Monash University

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The role of sensory motor play in child psychotherapy with children who have experienced complex trauma in infancy: towards the development of further understandings

posted on 2017-02-17, 00:10 authored by Heron, Toni
This thesis investigates the question of whether sensory motor play has a significant role to play in child psychotherapy with children who have experienced complex trauma. The literature review incorporates a range of relevant theoretical fields, including Neurobiology, Infant Mental Health, Psychoanalytic Theory, Child Psychotherapy and Occupational Therapy. Hermaneutic phenomenology, in particular Ricouer's emphasis on narrative analysis, forms the foundation for the research design The researcher interviewed 5 experienced child psychotherapists practising in metropolitan Melbourne to explore their views around the role of sensory motor play in child psychotherapy with traumatized children in mental health settings. The practitioners each confirmed the benefits they had observed in their clinical practice in utilizing sensory motor activities to provide assistance with arousal modulation, which facilitated a sense of safety and potential connectedness in the therapeutic relationship. Some participants also stated that the sensory motor play provided developmental opportunities which child patients had missed out on in their histories of childhood neglect and complex trauma. Thematic analysis highlighted 4 areas raised by the participants including-arousal regulation and phases involved in the development of the therapeutic relationship for children who have experienced complex trauma; the role of the therapist as developmental object; understanding mess and regressive sensory motor play as a means, if not the primary means, of communication; and the' act of being with' in the therapeutic relationship. Limitations of the study included the small cohort and the pre-existing relationships existing between the research and some of the participants. The researcher expressed the hope that future collaborations occur between the fields of Occupational Therapy and Child Psychotherapy to further explore the therapeutic benefits of sensory motor play as part of child psychotherapy treatment for children who have experienced Complex Trauma.


Principal supervisor

Frances Thomson-Salo

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychology and Psychiatry

Campus location



Masters of Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences