The Obstacles and Benefits of Play Therapy for Child and Parent

Dyadic play therapy is a form of play therapy that allows parents who have themselves suffered trauma, the opportunity to address their own symptoms and attend to the strained attachment with their child. But very often, the parents are resistant to this form of treatment. “For adult survivors of childhood trauma, psychotherapy can be both necessary and highly threatening,” said Mirisse F. Foroughe and Robert T. Muller of York University. The researchers authored a paper that explains the obstacles and benefits to dyadic play therapy. “The conditions and processes of dyadic play therapy may be experienced as threatening to parents by triggering early memories of intra-familial trauma while challenging avoidant defenses. Yet these very processes may be helpful in facilitating therapeutic change.”

Parents with traumatic childhoods may see the tools used by their children in play therapy, such as toys and artwork, as triggers for their own pain and may experience overwhelming and frightening memories and emotions. “Dyadic play therapy, with its focus on parent-child attachment, tends to activate the attachment system, making the process of therapy especially challenging for those who are much more comfortable closing themselves off from painful relational experiences.” The authors advise clinicians to realize this and take the necessary steps to be prepared for varying reactions from parents.

Several components of play therapy can prevent progress for parents. “In contrast to individual psychotherapy, the dyadic condition also inherently places the parent in a position of vulnerability, in part because they are ‘under the spotlight’ as a parent but also because, with the child present, the parent cannot dismiss attachment-related issues as readily.” However, they added that the benefits of this type of therapy can be enormous, for both the child and the parent. They said, “The pattern of interactions between parent and child often brings the parent’s own trauma history to light, and, with the acceptance and support of the therapist through this process, the parent can then become an agent of change in the parent-child relationship.”

Foroughe, M. F., & Muller, R. T. (2011, March 28). Dismissing (Avoidant) Attachment and Trauma in Dyadic Parent-Child Psychotherapy. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023061

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Steve

    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    It could be threatening for these parents to seek therapy. But have they ever thought about the damage that they are handing down to their own kids by NOT going through with therapy for themselves? They are just going to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and misuse if they do not get help for themselves first. Maybe this is something that they should think about before having kids of their own, whether they want to carry on with what they know or if they choose to create a better life for their families by healing the past.

  • ounce bounce

    September 23rd, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    although treatment may bring the parent face to face with what he or she dreads, it is better than not seeking treatment at all.its just like an injury-you medicate and yes it hurts. but that does not mean you do not medicate, is it not?

  • libba

    September 24th, 2011 at 6:48 AM

    Hey there are good parents who forget about the importance of playing with their children. I would imagine that those who have even deeper psychological issues would have an even greater tendency to avoid sitting down and playing with their children. I know that we all think that there are more important things that they could or should be doing, But really- is there anything that is any more important than playing with your children and spending that precious time with them?

  • Bailey R

    September 24th, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    Dyadic play therapy is intimidating because it isn’t what is expected of therapy. It’s no longer about sitting in a big comfy chair while you talk to someone with a clipboard. It now becomes more real, and therefore more daunting. Actions are a lot easier to trigger those memories that you don’t want to relive, so dyadic therapy is likely to stir up those memories that a few questions cannot.

    Another problem that may arise is that parents don’t want to relate their children to the traumatic incidences that they have faced in their own childhood. The mere thought of their own children having to go through what they did could devastate them.

    In reality, with a good therapist you shouldn’t have these problems for long. As you will work through them to the point of being able to talk openly about these events in your childhood, That is the goal, to release those dark thoughts you’ve had hidden in your mind.

  • ashley

    September 24th, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    any form of therapy that involves ‘doing’ as an important part could be difficult but seems like it would definitely be see,a lot of us can go on and speak of things but when we do things that is when we are truly gives the therapist a better idea about us and even we can see how we would react to a particular situation or something that is a part of the therapy.

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