Theraplay is a specialized form of play therapy that works to cultivate a joyful, emotionally connected, and influential parent-child relationship.
Generally speaking, when a child struggles emotionally, the parent serves as the child's comfort, nourishment, and guidance, their "rock." The parent is where the child emotionally refuels and turns for direction. Many families take this for granted.
But what happens when a child can't "take in" a parent's support, instead rejecting the help? Often, family life gets pretty sad and overwhelming, with kids spiraling further and further out of control and into distress, and parents feeling helpless, confused, and frustrated. In cases like these, a child's emotional or behavioral issue may be extremely resistant to change, even with the support of new parenting strategies or traditional therapy. This is where Theraplay can be transformative.
Theraplay is particularly well-suited for children who may be struggling with:
Very ingrained patterns of defiance, aggression, and controlling behavior
Very ingrained patterns of withdrawal, helplessness, and clingy behavior
Autism, sensory or social skills problems
Because Theraplay relies on joyful interaction and requires little talking, active effort, or motivation from the child, it's also an excellent fit for children who are preverbal, extremely resistant, or "hate therapy."
How does Theraplay work?
In Theraplay-based sessions, I will guide you and your child through a series of structured, fun, and heart-warming activities that deepen your bond. These activities draw from cross-cultural research on early parent-child attachment and rely heavily on eye contact, touch, movement, facial expression, and voice tone. They are powerful in their simplicity and their capacity to connect us.
These play sessions are videotaped and periodically followed by parent-only review sessions in which we watch the tapes and work together to "decode" the nonverbal cues of your child. This helps us to understand your relationship in a profoundly different way. As we become fluent in your child's nonverbal "language," we will explore different ways of relating and responding in order to challenge any dynamics that no longer work for you both. This changes the "relationship dance" between you, ultimately helping your child to fully "take in" your love, leadership, and support. When your child is able to use all your support and guidance, their emotional and social growth blossoms.
When is Theraplay not a fit?
As with any powerful treatment, Theraplay represents a significant investment- emotionally and financially- so it's important to ensure that it's the very best approach for your family. The assessment process is comprehensive and will help us determine together the best course of action.
That being said, Theraplay isn't my first choice for children over 8 who are excited to talk in therapy. Most families are not ready for this type of work when coping with ongoing conflict between parents, contentious divorce, or addiction. Beyond everything else, for Theraplay to be truly effective, parents must be ready to see themselves as part of the solution for their child, ready to do their own work in therapy, and ready to commit to at least 6 months of consistent, weekly sessions.
Our child's problem is severe. Will Theraplay work for us?
I have helped many exasperated and hopeless parents, coping with repeated psychiatric hospitalizations, intensive in-home therapy, residential treatment or constant chaos at home, sometimes even after years of therapy. You are not alone in your frustration and your quest for real answers. These situations are complex and intense and require a complex, intense intervention. Cases like your child's are the reason I sought out Theraplay training.
While no decent therapist would promise you a miracle cure, I will say that I have worked with many families where Theraplay was the last-ditch effort that allowed profound changes to unfold. I have seen many parent-child relationships change immensely in a relatively short period of time. I encourage parents to reach out, ask me questions, do their own research, and trust their instincts about whether this method will be helpful. A parent's deepest instincts are usually spot-on.