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Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline 

The search for self may appear to be a spiritual topic, but it is very much a theme in psychotherapy as well. Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline describes a gradual unfurling of one ‘case’. It involves the search for self. The client in question is Dibs- a five-year-old boy. 

Here is a child who defies diagnosis. His parents believe him to be ‘deficient’ in some way. He comes to the playschool, doesn’t interact or mingle with anyone, and always throws a tantrum at home time, when he resists going home. He bites any child who may try and interfere with him in any way. 

What follows in the book is a beautiful exploration of the journey of therapy. Miss A, the psychotherapist, sees Dibs, once a week every Thursday at the Child Guidance Clinic. The sessions take place within the safe confines of the play therapy room, for an hour each week. Occasionally the action spills over to Miss A’s office, as Dibs deems it fit. 

The book follows the gradual unravelling of the self as it occurs within the safe space created in the therapeutic relationship. What struck me most about this relationship, is how the psychotherapist could let the client ‘be’. There was no sense of urgency. There was a pleasant unhurriedness in the approach. As she writes in the book, “We had an hour to spend in this room. There was no urgency to get anything done”. 

We often hear that therapy is all about creating a safe space for the client. Dibs in Search of Self gently demonstrates what this safe space feels like and what it looks like. One can also see by example, how a psychologist actually goes about creating this safe space for the client. 

The author has also written a book on play therapy, and within the current book, in which Dibs explores his self, we can witness the power of play and the sheer magic it can lead to, provided it is not marred by an overenthusiastic adult.

The buildup of the sessions right up to the termination, shows us what client centered therapy looks like. The goal of therapy here was to facilitate Dibs in his own journey of emotional independence. The psychologist did not want to complicate it by building a supportive relationship that would make him dependent on her. This would postpone the complete development of the feelings of security within his own self. 

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline may be about Dibs, searching for his own emotional self, but to me it provided an authentic look into the life changing magic of therapy and the realization that sometimes all it takes is just being able to hold space for the client. 

Dhanishta Shah

Dhanishta is a Counselling Psychologist and a freelance writer. She is the Founder of Bookedforlife.