What is Theraplay?

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I missed four years of my son’s life due to deployments from the time he was born until I got out of the military when he was eight. I guess you could say we had bonding issues. I remember the days strangers would actually tell me “you need to get a hold of that child before he gets bigger than you”, like I didn’t know that. Things were so horrible, and I felt like the worst mother in the world. There was no amount of love or discipline that could get through to him. Every day was a battle. People thought I was just a bad mother or that I had no control over him. I actually called two different boys homes, but they wouldn’t take him due to his age. I was ready to call the police or social services because I thought he would harm himself or me.

My sister referred me to the February 2011 edition of Good Housekeeping magazine. There was an article in there about adoptive families and the struggles they go through. This one family was helped by a special type of treatment called Theraplay. Even though my son is not adopted, he had every symptom listed in the article. It almost appeared they wrote the article about my son. I was so desperate that I called The Theraplay Institute in Chicago. Things were so bad at home I was willing to move to another state to get help for my son. Fortunately, they were able to refer me to a local therapist.

The two weeks before we started Theraplay felt like hell on earth. I couldn’t wait for the therapy to start. When it did, I was surprised that all they do is “play” with the child, but it’s very specific play. The therapist explained to me that emotionally my son was much younger than nine, so we mixed “infant” type games with some that are older until his early emotional needs were filled and he no longer needed the young games. I learned that my son never wanted to be in trouble, but he literally could not behave like a nine year old because he wasn’t where he needed to be emotionally. He was stalled in his development because I was deployed when he was five months old.

One thing I was very impressed with is they taught me to do Theraplay. They said if I did this at home with my son, I would see faster improvement. So we did it daily. After about two months, we stopped doing it because his behavior had improved so drastically. Every once in awhile I’d see his pressure increasing and he’d ask me if we could do Theraplay. He would have a complete meltdown if he needed Theraplay and we hadn’t done it. So we would do it, and I was always amazed how horrible his behavior could be and how he could feel the “pressure” coming on, and as soon as we would do Theraplay, I could visibly see the tension release from his body. One session of Theraplay would correct his behavior for a good 3-4 weeks. I still can’t believe it worked. And all we did was play!

Before Theraplay I was actually concerned that my son would grow up to be a murderer. That’s how horrible his behavior was.  I made a list of the extreme behaviors before he started Theraplay and then I looked at it after one month of therapy and realized that these things he’d done on a daily basis, he hadn’t done again. I just wanted to cry over the transformation he has made. He is happy. He gets along with others. He feels secure. He feels loved. This therapy changed my life. It changed his life. I’m still rejoicing every day.


*Note:  These Theraplay stories are all told by real clients, but their names are being withheld or changed to protect their privacy.