Risë VanFleet

Filial Therapy Research Outcomes


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Filial Therapy was created in the early 1960s by Drs. Bernard and Louise Guerney, and extensively researched and developed by Dr. Louise Guerney and others for the past 40 years.  Filial Therapy is a psychoeducational intervention in which the therapist trains and supervises the parents as they hold special child-centered play sessions with their own children (ages approx. 3-12), thereby engaging the parents as partners in the therapeutic process and empowering them to be the primary change agents for their own children.  A combination of family therapy and play therapy, Filial Therapy aims to eliminate presenting problems, improve parent-child relationships, and strengthen the family system as a whole.

Filial Therapy has been used successfully with many child/family problems:  aggression, anxiety, depression, abuse/neglect, single parenting, adoption/foster care, relationship problems, divorce, family substance abuse, oppostional behaviors, toileting difficulties, attentional problems, trauma, chronic illness, step-parenting, multi-problem families, etc. 

Filial Therapy has been researched a great deal.  This summary outlines the results of published and unpublished research, including academic research, doctoral dissertation research, and data collected in community mental health and independent practice settings. 

Filial Therapy study findings over the past 40 years are very consistent.  The following significant gains are frequently noted

  • Therapy drop-out rates are low
  • Children’s presenting problems improve or disappear
  • Parents’ skill levels improve (knowledge and actual use)
  • Parents’ acceptance & understanding of their children improves
  • Parents’ stress levels decline
  • Parents’ satisfaction with results is very high
  • 3- and 5-year follow-up studies have shown that these gains are maintained

A review of the Filial Therapy research is available in the following reference:

VanFleet, R., Ryan, S.D., & Smith, S.K. 2005. Filial Therapy: A Critical Review. In L.A. Reddy, T.M. Files-Hall, & C.E. Schaefer (Eds.), Empirically-Based Play Interventions for Children (pp. 241-264). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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