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Submitted Literature

Dibs in search of self : personality development in play therapy

By Virginia Mae Axline



   What actually inhibits a child with an I.Q. of 168 from communicating, playing and interacting?

   Dibs has spent almost two years at school but he does not play with the other children, he does not talk, he does not smile. He is a five year old child who intentionally retreats from the reality of his life which is too painful to bear in a desperate attempt to protect himself from his unsupportive, rigid and demanding parents who always try to intellectually test him in order to prove him gifted. His parents, both scientists, consider him to be mentally retarded or brain damaged and they are ashamed of having such a burden in their life.

 His aggressive behavior against some other children is the causation of asking for Axline, who is a well-respected child psychologist and pioneer of the non-directive play therapy, to step in before withdraw him from school.

  Dibs tentatively begins to communicate with her through naming the objects he touches while he strives to address himself in first person, something unusual to him. The more he realizes that there is no limitation in exploring his true self, the more he appreciates the opportunity which has been given to him to set himself free and just “be” Dibs.

  It is hard not to be deeply moved by the way Dibs becomes aware of himself and gains self – confidence through self – guided, unstructured play but always with the “genuineness, unconditional positive regard, empathic understanding” of  Miss A, as Dibs calls her.

  What impressed me most is that although this book was first published in 1964, it is still a valuable resource in the psychotherapy field and is considered to remain a key text in counseling/psychotherapy training. I am convinced that it is a manual for every practitioner who works with children as it gives significant therapeutic insight with regards to Axline’s Eight Core Principles but at the same time allows the reader to reach his own conclusions. I love the fact that Axline works with Dibs without putting any labels on him.

   In summary, I feel that having been well-written and clearly organized through twenty-four chapters it is an inspiring and thought provoking book. So, I would definitely recommend “Dibs in search of self: personality development in play therapy” by Virginia M. Axline to child therapists and to anyone who is interested in the emotional and psychological development of children.

Key Themes:

  • Child Abuse
  • Childhood / Adolescence

Significant Quotes / Pages


“At one time, he seemed to be extremely retarded mentally. Another time he would quickly and quietly do something that indicated he might even have superior intelligence” (p.11).    


  “He walked around the playroom with a smile on his face. ‘I think I will sing,’ he announced.

‘If you want to sing, you sing,’ I replied. He laughed.

 ‘And if I want to be quiet, I be quiet!’ he exclaimed. And if I want to think, I just think. And if I want to play, I play.

Like that, h ’mm?’

‘Yes. Like that,’ I said” (p.111).


 “You’re not a mother. You’re not a teacher. You’re not a member of mother’s bridge club. What are you?” (p.183).

Reference: Virginia Mae, Axline. 1964. Dibs in search of self : personality development in play therapy. Penguin Books, 1990


Miss Anthi Panagiotopoulou
Date Review Submitted: Wednesday 26th February 2014