also taught me the importance of establishing trust with a child before beginning therapy, a prerequisite for feeling safe enough to open up and explore their inner thoughts and feelings.

Overall, Play Therapy is a book that offers intriguing insights into the therapeutic process.

5. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook by Bruce D. Perry, Maia Szalavitz

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz share the stories of children who have faced Trauma.

In particular, they focus on how early experiences can shape the developing brain and lead to lasting effects.

The book begins with a description of what happens to the brain when it is exposed to Trauma, showing how early experiences can alter the brain’s structure and function, leading to problems later in life.

They then tell the stories of several children who faced Trauma, including abuse, neglect, and natural disasters.

Ultimately, Perry and Szalavitz make the case that we need to do more to support children who have faced such issues.

They provide readers with practical advice for supporting these children and offer hope that even those who have faced the most difficult circumstances can heal and thrive.


I sincerely believe that play therapy is a powerful intervention for children.

And I’m sure that many adults may equally benefit from such approaches.

Through play, children can explore their feelings and experiences in a safe and non-threatening environment, experimenting with different coping strategies and skill acquisition.

Play therapy can help parents and children enact positive change.

Start by reading the book recommendations above.