Introduction to Filial Therapy
Filial therapy is a special kind of play therapy. Literally thousands
of families have been helped by this method developed by Bernard and
Louise Guerney in
the 1960s. It is a unique therapeutic method that involves parents and caregivers
directly as the agents of therapeutic change.
Many play therapists practice
some form of Child-Centered or Non-Directive play therapy. Filial
therapy is a closely related
form of Child-Centered Play Therapy. In traditional Child-Centered
Play Therapy, the trained play therapist meets with parents or
caregivers first and then works on his/her own with the child
for a number of
weeks or months. Every four weeks or so the play therapist meets
with the parents to give feedback and discuss the child's needs
and progress by focusing on the themes and meaning of the child's
rather than the details. The child's play sessions are private
and the child forms an attachment relationship with the play
therapist who is deeply listening to the child's expressed concerns
the non-directive play sessions.
In Filial therapy, parents are trained to conduct non-directive
play sessions, usually referred to as "special play time",
with their child. The training process itself is positive and playful.
Subsequently, the parent conducts these non-directive play sessions
with their child under the supervision of the therapist, thus deeply
hearing the child's concerns and consequently strengthening the attachment
with their child.
Filial Therapy usually takes 3-6 months to complete,
and may last longer with follow-up sessions. It is suitable for children
between the ages of 3 and 12 years old. Filial therapy is a very
flexible model. As long as the essentials are taught to parents and
the parents follow through, it can be adapted in various ways to
meet the circumstances. Filial Therapy has been used successfully
with many child and family problems: oppositional behaviors, anxiety,
depression, perfectionism, abuse/neglect, single parenting, traumatic
events, attachment/adoption/ foster care, relationship problems,
divorce, family substance abuse, family reunification, chronic illness,
Filial Therapy Overview:
The therapist’s role is to be a combination of trainer, supervisor and
coach who assists parents in learning how to conduct "special playtime" sessions
with the child. Each parent/caregiver has a different relationship with their
child, so each play session is conducted one parent to one child, and may be
held with multiple children in the household. Filial therapy can be taught
through a group model (usually a minimum of 12-15 sessions) or offered as an
individual Filial therapy intervention.
Filial Therapy Process:
Stage One: Filial Therapy involves a series of stages. The Initial Stage is
an assessment of the family, which includes an interview with parents/caregivers,
a family play observation session, and parental observation of the therapist
conducting a non-directive play session with their child/ren. The rationale
for using Filial Therapy is explained at the end of this stage and parental
consent to this process is acquired.
Stage Two is the training phase. Parents are taught
how to conduct "special play time" sessions and then they
carry out sessions with their child under the therapist's supervision.
In the therapist's office, parents are trained how to conduct "special
play time" sessions using the basic Filial skills of structuring,
empathic listening, limit setting, and imaginary play. The therapist
spends two or three weeks training the parents in the basic Filial
skills through a playful, supportive method using lots of positive
feedback to support effective learning.
Next, for 4-6 weeks, in the therapist's office, the
parent gets to conduct 1:1 play sessions with their child while the
therapist observes. After each session, the therapist meets alone
with the parent to talk about what happened in the session (use of
skills, play themes) and the therapist provides positive and detailed
feedback and highlights maybe 1 or 2 skills to work on.
In the final piece, Stage Three, the parent-child Filial
sessions are transferred to home. The parent conducts a 30-minute
Filial session with their child every week at the same time, on the
same day, and in the same place. Parents continue to hold a weekly
30-minute Filial session with their child for as long as necessary
or as long as the child wants to for a minimum of 6 months.
After the transfer to home, the therapist initially
meets with parents once a week, discussing the sessions, exploring
the themes in the child's play, and helping parents generalize the
basic parenting skills used in the Filial sessions to real life problems
in the home. As the parents progress and positive changes are seen
in the family relationships and the behavior of the child, the office
sessions with the parents becomes less frequent (every two weeks,
one time a month, to once in several months) and are followed by
a final "check up" with parent and therapist to conclude
Typically children love having "special play time" with their parents.
Parents also find that the time spent together in Filial play is so valuable
and special that they are happy to do this. Filial Therapy helps parents develop
a consistent parenting style. Parents usually find that their relationship
and attachment to their child is greatly enhanced.
Filial Therapy helps children and families
Filial therapy can help children to express their feelings and fears through
the natural activity of play. Over time, children may:
- Understand their own feelings better
- Become able to express their feelings more appropriately
- Be more able to tell parents what they need, what is worrying
- Become more confident and skilled in solving problems as well
as asking for help when they need it
- Reduce their problem behaviors
- Feel more secure and trust their parents more
- Have a more healthy self esteem and increase their self-confidence.
Filial therapy can help parents to:
- Understand their child's worries and other feelings more fully
- Learn new skills for encouraging co-operation from their children
- Enjoy playing with their children and giving them positive attention
- Increase their listening skills and develop open communication
with their children
- Develop self confidence as parents
- Become more able to trust their children
- Deal in new ways with frustrations in family life
Filial therapy can help parents and children to form
closer and happier relationships.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can play help?
Play is a child's natural way to explore their world.
