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What Is Theraplay®?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Theraplay® is a treatment protocol used by child psychologists to help children and parents build a better, stronger bond. It is based on the idea that a warm and loving environment will help a child develop a sense of self-worth, and when this caring world is created by parents, it helps build a strong and positive relationship. Therapists work with children and parents in order to help teach them how to build this type of relationship.

One of the goals of Theraplay® is to relate to the child based on his or her emotional age. This may mean working with a school-age child in a way that a preschooler might understand; when an emotional relationship between parent and child is not nurtured from the beginning, it can negatively impact the way the child relates not only to his or her parents, but to others. Theraplay® attempts to go back to where this bond, relationship, and sense of self-worth was broken and start again.

Some Theraplay centers use horses.
Some Theraplay centers use horses.

Ultimately, the method of treatment revolves around the idea that every human being strives to be connected with another. Children who have not had a strong foundation to build upon are introduced to a therapeutic environment with levels of safety and interaction that may not have been experienced before. The role of the therapist is to help them learn to be receptive to a caring nature, but also to build upon their own self-confidence and sense of self-worth. This is done in a way that children innately understand: play.

Theraplay® therapists engage in fun and interactive activities with children, such as playing games and singing songs. Some centers even use horses as a way to bridge the gap between children and the outside world. Once the child has been introduced to what might be new feelings of security and happiness, therapists typically bring the parents into the picture. Parents are then taught how to provide for a structured and safe environment that will also encourage the child's sense of self and safety.

This type of therapy has been found to be particularly successful in treating children with special needs and their parents. The program is highly adaptable and can be changed to suit children with developmental disorders, physical limitations, and even sensory malfunctions. Many families with special needs may benefit from the one-on-one counseling of Theraplay®.

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    • Some Theraplay centers use horses.
      By: JM Fotografie
      Some Theraplay centers use horses.