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Filial Therapy

Learn about this empowering approach to support parents and carers working therapeutically with children in their care.

Filial Therapy is an intervention whereby a Therapist trains and supervises parents/carers to enable them to have special therapeutic play time sessions with their children at home. There is a robust evidence base for both the short-term and long-term effectiveness of Filial Therapy. The benefits of Filial Therapy and the presenting problems in children that it can successfully address are comparable to those of Play Therapy. Generally speaking, Filial Therapy can be effective for children between the ages of 3-12 years, though it can be appropriate for older children depending on their level of development.

The additional benefit of having the parents/carers working with their own children is the direct enhancement of their attachment relationship. It is heavily recommended that all children in the family receive special therapeutic play sessions with their parents/carers - not just the child who is the focus of concern at the point of referral. It is heavily recommended that both parents complete Filial Therapy work, where possible and appropriate.

Filial Therapy can be used as a first response intervention; to strengthen families both as a preventative measure or in response to a specific issue. Filial Therapy would also be considered to be an effective follow on step from a child’s individual therapy; strengthening their attachment with their parents/carers and also to enhancing parents/carers’ capacity to respond to their children. Filial Therapy can be used as a small group intervention model. Research indicates that Filial Therapy has a high satisfaction rate from parents who report that their skills, understanding and empathy for their child improves alongside a decrease in their own stress levels.

Filial Therapy Sessions

Filial Therapy usually takes about 20 sessions to complete, though it can sometimes be extended up to 30 sessions in more complex circumstances. Filial Therapy is split into five distinct phases:

Engagement and Assessment.This includes an observation of the family playing together and a play session demonstration by the Filial Therapist

Parents/carers receive 1:1 psycho-educational tuition and role play practice experience, with the Filial Therapist, in the four key therapeutic skill areas (Empathic Listening, Child-Centred Play, Limit Setting and Structuring). Dependent of the views and needs of the parents/carers and referrer, these sessions can take place in a formal setting or at home.

Parents/carers then complete special play sessionswith their child under the supervision of the Filial Therapist. Again, these sessions could take place in a formal setting or at home

Parents/carers then complete independent special play sessionswith their child at home. The video recordings of this with the Filial Therapist in supervision sessions to highlight areas of strength and reflect on areas which could be enhanced

Ending. The skills that are learned in Filial Therapy are transferable and it will be important to help the parents/carers to focus on how they can use their new ways of responding to their children in a variety of day to day situations. Often this occurs naturally during the process but is specifically focused on towards the end.

Accessing Filial Therapy

As with Play Therapy, Northumberland Play & Filial Therapy Service would not feel it is appropriate to pursue Filial Therapy when:

  • The child remains at risk of harm
  • The child's carers lack stability in their own presentation and lack an effective support network around them

Filial Therapy would also not be appropriate when:

  • The parent/carer do not have the cognitive capacity to learn and implement the necessary skills
  • The parent/carer are not able to prioritise the child's needs due to their own emotional presentation
  • The parent/carer is the perpetrator of abuse towards the child (whether physical, emotional, sexual or neglect)
  • The child does not have the developmental capacity to play imaginatively


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