Äiti ja lapsi leikkii


Delivery of the intervention: Individual- / family-based

Aim of the intervention: The intervention aims to prevent and treat problems in the interaction between the child and the parents. The intervention strengthens the child’s experience of being accepted and understood.

Description of the intervention: Theraplay is an individual-based intervention and is targeted at families, where the child or the adolescent has developmental problems. Theraplay lies on the theories of attachment relationship and social learning as well as on the concepts of sensitivity, positive instructing and reflexivity (Mäkelä & Salo 2011). Beside the child and the adolescent, the parents are instructed in the intervention. The duration and the contents of the intervention are determined according to each family’s situation, comprising of 5-30 meetings with a Theraplay-worker. The meetings are filmed and the intervention begins with an evaluation phase (MIM-evaluation and the planning of delivery) and the parents are asked to attend to it. Theraplay may be delivered and applied in multiple ways with child families.

Availability of the intervention in Finland: Training for the intervention is provided by the Finnish Theraplay Association for the social and healthcare professionals. In addition to Theraplay-worker training, the Theraplay Association provides instructor and work supervisor training. Theraplay was developed in the 1960’s and the use and trainings of the intervention are in tight contact with the Theraplay Institute (USA). Theraplay is used in child and family services of the social and healthcare, private sector and organizations. The regional availability of the intervention varies across Finland.

Research- and evidence-based efficacy of the intervention: A German effectiveness study with a control group indicated positive changes in relation to the intervention in the following outcomes: shyness, over-adaptability and suspiciousness (part I) as well as shyness, attention problems, cooperation, adaptability and suspiciousness (part II) (Wettig 2011).  The changes cannot be unambiguously explained by the intervention due to the natural development of the children as well as some limitations of the study. There is no Finnish peer reviewed effectiveness study on the intervention. Theraplay has some evidence of effectiveness in terms of reduced internalizing symptoms among the intervention group as compared to the control group.


  • Mäkelä, J. & Salo, S. (2011). Theraplay –vanhemman ja lapsen välinen vuorovaikutushoito lasten mielenterveysongelmissa. Duodecim 127, 29–39.
  • Wettig, H. H. G., Coleman, A. R. & Geider, F. J. (2011). Evaluating the effectiveness of theraplay in treating shy, socially withdrawn children. International Journal of Play Therapy, 20, 26–37.