“It is not just play, but attuned play that is important”
Phyllis Booth

Occasionally conventional therapies are not enough. This is where the Theraplay technique steps into its own. Theraplay was developed after many years of research and observation of how parent and child interacted with each other. It utilises the Marcharks Method of Interaction know as the MIM”S assessment. 

The Theraplay setting provides the Parent and child with a safe place to provide positive experiences through play. The aim is to help repair the relationship between parent and child enabling them to have fun, learn to trust each other and adults, feel safe in the world and see themselves as lovable people. This approach utilizes parents in the therapeutic playroom to help heal the relationship, soothe the child and teach parents different ways to access their child emotionally.


What is Theraplay?

Theraplay is a child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. It is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child and is personal, physical, and fun. Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge. Theraplay sessions create an active, emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of the self as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding.

So what happens in Theraplay

During the session, the therapist will lead the child through a series of simple, fun games and activities, while helping the child be successful and competent. This is carried out in a nurturing, healing and calming way. During the therapeutic session, it makes perfect sense to involve the parental/career into the process when appropriate. Allowing the parental figure ‘when ready’ to be the emotional anchor in the room enables the techniques to be practical in a safe environment, there by supporting the learning to the relationship at home allowing the family dynamic to heal. Parents are taught to recognize where a child is at developmentally, which often is NOT where the child is chronological. Educating the parent and joining together as a team are essential ingredients in a successful Theraplay experience. Theraplay is suitable for the child and one parent, a child and both parents, or the entire family.

The Theraplay Plan

Before Theraplay sessions begin, the therapist holds a parent only intake. Duration is usually one and a half hours. During this evaluation, the therapist is taking a full history and look at the child's emotional, behavioural and relational health. During the Theraplay plan, parent sessions/reviews are inserted throughout the therapeutic process to help educate the parent and support the processes that are occurring in the therapeutic sessions and at home.


The second and third appointments are observation sessions using the Marschak Interaction Method (MIM). The parent and child are given specific tasks to complete or prescriptive activities to do together. These interactions are videotaped and assessed by the therapist. The parent/career meet again with the therapist to discuss the findings of this assessment and together, a treatment plan is discussed. Theraplay can be modified to suit all families and budgets. Once a plan is agreed on the session then progress.


The Four Dimensions of Theraplay

Parents are involved in the therapeutic playroom during every session. Theraplay is a structured approach that utilizes four thoughtful approaches during sessions: structure, engagement, nurture and challenge. The therapist helps teach the parent about the four dimensions of therapy and also helps the parent to recognize the emotional and relational benefit of each activity utilized during the sessions. 



To relieve the child of the burden of having to be in control. The adult sets limits, defines body boundaries, keeps the child safe and helps complete activities.



To establish and maintain a connection with the child, to focus on the child in an intense way and to surprise and entice the child into enjoying new experiences.



To reinforce the message that the child is worthy of care and that adults will provide care without the child having to ask for it.



To build a child’s ability and confidence by encouraging them to take slight risks and accomplish an activity with adult help.


Who is Theraplay suited for?

Children as young as three and through out elementary school are the targeted age group of the Theraplay dynamic. The following list is not exhaustive but is a reflection of typical reasons parents seek out the Theraplay modality:

  • Shy or Selective Mute Child
  • Withdrawn or Depressed (child or parent)
  • Significant Change in the Family
  • Weary, Overwhelmed Parent
  • Domestic Violence
  • Overactive or Aggressive Child
  • Temper Tantrums
  • Phobias or Severe Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum
  • Adopted Child
  • Reactive Attachment
  • Difficulty Socializing


Theraplay’s Core Concepts consist of interaction, here and now experience, adult guidance, atonement, right brain language, multisensory experience, and playfulness The Theraplay program is an investment in your child's future and can be tailored to your families situation and circumstances.