Drawn from Van Fleet. R. (2000). ‘A parent’s handbook of filial play therapy, Boiling Springs, PA: Play Therapy Press.

More and more, people are realizing the power of play and humour in promoting positive relationships and mental health. This is a family intervention that is designed to strengthen families through the use of play. It is called filial therapy, and it can be used by families who wish to strengthen their relationships, or it can be used by therapists working with families who are experiencing difficulties. In filial therapy the parents are true partners with the therapist in bringing about positive changes in their family’s life.

To use this process in Kenya we have adapted it slightly to involve the children’s’ carers in ‘loco-parentis’.

In filial therapy, under the therapist’s guidance, the carer learns to conduct a special type of play session with the children in their care. The carers are considered true partners in the entire therapeutic process. Play Kenya has adapted the several advantages to parents being the ones to conduct the play sessions with their own children to ensure that the relationship is built with the carer with whom the child has the best relationship

• Carers have an intimate relationship with their children and already know their children better than a therapist would.

• Carers are very capable of learning to conduct these special play sessions.

• Carers are the most important people in their children’s lives. This method of strengthening the family capitalizes on this fact, and children need not develop a whole new relationship with a therapist.

• When carers are involved in play therapy as they are in filial therapy, the changes are usually positive and long lasting.

• When involved in filial therapy, carers usually learn how to understand their children better through their play. This understanding can help parents as they make childrearing decisions.

Filial therapy strengthens the parent-child relationship directly, and everyone in the family benefits. Usually children and parents alike really enjoy their special play sessions together, and using play to help children with their feelings and problems can make the change process easier for everyone.

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This approach is more efficient. As parents learn to do this, they can eventually hold these play sessions at home. The therapist teaches and guides the parents, but eventually they hold these play sessions independently, ultimately reducing the number of therapy sessions neede

This type of family-oriented play therapy is relatively short-term, but it does require some commitment and work on the part of the parents. Most parents report that this effort is well worth it in terms of the positive outcomes they’ve experienced.

Filial therapy has been around for quite some time–since the early 60s, in fact, when Drs. Bernard & Louise Guerney developed it–but it has really been growing in popularity among parents and therapists during recent years. The primary reason for this is that it works. There has been a great deal of research and clinical experience with filial therapy done over the past 40 years, and those studies show that it consistently helps reduce children’s problem behaviours, helps parents to feel less stressed and more confident, and improves the understanding parents have for their children. (The term “filial therapy” comes from the Latin words meaning “son” or “daughter” and essentially refers to the parent-child relationship.)