In the 1960's Ann Jernberg launched a program with Head Start in Chicago to provide psychological services for children. What she found was that effective treatment was long term and expensive and there were not enough centers to address the needs of the families needing services. As a result, Jernberg and colleagues began to develop a treatment program that was based on the models of healthy parent-infant interaction as well as the work of Austin Des Lauriers and Viola Brody. Des Lauriers approach was highly intrusive and intimate in the interactions between the child and therapist that included direct body and eye contact. Brody focused on the nurturing relationship between the therapist and child that included touch, holding, rocking and singing. (Jernberg, A.M. & Booth P.B. 2nd Edition. Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships Through Attachment-Based Play. 1999. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).
"The goal of Theraplay treatment for all children is three-fold: to help the child replace inappropriate solutions and behaviors with healthy, creative, and age-appropriate ones; to increase the child's self-esteem, and to enhance the relationship between the child and her caretakers. Theraplay therapists do this by being vigorous and engaging, all the while working to establish a real relationship between the child and adult, by ignoring fantasy, and focusing on what is going on in the present between them." (p. 4) The Theraplay process involves an assessment period (3-4 sessions), treatment process (10-20 sessions), and follow-up period (4-6 sessions spaced over a year). (Jernberg 1999) The assessment process involves an extensive interview with the child's caregivers, the administering of the Marschak Interaction Method (MIM), and a feedback session with the caregivers. It is during this feedback session that the Theraplay therapist will outline the treatment process for the family. There are four dimensions of the Theraplay process: Structure, engagement, nurturing touch, and challenge. A Theraplay session will typically involve activities from each area.