What is Theraplay?

Theraplay is a proactive and intensive dyadic child and family therapy that supports healthy child and caregiver attachment. Treatment involves respectful, emotionally attuned and interactive physical play between the caregiver and child, facilitated by the therapist. Unlike other therapies, Theraplay is less focused on cognitive tasks and more based upon nurturing the natural patterns of healthy interactions between carers and children.

Strong attachment, or a healthy bond, between a child and their caregiver is believed to be the basis for nurturing resilience and social and emotional development into adulthood. Neuroscience research has shown that secure attachment is the way in which children come to understand, trust and thrive in their world.

Foundational Theory and Research Support for Theraplay:

Theraplay is based upon a wide foundation of theory and research, developed over 50 years, including Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Development of the Brain, Stephen Porge’s Polyvagal Theory and John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s Attachment theory.

Theraplay Dimensions:

Through play, the therapist creates sequences of connection and care between the caregiver and child, with activities directly related to the dimensions of engagement, nurture, structure and challenge.

  • Engagement:
    Engagement activities are related to felt safety, inner state regulation, social engagement and attachment experiences. Engagement activities can benefit children who may be withdrawn, avoidant of contact or rigidly structured.
  • Nurture:
    Nurture activities are related to self-worth, stress reduction and down regulation. Nurture activities may benefit children who are overactive/ hyper aroused or who appear as pseudo mature.
  • Structure:
    Structure activities are related to promoting predictability, organisation and outer regulation. Structure activities may benefit children who are overstimulated, overactive and expressing a need for control.
  • Challenge:
    Challenge activities are related to building competence, confidence and self-efficacy. Challenge activities may benefit children who are withdrawn, timid and rigid.

Who Can Benefit from Theraplay?

Children, caregivers and their family as a whole, impacted by a variety of presenting problems, such as the following, can be treated using the Theraplay Model:

  • Attachment difficulties
  • Complex trauma
  • Loss and separation
  • Developmental delays
  • Children on the Autism Spectrum
  • Externalising behaviours and emotions (angry, acting out)
  • Internalising behaviours and emotions (withdrawn, fearful, shy)
  • ADHD
  • And more

Our clinicians, Tanayah Tooze and Madeleine Berryman, at the Hummingbird Centre, use interventions based on Theraplay Principles.

Helpful Websites to Learn More:

Understanding Theraplay

Attachment Theory

Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics

Polyvagal Theory

Building Healthy Brains and the Effects of Trauma

Page Last Updated: 29 June 2021