"If researchers study only family problems,they are likely to find only family problems.Similarly,if educators, community organisers,therapists and researchers are interested in family strengths,they look for them.When these strengths are identified,they can become the foundation for continued growth and positive change in a family and a society."  John DeFrain

Filial Therapy is a form of family therapy. It harnesses the power of play therapy to help families forge closer, more cohesive relationships.  The term ‘Filial’ comes from the Latin filios or filias, technically meaning son or daughter but loosely translated means parent-child.

Practitioners train and supervise parents or caregivers as they conduct special non-directive play sessions with their own children.  Play is the primary avenue for gaining greater understanding of children.  Through play, children express their feelings, master new skills, learn problem- solving skills, develop coping skills and understand their worlds.   The therapist helps parents to understand their children’s motivations, feelings, intentions and behaviours in context through noticing and discussing play themes that arise in the play sessions.  

As the parents’ skills and confidence in conducting and understanding play sessions develops, the therapist helps them shift the play sessions to their home environment.  Home play sessions are monitored and supported by the therapist and parents are helped to generalise what they have learnt to daily life and parenting situations.

Parents are the most significant people in their child’s life and are likely to have a greater impact on their children than any therapist could. Parents are completely capable of learning the skills necessary to conduct child led play sessions with their children and when parents learn these more effective ways of interacting with their children and helping their children, the positive results are likely to be more profound and longer lasting.  Parents are seen and involved as true partners in  the therapeutic process.

Filial Therapy has received increasing recognition by the clinical and research communities as an effective approach to strengthening parent, child, and family relationships.  It can be used to help a range of families from prevention work to interventions for seriously distressed children and families.

While presenting problems are reduced, Filial Therapy aims to give children:

•       The opportunity to be heard

•       Enable them to recognise and express their feelings fully and constructively

•       Increase confidence in themselves

•       Increase confidence and trust in their parents.

For parents, goals are:

•       To increase understanding of child development and their own children

•       To recognise the importance of play and emotion

•       To increase confidence and decrease frustration

•       To open doors of communication

•       To increase feelings of warmth and trust

•       To enable parents to work together as a team

Overall Filial Therapy aims to (a) eliminate the presenting problems at their source, (b) develop positive interactions, attachments and relationships between parents and their children, and (c) increase families’ communication, coping and problem solving skills so they are better able to handle future problems independently and successfully. 

Filial Therapy has been used widely to help:

•       Children of divorce

•       Those with behavioural issues in school

•       Adoptive and foster children

•       Children of addicted or recovering parents

•       Anxious children

•       Children with chronic illness

•       Children with Autistic spectrum disorders

•       Attention deficit problems

•       Attachment disorders

•       Military families

•       those who have experienced trauma and neglect


(Rise VanFleet, 2014, Filial Therapy, Strengthening Parent-Child Relationships Through Play. Third edition)