Frequently Asked Questions

How can play help my child when they have very difficult problems?

Play is a child’s natural way to communicate, working out problems, and exploring the world around them. Play can be very healing, and provides a safe way to explore their difficulties without any fear of judgment. You can often find out more about how a child views the world by watching and joining in their play than you can by asking them to tell you what is wrong, or asking why they did something. Using filial skills you will be able to understand your child much better.

My child really struggles with play – he only likes to watch the TV or play on the computer?

Special, filial playtime can be very different from any other play that the child has ever experienced. I may suggest that during the assessment a family play observation is conducted, and very often then I might naturally be able to see where the play can be developed. Parents are often surprised how their child responds to the play sessions.

Can I not just have a 30-minute playtime with my child at home anyway?

Time spent playing with your children is a great way to have positive times together. However, if your child’s difficulties persist, then it may be that you would both benefit from filial play.

How does the play in filial differ from normal play?

Filial play is different in many ways to children’s normal experiences of play, whether on their own or with friends. During the filial session the parent concentrates solely on their child, and does not allow any interruptions, such as taking telephone calls, answering the door, etc. Parents will learn to track their child’s feelings, and learn to describe the actions taking place, without questioning, teaching or praising! This can be the hardest part of the process. Finally, parents will learn a new way of limit setting, and providing safe and secure boundaries during the sessions. We’ll practice these lots before you get started.

What does “setting limits” mean?

Setting limits and boundaries in filial sessions is one of the key skills that parents will learn. In the sessions the child can do almost anything they want, however, limits will need to be put in place. For example, it is not OK for you to get hurt, your child to get hurt, or for damage to property. The skills will help parents to avoid words such as ‘no’, and ‘don’t’ which often trigger a negative reaction or difficult behaviours. Phrases such as ‘one of the things you may not do is throw a toy at me’ rather than ‘don’t do that, that’s naughty’ is the first step in the process. If the child continues the limit is given again in exactly the same way but with a reminder that if they do it again then they will have to leave the session. If the action continues again then the session is finished for the week, and the filial play session will continue again next week. This type of boundary setting is very effective for a child to learn how to be responsible for his/her own actions; when they realize that the parent means what they say then they stop and think, and often change their behavior.

What will my child do during the session?

During a session a child is allowed to choose how to spend the time. S/he might play alone, play with you, or not play at all. S/he might talk a lot or remain silent. The parent accepts all feelings and any behaviour unless there is a need for a limit. During our sessions, we will go through a list of preferred items for your child to play with.

How long are the sessions?

Training sessions for parents vary in length but are usually at least an hour. Filial play sessions between parent and child are usually 30 minutes. A play session is followed up by a discussion between the therapist and parent.

What does the Filial therapist do?

The therapist trains the parent(s) over a number of weeks, and then supervises the weekly Filial play sessions between parent and child. The first few sessions may take place in the therapist’s play room. When parent and child are ready they have Filial play sessions at home without the therapist. Once play sessions are established at home the therapist will help the parents to identify play themes, and patterns of play.

What does the parent learn?

The key skills that parents will learn from the filial play are:

  • Empathic listening
  • Imaginative play skills (child-centred, non-directive)
  • Limit/boundary setting
  • Structuring skills

What about the other children in the family?

Ideally, every child in the family will have either a Filial play session or a “special time” with one parent once a week. With a larger family, or with single parents this can be tricky, however, in discussion during therapy sessions we can work out a schedule that is convenient for everyone.

Is Filial therapy new?

Filial therapy was developed in the 1960s by therapists Bernard and Louise Guerney. In the USA, Risё VanFleet, Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton have all developed models of Filial therapy and continue to practice and research it. Filial therapy has been extensively researched in the last 40-45 years. It has been shown to help a wide range of families. Research also indicates that children and families benefit long term from filial therapy, and the benefits don’t tail off once therapy sessions end; this is unlike many other interventions to help children.

What kinds of families can be helped by Filial therapy?

Families of many kinds have been helped by Filial therapy, including single parent families, blended families, foster families and adoptive families.

Can Filial therapy be used in prevention or early intervention?

Filial therapy can be used to enhance parent-child and carer-child relationships in a number of circumstances, e.g. looked after children (children “in Care”), adoption, separation and divorce situations, and families with special needs.