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Theraplay is an play therapy which has intention of helping parents and children build better attachment relationships through attachment-based play. It was developed in 1967 in Chicago by Ann M. Jernberg.

History of Theraplay

Ann Jernberg, Ph.D., became 1967 the Director of Psychological Services for the new Chicago Head Start program with one of her assistants Phyllis Booth. She and her team were asked to identify children in need of psychological services and refer them to existing treatment centers. However, there were very few resources for childrens' mental health at the time, and the existing ones could not possibly handle the hundreds of children identified as needing help. From that starting point Ann Jernberg started to create her own program that would treat children at the Head Start centers, rather than at outlying clinics, and could use paraprofessionals supervised by mental health professionals to do the actual work. The result was a model based upon healthy parent-infant attacment and interaction which borrowed elements from the work of Austin Des Lauriers and Viola Brody.

Attachment theory, is the basis for Theraplay.

From the beginning the Theraplay® approach shared many assumptions with interactional theories of development, particularly those of Self Psychology and Object Relations theory. Over the thirty years of its clinical practice, an increasing body of research in the fields of early brain development and attachment theory has given further support to many of Theraplay's tenets.

The Theraplay approach assumes that the primary motivating force in human behavior is a drive toward relatedness. Personality development is essentially interpersonal. The early interaction between parent and child is the crucible in which the self and personality develop.

The playful, joyful, empathic, attuned responsiveness of caregivers is essential to the development of a strong sense of self, feelings of self worth, and secure attachment. The capacity to soothe and nurture oneself in later life depends on early experiences of being soothed and nurtured.

When things go well in the relationship, the infant develops an inner representation of himself as lovable, special, and competent, and able to make an impact on the world; of others as being loving, caring, responsive and trustworthy; and of the world as a safe, exciting place to explore. In other words, he begins a process of learning about himself and the world which is positive and hopeful and which will have a powerful influence throughout his life.

Psychopathology results when early and ongoing experiences lead to a negative or inadequate sense of self. In the absence of positive and responsive interactions, the child learns to view herself as unlovable and incompetent, to view others as uncaring and untrustworthy, and the world as unsafe and full of threat. In other words, within an insecure attachment, the process of learning about one's self and the world becomes negative and hopeless. Many behavior problems of older children can be traced back to their beginnings in insecure attachment and in the concomitant negative views of themselves and the world.

The Theraplay approach assumes both that change is possible and that the essential ingredients of change lie in the creation of a more positive relationship between a child and her parents. Because the roots of development of the self, of self esteem and trust lie in the early years, it is essential to return to the stage at which the child's emotional development was derailed and provide the experience which can restart the healthy cycle of interaction. Activities are geared to the child's current emotional level rather than to chronological age. Parents are encouraged to respond empathically to their child's needs. The goal of treatment is to change the inner representation of the self and others from a negative to a more positive one.

See also


  • The Theraplay® Institute [1]
  • Jernberg, A. M.Booth, P. B. (1999) Theraplay: Helping parents and children build better relationships through attachment-based play / Ann M. Jernberg, Phyllis B. Booth. San Francisco.
  • Bundy-Myrow, S. (2000) Group Theraplay for children with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. In E. Munns (ed.), Theraplay: Innovations in Attachment-Enhancing Play Therapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 301-320.
  • Jernberg, Ann. (1982). Therapeutic use of sensory motor play. In C. Schaefer, & K. O'Connor (Eds.). Handbook of Play Therapy. NY: John Wiley, 128-147.
  • Jernberg, Ann. (1979). Theraplay. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Jernberg, A & Booth, P. (1999). Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships through Attachment-Based Play. CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Jernberg, A. & Jernberg, E. (l993). Family Theraplay for the family tyrant. In T. Kottman & C.E. Schaefer (Eds.), Play Therapy in Action: A Casebook for Practitioners. New York: Jason Aronson.
  • Koller, T.J. (1994). Adolescent Theraplay. In K.J. O'Connor & C.E. Schaefer (Eds.), Handbook of Play Therapy, Volume Two: Advances and Innovations. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Myrow, D. L. (2000) Applications for the attachment-fostering aspects of Theraplay. In E. Munns (ed.), Theraplay: Innovations in Attachment-Enhancing Play Therapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 55-77.
  • Theraplay Research at SOS Children's Villages Finland 2004 Jukka Makela & Ilona Vierikko
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay in Germany This article details the method used in the following 2004 Wettig & Franke articles
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig & Ulrike Franke
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay on Receptive Language Disorder 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig& Ulrike Franke
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig & Ulrike Franke
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay on Oppositional Defiant Behavior in Social Interaction 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig & Ulrike Franke
  • Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Theraplay in Toddlers and Preschool Children with Shy Interaction Behavior 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig & Ulrike Franke
  • Bibliography 2004 Herbert H.G. Wettig & Ulrike Franke

External links

[[2]] Theraplay Institute