What is Theraplay and how can it help?

A few weeks ago I mentioned to some friends that within my family we used Theraplay and it created some interest. I was asked What is Theraplay? Who uses it? Would it be useful for me?

(I wrote this piece originally for the readers and contributors of Mumbler)

As the term suggests it is play that is therapeutic for both the children and the adults. As a family we used it to build attachment, improve relationships and allow us to become more ‘attuned’ as parents, children and a family.

What is it?

“Theraplay is an engaging, playful, relationship-focused treatment method that is interactive, physical and fun. It is based on attachment theory and it aims to create or improve healthy, attuned interaction between parents and their children. It supports healthy attachment and lifelong mental health”. It can help children from the very young (even under 3 years old) into teenage years.

Before I go any further, Theraplay is a registered therapeutic technique, a tried and tested therapeutic method used since the 1970’s. People train to be Play Therapists and work in hospitals, schools and the home.

I adopted the use of Theraplay techniques within my family to support us, keep us together, improve our relationships and to help us feel ‘close’, AND it helped and greatly improved our family life which was approaching breaking point. I was determined, consistent and disciplined. I did not want our family to fall apart.

Who can benefit from Theraplay?

The Theraplay institute say “it can help children who are withdrawn, passive, depressed, overactive or aggressive, children on the autism spectrum and those who are afraid of relating or attaching because of adoption, losses or trauma”. In summary it can help and support many children and families.

How did we use it?

Prior to my children being placed with us (they are adopted) I had not heard of Theraplay, why would I? The first I heard of it, we had a psychologist visit us at home to listen to us and suggest some ways to help us as a family. It was a flying visit, she came for an hour and sat in our front room. The one small gem I took away from that visit was that there was something called Theraplay and I could buy a book with techniques that could help us.

“Theraplay – Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships Through Attachment-Based Play by Phyllis B. Booth & Ann M. Jefferson”

There is a lot of theory in the book, case studies, ways to use it with ADHD, Autism, Adopted Children etc

I wanted to get on and try it out, the exercises and activities and we had great fun!

Jumping, blowing, clapping, tickling, drawing, measuring, bursting out of toilet paper, punching newspapers, singing, acting, massaging each others hands and feet, playing Simon says and Mother May I? etc etc. Perhaps some of those games and activities that you have already played/done with your children many times. We were all learning from scratch and the book explained why we were doing it, what purpose it served, what to look out for, which activities were better for the child etc. When I ran out of ideas, I grabbed the book and we tried other activities and the children came to know that if I was reading this book (and another I have) that fun and games would ensue!

My view is quite profound – it saved our family, kept us together, made life manageable while we were waiting for more help. It meant we could look back on some of those challenging times with some affection, through the difficulties those fun games stuck out. I remember the jumping on cushions and ‘find the sweetie’ games so fondly.

It could be a technique that could help you but be aware the book is not cheap and is aimed at therapists. I used about 50 pages of a 600 page book. There are other books we used though that also helped – in particular “Self Esteem Games by Barbara Sher” and its ‘sister’ book “Attention Games by Barbara Sher”.

I guess what I want people to get from this, that there are choices, options, things you can try. Getting hold of therapists for children and teenagers can be tricky (and expensive) but if you have the energy there is a way forward, while you are waiting for professional help or maybe, just maybe you won’t need it after all you’ve done.

Be brave, bold and believe you can improve your family life.

Juliet Powell

I work with parents, supporting with everything that parenting throws at us in life. From practical strategies to counselling support.

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I offer pamper events, parties and workshops using natural products and essential oils to bring people together and support them for parents and children (age 10 upwards).

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4 thoughts on “What is Theraplay and how can it help?

    1. Many of the activities are ones that would take place in a nurturing family. I guess we were trying to ‘put back’ nurturing that was missed. We had great fun. My children loved “Mother May I” haring around finding things to bring back!

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