What is Theraplay?

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My daughter was 11 years old and I was mother #6 for her when she came into our home. She had been turned out of four different foster/adoptive homes in addition to her birth home. She was vivacious and beautiful. But she quickly became overwhelmingly challenging to parent. She was angry, narcissistic and utterly lacked empathy or concern for others’ feelings.  She refused to accept any nurturing from me, but instead provoked endless power struggles and scared me with her smoldering rage.

I would go to bed at 8:00…not only because I was exhausted at the daily grind of parenting her, but to avoid her. I turned into an angry, defensive, anxious, lonely and emotionally battered mother. My marriage quickly went south. My husband and I experienced parenting Amanda very differently. Around him, she was smiling and fun to be around. Around me she was spiteful, harassing, stubborn, immature and cruel. My husband began to feel that I was the problem. We were in crisis. I was devastated.

Over the next 18 months, we received countless services that were supposed to help—psychotherapy, auditory processing, special education, speech and sensory integration therapy—but none of these addressed the extremely dysfunctional parent-child relationship that had developed to the point where I felt that our lives were ruined.

By the time we received the referral for Theraplay, I had almost bowed out of the game. I felt that the recommendation was simply adding ANOTHER thing for Mom to do, sucking more of my blood and my energy. I was reluctant but desperate, exhausted but committed to securing relief for myself and the rest of my family.

Our first Theraplay session required touching Amanda and getting down on the floor with her. Because I had only experienced rejection from her, I sweated through the discomfort of being physically close to her. The second session involved more close interaction. It was very uncomfortable to me, but Amanda seemed to love it. She giggled!

By the third session, I realized that it was safe to deposit myself into an hour of my therapist’s care, and I started to look forward to having a safe and enjoyable time with Amanda. It was our safe haven every seven days. Soon I was able to carry some of these positive feelings into the ordinary week. I was beginning to be rejuvenated.

Soon, we noticed that Amanda was allowing me to parent her. Through the subtle Theraplay interactions, she accepted me as being her mother. She now accepted comforting from me. She learned that she could trust us not to hurt her. She could trust us with her battered and sensitive soul.

My marriage began to slowly heal. The Theraplay therapist validated that I was not the problem in my house. My husband began to support me again.

Of all the services we engaged to help this child, Theraplay had the most immediate and lasting effect on Amanda, as well as our family. Amanda is now 17, is the blessing of my life and a model young woman. Without Theraplay, I would not have seen this happy ending.


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