How Theraplay® Differs from Other Child Therapies

Theraplay directly Involves the Parents or Caregivers

Parents participate in Theraplay sessions with their child and are active in joining the play with their child and therapist. The main focus of the therapy is to improve the relationship between adult and child through direct interactions between the two individuals. In most other types of child therapy only the child is invited into the therapy room while the parent waits outside.

Theraplay makes use of very few props

The Theraplay therapist and parent are the “play objects”-- the most enticing things in the room. While playing Theraplay games, the parent is coached to attune to the child’s feelings and mood to relate and respond directly to the child’s underlying needs. In other therapies the child is asked to use toys, art, music, sand trays and other materials to symbolically express their inner concerns. The therapist’s role is to interpret and discuss these concerns with the child.

Theraplay is based upon attachment theory: the understanding that the parent-child relationship is fundamental to healthy development

Although one goal of Theraplay is to reduce difficult behavior, the main focus is on strengthening the parent-child relationship because it is the strength of that relationship that drives change in the child’s behavior. Traditional play therapies tend to focus on the child’s inner thoughts and feelings outside the presence of the parent.

Theraplay is active, interpersonal and fun

Theraplay activities are physical, interactive and designed to be irresistibly fun. Theraplay builds upon shared moments in the “here and now” to create a healthier relationship. Other child therapies involve complex thinking, interpretation of symbolic play or talking about problems.

In Theraplay, progress can be made quickly

Because Theraplay has a direct and immediate impact on the way the parent and child relate to each other, positive change can happen after only a few sessions. Often simply having fun together with Theraplay activities can break the culture of negativity that has formed in the relationship. The parent sees the child as lovable and the child comes to see herself as lovable. These positive feelings make progress in therapy much more likely. Other play therapies often take longer to effect change because the “relationship” is not in the treatment room.

The Theraplay therapist explicitly guides the parent in the session

The Theraplay therapist acts as a “real time coach” to help the parent tune into their child. Unhealthy interactional patterns are quickly identified and corrected. Sessions are taped so that the therapist and parent can review them together to gain more understanding of the child. Other child therapies are more likely to talk about parenting rather than guide parents directly through the interactions.

Theraplay can be used with very young children and children who are not developmentally or emotionally prepared for non-directive play therapy or “talk” therapy.

Theraplay focuses on non-verbal communication. It is action-based—the healing comes from what we “do” together in sessions. Therapies that require the child to engage in symbolic play, be able to talk about problems or reflect on past experience are of little benefit to very young children or children with developmental delays.

Theraplay directly addresses early life trauma and the attachment deprivation of adopted children.

Trauma such as neglect which occurs before the child can speak remains in the non-conscious realm of the child’s brain, and cannot readily come to light. Because Theraplay incorporates positive relationship experiences that the child missed as a baby, children who have experienced early loss or trauma can integrate these new experiences more effectively than with non-directive, symbolic therapies. Theraplay helps parent and child create healthy real-time experiences together that can heal the trauma of the past.

Theraplay addresses relational trauma in older children in concrete, experiential and sensory ways

Theraplay can be especially effective for children who have suffered consistently misattuned care, early parental loss or later adoption. Theraplay addresses the chronological age at which the trauma or loss occurred; it is a way to fill in lost opportunities in the parent-child relationship.

Theraplay can help children who are oppositional and resistant to other forms of treatment

In Theraplay the adult is in charge--structuring the treatment, attuning and adjusting to the needs of the child, providing appropriate nurture and challenge. In this way, the child who copes by being bossy and controlling has her familiar defense mechanisms challenged. An oppositional child usually believes that the world is an unsafe place, and he cannot count on anyone to take care of him. Theraplay’s directive, yet playful, model challenges these assumptions. The therapist maintains control, gently but assertively using Theraplay activities to change the child’s view of himself and the world.

The “Theraplay way” flows easily from the clinical setting to the home

The goal of Theraplay treatment is that the parents learn new ways to interact with their children at home. Parents are encouraged to incorporate Theraplay activities into their daily routines, and Theraplay activities can easily be played anywhere. This reinforces clinical progress and enables families to transition out of treatment sooner. When parents are not included in sessions, they miss many opportunities to contribute to the therapeutic progress of their children.

Theraplay treatment is appropriate for all ages-infancy through adolescence

Because Theraplay is non-verbal it can be used to work with infants and toddlers. Theraplay activities are adapted as the age of the child increases, for example adding more complexity or challenge to them, in order to appeal to pre-teens and teens.


How Theraplay Differs...