History and Rationale
Filial therapy differs from most other approaches due to its incorporative nature. Its main goal is to incorporate parents into the therapeutic process- teaching them to be their child's main support system and teacher; thus, placing the main focus on the child/parent relationship as opposed to the client/therapist interaction.
Filial, which literally means 'of or pertaining to a son/daughter in relation to the parent' (Ryan, 2007) was a radical form of therapy when it was first proposed over 30 years ago by Drs. Bernard and Louise Guerney (VanFleet, 2003). It was originally proposed as an intervention form of therapy for children between the ages of 3-10 who had severe adjustment problems (VanFleet, 2003). Guerney marketed the new technique by convincing professionals that if parents could be trained to a particular competency level, they could create noticeable, positive, emotional changes in their children (Ryan, 2007).
Before Filial therapy was practiced, the child's guardians had been viewed as the main sources of conflict and strife in the child's life. These parents were expected to be separated from the therapeutic process. However, Filial Therapy changed the way therapists viewed the child's caretaker- seeing them instead as the 'primary therapeutic agents' for their child's future (Ryan, 2007). These parents are now being trained in skills such as reflective listening, responding to their child's feelings, limit setting, and building self-esteem (Schumann, 2002). Professionals reason that by fostering positive behavior and skills in an already established parent-child relationship, the child would reap the benefits of having the continued parental influence after the therapy was completed. In addition, many professionals argue that the client drop-out rate is lower due to the nature and capacity of the parental involvement (Ryan, 2007).
More recent studies have proven the following benefits to using Filial Therapy:
- Client drop-out rates decrease
- The child's presenting problems improve dramatically
- Parents' knowledge and skill levels improve
- Parents' acceptance and understanding of their child improves
- Parents' stress levels decrease
- Parents' satisfaction with the results of the therapy is increased
- Three and five year follow-up studies show such gains are usually maintained (VanFleet, 2003).
However, this does not mean that Filial Therapy is for every client and every parent. The following are circumstances when Filial Therapy should not be utilized:
- If parents are unable to comprehend and understand the basic skills taught in Filial Therapy.
- If parents are completely emotionally unavailable to their children
- If parents are the perpetrators of abuse
- If the child is unable to creatively or symbolically play (VanFleet, 2003).