3330 Old Glenview Rd.,
Suite 8,
Wilmette, IL 60091 *

180 N. Michigan Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60601

The Theraplay® Institute in Wilmette, IL, USA, is aware that several newspaper articles concerning Theraplay have been published recently in the UK. Unfortunately, these articles misrepresent the Theraplay process. Theraplay is a well-established treatment model for helping children with behavior and relationship problems, primarily through improving the parent-child relationship. It is based upon research that demonstrates the critical influence of early relationships on brain development and child behavior. Theraplay has roots in the work done at the Tavistock Centre in the late 1970’s and with John Bowlby’s foundational work in attachment theory.

The recent articles depict Theraplay as consisting primarily of bottle feeding school children and assert that such caretaking will prevent the child from growing up and becoming independent. The reality is that while we believe that Nurture in various forms is very important, bottle feeding is used only in a minority of select situations. The goal of Theraplay treatment is to make an active and emotional connection between the child and parents, resulting in a change in the child’s view of himself/herself as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding, with resulting improvements in behavior. The parents’ viewpoint and behavior often changes as well. Children with a positive view of themselves and others grow up to be the healthiest adults.

Theraplay is a unique treatment for several reasons: Parents are expected to participate and are guided to make a better relationship with their children. The therapist and parent are the leaders of the sessions, helping the child to accept appropriate adult leadership and limits and setting an organized, well-regulated example for the child. The sessions focus on the delight of being together and playing simple interactive games, not on toys, teaching, or electronic pastimes. The sessions incorporate physically challenging movement activities that appeal to children, allow them to “burn off some steam” and feel good about their accomplishments. Because Theraplay involves parents and is so direct, treatment often is completed in months instead of the years typical of child-only, non-directive therapies.

Why do we Nurture and ask parents to nurture their children? Nurturing helps the child feel valued as a human being, which decreases the child's anger and need to misbehave. With troubled children, we agree with others in the therapeutic field that when an adult expects more cooperation or compliance, the adult must increase nurturing as well. Nurturing in therapy and in real life is frequently done through food. Feeding and sharing treats tells a child that we value him and builds him up inside. We want to change the child's feelings of self-worth. Nurturing in Theraplay does that.

We would never force a child to accept a bottle, a juice box, or a food treat of any kind. When offered, it is done playfully or kindly. If a child accepts it, it tells us that child has a need for that early nurturing. We also provide nurture in many other ways, such as checking for and taking care of hurts and singing to the child. Children who feel well taken care of are able to develop empathy for other people and the ability to be gentle with and respectful of others.

Nurture is only one part of Theraplay. A 30-45 minute Theraplay session might include two nurturing activities in addition to six active, cooperative games from the Structure, Engagement and Challenge dimensions, depending on the specific child’s needs.

It is unfortunate that an increasing number of children come to school with emotional problems, developmental delays, past trauma, disorganized family life, multiple family placements, and other challenges. Theraplay can help them become self-regulated and ready to learn. Parents and teachers report improved behavior and happier children after Theraplay treatment.

Theraplay is not silly or controversial. Thousands of mental health professionals from all over the world have been trained in the Theraplay method over the past 40 years. Theraplay is used with biological children, children in foster care, families formed by adoption, and for children with developmental challenges. Theraplay has been used preventively to strengthen the parent-child relationship in the presence of risk factors or the stresses of everyday life. There are Theraplay therapists working with AIDS orphans in Botswana and South Africa, victims of disasters such as the 2005 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, SOS Children’s Villages, adoption preservation agencies, schools, early intervention programs, daycare, residential, community mental health, private practice and family therapy to name a few. For more information:

Theraplay® is a registered service mark of The Theraplay Institute, 3330 Old Glenview Rd., Suite #8, Wilmette, IL, USA in the United States, Canada, non-German speaking European countries, Australia and South Korea.