Parents as Partners in Play Therapy


This 3-part series, prerecorded from live webinars offered in 2020, focuses on providing insights and skills for therapists to help them work more effectively with parents and other caregivers. The workshop draws on the major family therapy and play therapy contributions of Dr. Bernard Guerney and Dr. Louise Guerney as elucidated by Dr. Risë VanFleet, providing practical, empathic, and effective ways of approaching parents. The webinars are consistent with the evidence-based approach of Filial Therapy co-created by the Guerneys, but attendees need not be familiar with it to benefit from these sessions.

The sessions are described below, along with two learning objectives for each session. The sessions are not limited to those objectives, though. The subsequent sessions in the series draw upon the earlier ones, so it is useful to work through them in order. Each session includes a PowerPoint presentation, case examples, video or live demonstrations of the material, and discussion from the live webinar when it was presented. All of the sessions and learning objectives will focus on play therapy that is offered to the child and how to include parents as partners in the overall therapeutic or educational process. The material is useful for those engaged in other forms of therapy as well.

Session 1: Gaining Cooperation and Engagement

It is common to hear therapists and educators comment with frustration about the parents of their clients or students. The gains made can be undone rather quickly if the home environment does not support them, and too often, parents and other caregivers are unaware of how to do that. They might lack communication with the therapist/educator or they might have inadequate skills to the task. This first session shows how to build trust and relationship from the very first contact with the parents or caregivers. While many professionals are familiar with empathy, they often can enhance their use of it. This session shows how to do this in highly effective ways. Emphasis will be on developing deep understanding of parent motives, frustrations, and goals, as well as on the creation of a collaborative relationship to focus on common goals and methods to reach them. The skills in this session can be used throughout therapy, but are especially useful at the start.

Learning Objectives:
Participants will be able to…

  1. Describe in detail at least 2 ways that empathy skills can be used to engage parents in a collaborative relationship in order to enhance outcomes for their children and them.
  2. Describe in detail at least 2 ways to identify parents’ motivations and empower them to work actively on common goal areas.

Session 2: Working with Challenges and Skepticism

Even highly skilled therapists and educators encounter parents who seem unwilling to cooperate, who express suspicion and skepticism, or who simply don’t have the emotional reserves to assist with the therapeutic process. This webinar covers the skills and strategies therapists can use to try to overcome these significant obstacles. Focus will be on the most common challenges and difficulties that are encountered in therapy, how to handle conversations that are difficult for parents/caregivers, and how to troubleshoot problems such as emotional reactions, angry outbursts, dismissive attitudes toward their children, parent trauma that prevents their helping their children, and more.

Learning objectives:
Participants will be able to…

  1. Describe at least 3 strategies that help therapists/educators overcome common obstacles to the process of therapy/teaching.
  2. Describe the priority use of skills therapists use to handle most challenges with parents.

Session 3: Training for Genuine Parent Change

When the Guerneys created Filial Therapy, they also created some wonderful ways to train parents and caregivers to use the play session skills. Eventually they added the use of mock play sessions (behavioral rehearsal), fine-tuned the art of giving feedback, and applied learning principles to set parents and caregivers up to be successful. Dr. VanFleet (presenter) combined methods she learned from both of them to work with parents effectively. This webinar highlights methods drawn from these sources and how they can be used to help parents change. A psychoeducational model focuses on the present into the future, seeing problems as often coming from a lack of skill and/or how to apply it. These approaches can be integrated with many different forms of therapy and need not be used exclusively in Filial Therapy. This webinar brings them to life using case examples and demonstrations that illustrate how to teach parents to make genuine changes that are more likely to last. These tools are contrasted with the traditional ways in which parents are taught, and webinar participants learn to apply strengths-based, empowering training methods to help them learn how better to help their children and themselves create a happier family life.

Learning objectives:
Participants will be able to…

  1. Use behavioral rehearsal to help parents develop new and challenging skills and behaviors.
  2. Describe at least 3 specific skills/strategies to ensure that parents learn and are successful.

Presenter: Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC, CAEBC-I
Dr. Risë VanFleet is the internationally acclaimed presenter and author/coauthor of numerous books relating to play therapy, as well as manuals for parents, and books and materials to assist animal trainers and behaviorists work effectively with people. Titles include Child-Centered Play Therapy, Filial Therapy: Strengthening Parent-Child Relationships Through Play (3rd ed.), A Parent's Handbook of Filial Therapy (2nd ed.), Casebook of Filial Therapy, Animal Assisted Play Therapy (Maxwell Award), Play Therapy with Kids & Canines (Maxwell Award), and more, along with dozens of other manuals, articles, and chapters. Most of these have been translated into multiple other languages. She is well known for her informative, practical, and fun workshops, which often are rated by attendees as the best they have ever attended. Dr. VanFleet has over 45 years of experience and is licensed/credentialed as a family psychologist, play therapist, and Filial Therapy instructor, and animal ethology and behavior consultant. She has earned over 16 national and international awards for her workshops, innovations, and writing. She is the president of the Family Enhancement & Play Therapy Center, Inc. based in the historic village of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, USA and can be reached at

Continuing Education/Cost:
This course qualifies for 6 continuing education/clock hours. The Family Enhancement & Play Therapy Center, Inc. is approved to offer CE credits by the APA, NBCC, APT, and most social work boards. Please see the CE statement elsewhere on the websites found at The CE is offered for those receiving an 85% or higher on the short-essay assessment questions that come with the course. Submit it to when completed and allow 2-3 weeks to receive your CE documentation. The cost of this course and the CE process is $75.

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