Filial Therapy For Families

Filial Therapy helps parents and children form closer and happier relationships.

Filial Therapy

Filial Therapy is a special kind of play therapy. Since then literally thousands of families have been helped by this method developed by Louise and Bernard 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 play 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 during the non-directive play sessions.

Filial Therapy can help children.

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 them

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 Overview

Filial Therapy usually takes 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: providing that the essentials are taught to parents and followed through, it can be adapted in various ways to meet the circumstances.

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 is conducted with multiple children in the household. 

Filial therapy can be taught through a group model (usually a minimum of 15-25 sessions) or offered as an individual Filial therapy intervention.

Filial Therapy Process

Stage One:

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.

For 4-6 weeks

In the therapist office, the parent gets to conduct 1:1 play sessions with their child as 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 difficulties to work on.

After the transfer to home

The therapist initially meets with parents once a week, to discuss the sessions, exploring the themes in the child’s play, and helping parents generalize the basic parenting skills used n 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, sessions becomes less frequent (every two weeks, one time a month, to several months) and are followed by a final “check up” with parent and therapist to conclude the therapy.

Stage Two:

This is the training phase; parents are taught how to conduct “special play time” sessions. and then carry out sessions with their child under the therapist 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.

Stage Three:

The parent-child Filial Therapy 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.


Typically children love having “special play time” with their parents.  Parents also find that the time spent together in Filial Therapy 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 improved.

Parent Testimonial

Katrina and Daniel adopted a large sibling group. Katrina described her experience with Filial as follows: “Before my children started Filial Therapy they were like little wild kittens – scared, insecure, fighting for their survival the best way they could and unsure about their belonging in this world… Since the time that I started to participate in the therapy with my children, I feel like we’ve grown so much closer together. My children trust me the most out of all the people they know and they are not scared to talk to me or show me their good and sad/angry emotions. Therapy has helped me understand my children better without them having even to talk about their feelings that they don’t understand. Their play tells me more than they could do themselves.”

Enhance your play therapy skills!

15 + 6 =

Karen Pernet LCSW, RPT-S

Oakland, CA 94602

I would be glad to hear from you and to share information about my services: psychotherapy, general supervision for pre-licensed therapist, specialized supervision for therapists working becoming  Registered Play Therapists, consultations for experienced therapists and trainings in play therapy and sandtray therapy.