Theraplay® was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr Ann Jernberg, a Clinical Psychologist, to meet the mental health needs of young children at the Head Start Programme in Chicago, USA.

Since that time, Theraplay® has been used successfully in early year’s intervention and parenting programmes, day care and pre schools, special educational programmes, residential and community mental health and private mental health practices. The typical age range of service users are from birth to 12 years, although the method has been adapted for teens and even for the elderly.

The parent child relationships are the primary focus for Theraplay® and works to ensure that the connection between parents and children is firmly established or re-established following a loss, trauma or separation. Because of its focus on attachment and relationship development, Theraplay® has been used successfully for many years with foster and adoptive families. It is a very useful therapeutic programme for children with a variety of social and emotional difficulties and it also serves as a preventative programme to strengthen the parent child relationship in the presence of risk factors or even the stresses of every day modern life.

Theraplay® - What is it?

Theraplay® is a short-term, therapist-guided play therapy for children and their parents/carers which:

    •Enhances attachment, self-esteem and trust in others through joyful engagement
    •Is based on the natural patterns of healthy interaction between parent and child
    • Focuses on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: structure, nurture,  
       engagement and challenge.
    •Creates an active and empathic connection between child and parents
    •Results in a change view of the self as worthy and lovable, and of relationships as positive and

Extensions of this are the MIM Interaction Method, which is a structured technique for observing and assessing the interaction between caregiver and child, and Group Theraplay®, where a therapist or professional works with groups of children, and children and parents.

Attachment Related Trauma

The experience of severe traumatic attachments in the first two years of life results in structural limitations of the early developing right brain. This is the hemisphere that is dominant for the unconscious processing of social and emotional information, the regulation of bodily states, the capacity to cope with emotional stress, the ability to understand the emotional states of others (empathy) and the sense of a bodily and emotional self.(p5)

In The Neurobiological Consequences of early Relationships R. Balbernie taken from Text of “Circuits and Circumstances” in Journal of Child Psychotherapy Vol. 27, No.3, 2001. 237-255

Early Care giving lays a foundation.

Positive predictable interactions with nurturing caregivers profoundly stimulate and organize young brains. The quality of early relationships has a long lasting impact on how people develop, their ability to learn, and their capacity to regulate their own emotions, and form satisfying relationships later in life.(p1)

In The Neurobiological Consequences of Early Relationships R. Balbernie taken from Text of Circuits and Circumstances in Journal of Child Psychotherapy Vol. 27, No.3, 2001. 237-255

Human relationships, and the effect of relationships on relationships, are the building blocks of healthy development. From the moment of our conception to the finality of death, intimate and caring relationships are the fundamental mediators of successful human adaptation. (p.27)

National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) From Neurons to Neighbourhoods: The Science of early Childhood Development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Board on Children, Youth and Families, commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washing D.C. :National Academy Press.

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