Mary Spickelmier, LSCSW

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WHAT IS THERAPLAY?


Theraplay is a child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. It is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child and is personal, physical, and fun. Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge. Theraplay sessions create an active, emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of the self as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding.


In treatment, the Theraplay therapist guides the parent and child through playful, fun games, developmentally challenging activities, and tender, nurturing activities. The very act of engaging each other in this way helps the parent regulate the child’s behavior and communicate love, joy, and safety to the child. It helps the child feel secure, cared for, connected and worthy.

We call this “building relationships from the inside out.”


Theraplay is appropriate for children of all ages, including babies, and when combined with other techniques, it is a great therapy for teenagers too.  With Theraplay, family interaction patterns have improved and school professionals and pediatricians have reported positive changes in children’s behavior, self-esteem, and connections with others.  Theraplay can help children who have experienced trauma begin to heal, can help children with developmental disorders feel more comfortable with social interaction, and can help families to experience happiness and connection.  

Theraplay specializes in helping children with:

  • Shy, withdrawn, or clingy behavior
  • Acting-out, angry, or disruptive behavior
  • Defiant, oppositional or controlling behavior
  • Behavioral problems at school or with peers
  • Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Developmental disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • A history of trauma, abuse, or neglect
  • Attachment disorder due to adoption or multiple changes in living arrangements
  • A history of social deprivation due to living in an institution
  • Psychological trauma due to medical care or serious illness