Children who endure complex trauma and multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) suffer with various physical, social, and mental health-related consequences, such as increased rates of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cardiometabolic disorders, substance abuse disorders, ischemic heart disease, and suicidality. Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) is a promising evidence-based child mental health intervention, and researchers have demonstrated the efficacy of CCPT for improving empathy, social competence, behavior problems, and self-regulation among children with multiple ACE exposures. In the current study, the researcher examined the co-regulatory process and relational mechanisms of CCPT with children with histories of complex trauma and early adversities, using child-counselor physiological synchrony values within and across play therapy sessions. Participants were children (N = 4; boys, n = 2; girls, n = 2) ages 5-8 who endured four or more ACEs. The researcher utilized a time series design to examine change processes in CCPT, using intensive longitudinal data (e.g., thousands of physiological data points per session). Children received between 10-14 twice weekly 30-minute CCPT sessions in the school setting. The child participants and counselor wore Empatica© E4 wristbands during play therapy sessions to continuously measure heart rate, as well as sympathetic and parasympathetic heart rate variability (HRV) biomarkers. The researcher computed Surrogate Synchrony (SUSY) analyses and found consistent, large child-counselor heart rate synchrony levels across play therapy sessions. The researcher presents the implications of this research for mental health counselors, play therapists, and counselor educators working with children impacted by complex trauma.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Community Innovation and Education
Counselor Education and School Psychology
Education; Counselor Education
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Frawley, Caitlin, "An Investigation of Change Mechanisms Using Psychophysiological Data: Child-Centered Play Therapy with Children Exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1828.