Maximizing Success in Play Therapy

Creating long-term change for your child and adolescent clients in play therapy.

What’s the secret to maximizing successful treatment outcomes in the play therapy process for your young clients?

How can you make sure your young clients get most the benefit from your play therapy sessions to make huge changes in their everyday lives?

The number one thing you can do to really ensure your child and adolescent clients make and maintain progress they’ve made in play therapy is having an intentional plan for integrating parents integral partners in the change process. Not just those “5-minute” conversations at the end of your client’s individual counseling sessions. Your child and adolescent clients will make soooooooooo much more progress that can be sustained long after they end their treatment with you when you have an intentional plan for including their parents as critical partners in their child’s treatment. For clarity, when referring to parents in this article, I’m also including caregivers and guardians who are in a parenting role for your client.

expressive arts and play therapy

How Can Parents Maximize Positive Treatment Outcomes for Their Children?

Parents are key for creating shifts in their children’s life because they have the power and ability to bring about changes. Children are dependent upon their parents to ensure they thrive in life. Sometimes during the course of treatment, play therapists need to challenge parents to help them understand their importance in the change process. Unless you recognize the importance of their involvement in the change process you won’t therapeutically challenge parents to engage better. If you’ve ever struggled to get parents to attend parenting sessions or implement the suggestions you’ve given them, then you’ve likely experienced the frustration of your client making limited progress in treatment. Creating a plan and setting expectations about the necessity of parental involvement provides you with a way to engage parents more effectively in the change process. Your ability to develop therapeutic rapport with parents ensures that parents will trust you and partner with you so they can be therapeutic agents of change for their children.

Parents are Therapeutic Agents of Change

What does it mean for parents to be a therapeutic agent of change for their children? Children use their parents for co-regulation and developing a sense of security in life and trusting themselves. The attachment relationship between children and their parents is foundational to for children to develop a positive self-concept, learn to manage life stressors, and develop resiliency. If you want to maximize positive treatment outcomes for your young clients, then it’s important to integrate parents as partners in the change process. One way to include parents in play therapy is to include them in the child’s sessions when you’re teaching your client new skills. Parents can be integrated into play therapy sessions as part of the the skill building process for their child. This allows parents to help their children generalize the skills learned in play therapy sessions to their everyday lives.

Creating Opportunity for Deep Healing

The attachment relationship is a key component for healing in play therapy with children and adolescents. We know from decades of research, not only from attachment research but also from family therapy research, that children heal most deeply when they heal within the context of their most important relationships – family relationships. Healing the dynamic between parents and their children allows your clients to use their parents for support for the rest of their lives and create benefits for generations to come. Strengthening the attachment relationship between your client and their parents establishes a stable foundation for your client to develop a positive sense of themselves, know how to deal with other people, and learn how to engage in healthy relationships. Children need strong attachments with their parents so they can thrive. Parents benefit from learning attachment-based parenting skills from you so they can be the therapeutic agents of change for their children. Strong attachments support resiliency for your clients. When you have an intentional plan for meeting with parents you get a deeper sense of the family and how to support parents to learn new things. And - you help your client develop and use their support system to maintain their progress in play therapy.

expressive arts and play therapy

What’s Your Clinical Lens Guiding Your Decision-Making?

Having a set of expectations for the treatment process and parent’s role in that treatment process is critical for engagement. Do you have more of an individual therapy lens or a family therapy lens? This lens guides the way you conceptualize the problem and how to address the problem. It will influence the way in which you determine how to best include parents in the change process. Your theoretical lens also guides the way in which you conceptualize the problem as well as the solution. I love using an attachment and neuroscience theoretical lens. An attachment and neuroscience lens help me understand how the attachment relationship influences the problems my young clients are experiencing and how to engage parents as therapeutic agents of change for their children. Using a neuroscience and attachment lens can help you use that framework to engage even challenging parents in the change process. Whatever your clinical lens, figuring out how to integrate parents as integral partners in the play therapy process is the key to helping your young clients maximize their positive treatment outcomes.


  • Maximizing positive treatment outcomes for children and adolescents means therapists need to recognize the significant role and importance of parents in the change process.
  • Based on that understanding, therapists can then create a plan to integrate parents more fully in the change process.
  • Unless you’re clear about the import role parents play in their child’s treatment, then you won’t be able to therapeutically challenge them if needed to encourage their active involvement in treatment.
  • Using an attachment and neuroscience lens can help you engage even challenging parents in the change process.

Categories: Play Therapy