Marionette shows sometimes reveal very well the psychological factors in the family constellation.
Play observation and therapy are sometimes misunderstood by those inexperienced in the method and by the public. Violently destructive play is interpreted as a natural phase of child development and the erroneous idea is propagated that it will be advantageous to the child to let him indulge in violence as much as he likes. For example, a recent popularized medical column is headed "Play Therapy Lets Child Vent His Anger On Toys." And then it goes on to describe, as if it were a common occurrence, how a little boy who hated his mother and sister strangled two dolls and tried to dismember them. The same boy stuck pins into another doll supposed to represent the doctor. The physician who writes the column takes for granted that the emotion which children express in the playroom should be hostility.
The physician says, "The therapist accepts fighting and interrupts only when it is obvious that someone is going to be hurt." He takes it for granted that chairs will be broken! But this is all wrong. Most children do not engage in such violence, and certainly not from ingrained tendencies, and if they do, a good therapist would certainly analyze the causes for such violence early and help the child to understand and overcome it.
Supposing you get used to eating sandwiches made with very strong seasonings, with onions and peppers and highly spiced mustard. You will lose your taste for simple bread and butter and for finer food. The same is true of reading strong comic books. If later on you want to read a good novel it may describe how a young boy and girl sit together and watch the rain falling. They talk about themselves and the pages of the book describe what their innermost little thoughts are. This is what is called literature. But you will never be able to appreciate that if in comic-book fashion you expect that at any minute someone will appear and pitch both of them out of the window.
In the early forties one of the activities children sometimes wanted to keep up instead of engaging in spontaneous activity was reading comic books. Protocols of the play group would contain entries like this: "Entered playroom with his own comic book and kept looking at it," or "Greeted the others, friendly, then took a comic book and sat down to read it." This was in the early period of the rise of the crime comic book. In this atmosphere of the playroom it is easy to ask a child why and what he reads.
Comparison of our continuing observations led to definite conclusions. Of course young children are apt to be "wild," and I saw plenty of them in the thirties. But it was a natural wildness. Many children in the period some ten years later showed a kind of artificial wildness, with a dash of adult brutality and violence far from childlike. From comic books they derive ideas of activity and excitement not in the form of concentrated imaginative play, but in the form of crude and combative action. Of course this kind of thing is not found by those who work with questionnaire methods or with preconceived conclusions.
With a grant from the Child Neurology Research Foundation to work out methods for the observation and treatment of children, I organized a playroom in the middle thirties, while I was director of the Mental Hygiene Clinic at Bellevue Hospital. The case material and our methods in general were the same as those on which these studies are based. One of the main differences in the outer circumstances of the children is that until the end of the thirties there were no crime comic books to speak of, whereas in the forties they had, with respect to the time they take up, become one of the most important influences on children's lives.
In my play observations and therapy, children engaged in spontaneous play activity of a type that permitted them to express themselves as fully as possible. Any games with set rules or reading of books were considered an obstacle. The children constructed buildings with mechanical building sets of wood and metal, draw, paint, made mosaics with colored stones, and worked with clay.
Watching children in this setting, one learns how false is the idea that if left to themselves, with opportunity for constructive play, they will pay no attention to that and will instead seek outlets for "aggression."
Playroom techniques have been criticized because they are at once a diagnostic and a therapeutic tool. But in my experience this is actually a great advantage. Play technique is frequently successful in both areas. And it is theoretically a sound principle to do psychological exploring studies on a child in the process of treatment, education and re-education. Pedagogy, psychotherapy of children and child psychology should become recognized more and more as closely related and inseparable disciplines.
Another useful method for closer examination of young children is the Duess Test, which has been worked out in Switzerland and used in France. It is indispensable for the correct understanding of some children. With its help one can some times unearth subtle psychological factors not brought out by other methods.
The test consists in ten very brief fablelike stories. They are incomplete and after they are told to the child he is asked what the end of the story would be. In this way the child can complete the story in any way he likes. This test should be used in an elastic way. It should not be applied rigidly and should not be scored like a test. One can modify the original stories and can even add new ones to adapt them to the original case. I give the test in a way that is a mixture between telling a story, playing a game and asking a question. The Duess Test is often an interesting starting- point for further talks with a child.
The Duess Test can be given only to young children, the upper age limit being, in my experience, about eleven. In suitable cases the child projects himself into the story and identifies his own situation with that in the fable. In this way typical emotional complexes may be elicited, but, as in other tests, one should be careful not to view the child as if he were an adult neurotic or read too much abnormality into him.
I was one of the first psychiatrists to use it in this country and published research on it over twenty years ago. In my experience with children and adults I have found it a revealing auxiliary method. But in recent years it has been too often used uncritically, interpreted with the bias of a purely biological determinism, leaving out all social influence, and given by psychologists with either faulty clinical orientation, or with no clinical orientation at all. Under these circumstances, the Rorschach Test like any other wrongly applied scientific method has given wrong results. It has been used, for example, to bolster the conception of more or less fixed psychological-biological phases of childhood development. And this is a conception which has caused parents whose children do not conform to textbooks a great deal of anxiety. It has led psychologists to socially unrealistic generalizations. A recent text on children's Rorschach responses describes as the "essence" of the average normal seven-year-old child a most abnormal preoccupation with morbidity, mutilation, pain, decay, blood and violence. But that is not the normal essence of the average American child, nor of any other child! You cannot draw true conclusions from any test if you ignore the broad educational, social and cultural influences on the child, his family and his street. These influences, of which comic books are just one (although a very potent one), favor, condone, purvey and glorify violence. The violent meaning of the Rorschach responses is not the norm for the age of seven; unfortunately it seems to be becoming the norm for a civilization of adults.
But careful examination of factors shows usually a combination of the first and third groups. An eleven- year- old boy of superior intelligence showed in the Rorschach Test (and in his drawings) strife, hostility and threatening images. He lived with parents who for years had gone from battle to battle, and from court to court. In addition, he was steeped in crime-comics lore:
Is it not natural that the Rorschach of the boy shows hostility and aggression?