Filial Therapy

What is filial therapy?

Filial therapy is a special kind of play therapy. It is helpful for children ages 3 through 11 or 12. The way that filial therapy differs from traditional play therapy is that it directly involves the parents. After the initial assessment of the way the family functions together, the therapist spends a few sessions training the parents in use of certain skills that help to improve parenting, change the child’s behavior and strengthen family ties. Once the parents are confident in use of the skills the parents lead play sessions with their child as the therapist observes. After the play session the therapist will highlight areas of strength for parents and the child and point out areas for continued work. 

How does filial therapy work?

During a filial play session, the child leads the play. Parents follow along with the child’s theme for play, matching the child’s affect, bodily position and tone of voice. Parents refrain from asking questions, judging, teaching, correcting or directing the play as this brings the play into the adult’s realm rather than staying in the child’s world. Parents are asked to let loose and “find their inner child” and have FUN while playing. Sometimes just the act of playing with a child in the way the child plays, can make a huge difference in the adult/child relationship.

What are the skills that parents learn? 

Parents learn to track the child’s play, sort of like a sportscaster calls a game. This validates the actions and decisions a child makes in his or her play. The parent also learns to reflect on the emotions the child shows during play. This teaches the child an emotional vocabulary and how others express their emotions. Parents learn to set limits for safety and time during the play session. This helps a child make appropriate decisions and transition easily from one activity to another. Parents also learn to comment on the child’s behavioral strengths such as hard work, perseverance, patience etc. This helps the child to utilize these strengths more consistently. Most importantly parents learn to match their play with the child’s. This helps the child understand how important their world is to their parents. 

How does filial therapy help?

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 cooperation 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 can help parents and children to form closer and happier relationships.

How long does it take?

Filial therapy can take 3-6 months to complete in the therapy session. Once therapy is complete parents will be asked to continue with filial sessions at home for 10-15 minutes each day. This is very important as continuation of the parent/child play relationship will continue to strengthen behaviors that both the parent and child have learned and will also continue to strengthen the parent/child relationship. 

Information adapted from