“It is not enough to love the children, it is necessary for them to be aware that they
are loved.” – St John Bosco.
Filial Therapy is a unique approach to family therapy employed by professionals who have been first trained in Play Therapy. It is significantly different to most other models of family therapy in that the aim is to upskill and empower parents to be therapeutic agents of change and healing, with little to no direct work by the therapist with the child or children.
In Filial Therapy sessions, parents are taught basic child-centred Play Therapy principles and skills, such as reflective listening, recognizing and responding to children’s feelings, therapeutic limit setting, building children’s self-esteem and maintaining structured activities within weekly meetings with the Filial Therapist. Parents learn how to attune to their child’s thoughts, intentions and feelings which enhances the attachment relationship between caregiver and child.
As in child-centred Play Therapy, Filial Therapy is not focused on solving specific problems nor is it a quick fix, but rather aims for outcomes that are sustained over time and endure through stress as it works to strengthen the core bonds of a family, not change specific behaviours. It is especially beneficial in re-building strong attachment relationships where these have been undermined by adversity. Filial Therapy is particularly effective in adoption and foster care placements to ensure strong interpersonal bonds are formed. It is a flexible approach easily adapted to the individual needs of children and families. The Therapist works directly with the parents or carers throughout the programme, supporting and empowering them in new ways to interact with their child and building their confidence as they practice their new knowledge at home. This support can be maintained in follow-up sessions as needed. Children respond with delight to having their parent or carer’s undivided attention for a significant period of time, and parents and carers find renewed joy in their relationship with their child.
The History of Filial Therapy:
Filial therapy was developed in the 1960s by child and family therapists Bernard and Louise Guerney. Their original premise was that family attachment difficulties could be healed effectively through the active involvement of parents and carers within the Play Therapy process. This was built on by various other child therapists in both the USA and the UK, such as Garry Landreth, Sue Bratton and Rise VanFleet. Filial Therapy initial and continuing emphasis is on two key elements: Play as the child’s natural means of expression and integration, and parents and carers as the therapeutic partners.
Filial therapy has been extensively researched in the last 40-50 years (for example, Draper et al, 2009; Topham, 2011; Rye, 2008 and Bratton and Landreth, 1995.) It has been shown to help a wide range of families of different compositions. Research has also indicated that the progress in family and child functioning tends to last rather than to tail off after the therapist’s involvement ends.
“The best toy for a young child is the invested, caring adult – someone to pay attention, to engage and to play with the child using words, song, touch and smile.” – Bruce Perry.
The Nurturing Families Programme
The Hand in Hand Programme
The Hand in Hand Programme is a relational approach to meeting some of the challenges of parenting children and young people on the Autistic Spectrum. The programme is based on the tenets of Filial Therapy with a focus on Attachment and Bonding but takes into account the very specific sensory and neurological factors associated with autism.
Hand in Hand offers families who have received diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Conditions for their children the opportunity to develop therapeutic play skills to use in their interactions. This approach encourages a non-directive and contingent stance on the part of the adult in their engagements with their children. When caregivers have developed their skills and confidence the therapist supports them in setting up and then observing them in special therapeutic play sessions at home between caregiver and child, giving feedback on their skills development and providing support with strategies for effective parenting.
Extensive research has highlighted that a child-led and attuned approach underpins better prosocial behaviour and overall developmental outcomes for autistic children (e.g. Siller and Sigman, 2002). Additional contributions through psycho-education on the facets of autism alongside ongoing parental support offers families a robust support system at what can be a very confusing and challenging time following a diagnosis.