Children also use play to find solutions to problems. Play can
be healing. Children's thoughts and emotions come to the surface
during play. You can often find out more about how a child views
the world by watching and joining in their play than you can by
asking them to tell you what is wrong, or asking why they did something.
Why is Filial Therapy used with children
ages 3 - 12?
Children between the ages of 3 and 12 can best express their emotions, their
motivations, their wishes and dreams through the language of play, especially
when difficult issues are involved. Usually children under the age of 3 do
not yet play imaginatively. Children over 12 are better able to express themselves
verbally, although Filial is often used with young teenagers if appropriate
kinds of activities are used.
What is special about the
play in Filial play sessions?
- One parent plays with one child at a time.
- The parent focuses exclusively on the child without interruption
for 30 minutes.
- The child gets to lead the play, not the parent.
- The parent learns how to listen empathically to their child's
feelings, thoughts and even actions without questioning, teaching
or praising. Most parents find this very strange at first.
- The parent learns a simple method to set limits on the child's
behavior. This method of setting limits develops responsibility.
Parents practice these skills in mock play sessions during training
with the therapist.
- Parents to learn to generalize these skills to real life situations
in their lives.
What does "setting limits" mean?
In Filial sessions, a child can do almost anything s/he wants to, but if there
is anything s/he may not do, then you as the parent "set the limit".
For example, you will want to prevent either yourself or the child from getting
hurt and property from being damaged. You will learn a three step limit setting
- First, you set the limit or state the rule. (Cindy, the rule
is you cannot throw a block at me, but you can do almost anything
- Second, you give the warning or state the consequence. (Cindy,
the rule is you cannot throw a block at me, if you do it again "special
playtime” will end. But you can do almost anything else)
- Third, you enforce the rule. (Cindy, remember I told you cannot
throw a block at me; you chose to throw a block again; special
play time is over for today. It is time to leave the playroom.
You will have another play session next week.)
This is a very effective method for a child to learn
to be responsible for his/her own actions. Most children love their
Filial play sessions and do not want to leave. When they realize
that the parents mean what they say, then they stop and think, and
change their behavior.
a child do in his or
her Filial play sessions?
child will enter a
play area which has
toys that allow a child
to imaginatively play
out different therapeutic
nurturing, fears, anxieties,
etc). During a session
a child is allowed
to choose how to spend
the time. S/he might
play alone, play with
you, or not play at
all. S/he might talk
a lot or remain silent.
The parent accepts
all feelings and any
behavior unless there
is a need for a limit
What does the parent do?
First, the parent is trained by the therapist in how to conduct these sessions.
Then in the therapist's office, the parent conducts 30 minute play sessions
with the therapist present. A play session is followed up by a discussion between
the therapist and parent. The parent receives coaching and support from the
therapist to help improve his/her skills and begin to understand the play themes.
After 4-6 sessions, the parent begins to conduct 30 minutes play session one
time a week with their child at home.
What happens after a parent is doing play
sessions at home?
The parent meets weekly with the therapist to discuss the play sessions and
begin to further explore the meaning of the child's play. The themes of the
play will often help the therapist and parents understand what is motivating
their child's behavior. This leads to a deeper appreciation and understanding
of the child's inner struggles. The parents and therapist continue to work
together to resolve the underlying issue that caused the difficulties.
What does the parent learn?
Parents learn special skills for use during the play sessions - empathic listening,
limit setting, structuring and imaginative play. These skills are basic parenting
skills, which later can be transferred to daily life to help with problems
What does the Filial therapist do?
The therapist trains the parent(s) over a number of weeks, and then supervises
the weekly Filial play sessions between parent and child in her/his office.
When parent and child are ready, they have Filial play sessions at home without
the therapist. Parent and therapist continue to meet for feedback and training.
Together they determine the progress of therapy and when to gradually terminate
formal therapy. The therapist remains available for future contact as needed.What
about the other children in the family? Ideally, every child in the family
will have either a Filial play session or a "special time" with
one parent once a week. Sometimes parents can start weekly Filial sessions
with all their children (on an individual basis). For some families this
is not possible e.g. a single parent; several children; some children below
3 or above 12 year old. The therapist discusses these issues with parents.
Is Filial therapy new?
Filial therapy was developed in the 1960s by therapists Bernard and Louise
Guerney. Rise VanFleet, Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton have all developed models
of Filial therapy and continue to practice and research it. Filial therapy
has been extensively researched in the last 40-45 years. It has been shown
to help a wide range of families. Research also indicates that progress in
family and child functioning tends to last rather than then fall off after
the therapist's involvement ends.
kinds of families
can be helped by
Families of many kinds have been helped by Filial therapy, including single
parent families, blended families, foster families and adoptive families.
kinds of problem
can Filial therapy
Filial therapy can be used as a treatment for a range of children's problems,
e.g. acting out, acting in (depression or anxiety), perfectionism, oppositional
behaviors, trauma and attachment problems, and self-regulation difficulties.
Filial Therapy has been used successfully with many family problems: abuse/neglect,
single parenting, traumatic events, attachment/adoption/ foster care, relationship
problems, divorce, family substance abuse, family reunification, chronic illness,
Filial therapy can also be used to prevent future difficulties.