Is it really about bubbles, feathers and playing? The beautiful way of Theraplay™

Young child blowing bubbles from a bottle like in a Theraplay sessionAs a Social Worker who qualified mid pandemic, my training has often delved into the realm of teams and on the odd occasion Zoom, if we were lucky a chance to network in a breakout room, or even more lucky poor internet connection (joking, of course)! 187 hours of my Continued Professional Development in my Newly Qualified year was completed this way; however, my very last 32 hours of training as a Newly Qualified Social Worker was to be in person, and it was a weeklong training called Theraplay.

My Theraplay Training

I recall laughing with my social work peers, that, my first ever in-person training consisted of blowing bubbles, singing songs (very badly, might I add), lotion… lots of lotion, feathers, and many laughs. This is the guise of Theraplay, from an out looker, looking in it seems simple… so, what is the big revelation I hear you ask? I will get to that bit soon, but, for now back to the weeklong training at the Edinburgh Office.

I was nervous from being socially molded over the last two years, to keep your distance, elbow instead of a handshake, masks, hand gel and generally keeping away from large crowds to sitting in a room with 20 other professionals, singing, swapping the hand gel for rubbing lotion into strangers’ hands (that is where the laughs came in) and interacting with each other through games. By the end of the week, I had almost forgotten about Covid as it was an opportunity to deconstruct the learned social norms of Covid and I felt, back to normal!

Now to the revelation of Theraplay, and its integral importance to families. Theraplay is grounded in research and theory behind the disguise of very simple activities that create ‘in the moment’ connection between the parent and child and helps to develop closeness. It is a way for the parent and child to come together using the simple activities as a vessel for connection through a process of ‘here and now’ interaction. Theraplay is structured in four dimensions (more on that next!) where the child can relax and be a child, and the parent is able to be a parent. The Theraplay approach began by asking ‘What can we do to help improve, parent-child relationships which is simple, effective, and long lasting? The answer: Theraplay!’

Four dimensions of Theraplay

The four dimensions of Theraplay are:

Structure: This is about security, predictability, basic sequencing, and routines. By playing with our child using sequences and rhythm we help our child’s body to become regulated and organized.

Engagement: is all about the joy of being together and appreciating the ‘here and now,’ helping the child to feel connected. By the parent focusing on the child, being sensitive, soothing, and energetic in their interactions, this helps them become in tune with the child’s emotional state and respond to this, so the child feels ‘just right’.

Nurture: the focus here is to help make the world feel safe, predictable and by taking care of the child in soothing, calming, reassuring ways they begin to feel cared for and valued.

Challenge: once a secure base is established, through challenge, we help support our child to explore their world. We help widen their Window of Tolerance by supporting them with activities they are ready to do and extending their skillset little by little. We aim to support the child’s development, growth and increase sense of competence while also giving the child experiences of safely managing feelings of tension.

Without getting complicated Theraplay is grounded in up-to-date scientific research on developmental psychology, neurobiology and trauma theory but remains a practical approach for helping children and their families. Theraplay is active and playful and can help facilitate ideas on how to connect with your child and help to find ways to move forward together.

Benefits of Theraplay

So, what is the benefit to you and your family:

Now you would not believe it, but social work is not well known for getting the bubbles out, singing songs and playing games, and for me that is the beauty of Theraplay. It has provided me with an opportunity to get creative, learn and develop games tailored to each family I work with, from a Dorito dash to bubble blizzard the opportunities for containment, connection, trust, and the power of play are endless, and the results speak for themselves. That is why, I would encourage you to seek it out whenever you can, get the feathers at the ready and experience the magic of Theraplay!


If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email


Emma Quinn

Social Worker