In the 1960’s, Filial Therapy began as a dramatic challenge to prevailing approaches for mental health services for children. Not only did Filial Therapy include parents but Bernard G. Guerney, Jr. and his wife, Louise Fisher Guerney (the originators of Filial Therapy) believed that training parents to learn child-centered play therapy was an effective way to treat child problems. This innovative approach assumed that a shift to an educational/skill-training model could be as (or more) effective than the traditional medical model of treatment. An evidence-based approach, Filial Therapy has had a long history of research and practice as an intervention/prevention program with young children and their families. Filial Therapy teaches parents how to conduct weekly child-centered play sessions with their own children at their own home. This occurs in a
constructive relationship context that is based on principles and methods of child-centered play therapy. When the Guerney’s began to develop this innovative approach, the family therapy movement was undergoing a phenomenal growth. They designed the program as a child-centered family therapy.
In Filial Therapy, parents learn to conduct one-on-one child-centered play sessions with their own children. Parents then continue to hold weekly play sessions with their children at home for a period of six months to a year (or more depending on the child’s motivation). Modeled after child-centered play therapy, these half-hour play sessions occur in a highly structured context with few but clearly defined limits and consequences set by the adult. This context is designed to allow children to take the initiative and freely express themselves and it fosters self-regulation and independence. In turn, parents are asked to respond (acknowledge) their children’s initiative, behavior, expression, and underlying emotion with acceptance and without judgment.
Through the weekly practice of play sessions, children can improve their self concept, gain mastery, and learn to take responsibility for their actions. They become more aware of their own motivations and feelings. Concurrently, parents “soften,” become more empathic and receptive to their child’s motivations (emotions), and increasingly willing to trust in their child’s independence. Parents also learn to set effective limits and consequences, gaining confidence in their skills. In these ways, parents are better able to meet the needs of their children and keep them safe. Most importantly, children and parents may become more open to one another, more inclined to share their feelings with each other, and feel more securely attached to one another.
This improved relationship fosters greater collaboration, which in turn can reduce conflict and negativity while improving child mastery and family stability.