According to Child-Parent Relationship (CPRT): An Evidence-based 10-session Filial Therapy Model, by Landreth and Bratton, CPRT is a type of play therapy designed to improve the mental health of families by teaching parents to become therapeutic agents for their children. Essentially, through play, parents can help their children work through tough behaviors and emotions. CPRT is also a type of filial therapy: a therapist trains and supervises parents in implementing play therapy, rather than the child going directly to a therapist. The CPRT model is designed for children ages 3-8 but can be adapted for toddlers and preadolescents.
In CPRT, a group of 5-8 parents meet for 10 weekly two-hour sessions with a play therapist. During this training, parents are guided in understanding their feelings about themselves, their children, and their families. They are given an opportunity to process those feelings with the CPRT group so that ultimately they can better support their children.
The main focus of CPRT is training parents and caregivers in play therapy skills so that they can effectively execute them at home. These skills include:
- Reflective listening
- Recognizing your child’s emotions
- Therapeutic limit setting (setting developmentally-appropriate limits that can help your child’s emotional development)
- Building your child’s self-esteem
- Structured playtime
Parents and caregivers practice these skills with their child in weekly 30-minute sessions at home and share their play experiences with the group.
According to the Center for Play Therapy, through this training, “parents are taught specific skills that focus on enhancing a secure attachment with their child and helping parents attune to and respond to their child’s underlying needs to address symptoms.”
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Child-Parent Relationship Therapy Activities
Since play is the primary way that children express themselves, the main focus of CPRT is the play sessions. The group facilitator teaches a specific way of play that creates a non-judgmental and open environment during play so that children feel free to express themselves.
Parents in CPRT follow this protocol during play sessions:
- These sessions are child-led — your child chooses what to play and you follow along
- You work to empathize with your child and understand their thoughts and actions
- You communicate that you understand by verbalizing what emotions you notice your child is feeling in the moment
- You are firm in setting just a few limits, including the length of time of the play sessions, that your child cannot hurt you, and they cannot break the toys
Caregivers work with therapists to build a box with pre-selected toys that children can choose to play with during the 30-minute playtime. The toys are designed to encourage imaginative play and creative and emotional expression.
How to know if CPRT is right for you
CPRT is not designed to address a specific concern you might have about your child, but rather to enhance your relationship so that you can therapeutically guide your child. Through this type of therapy, you are working to help your child acquire problem-solving skills and coping strategies. You are also enhancing your arsenal of parenting skills through learning developmentally-appropriate strategies. CPRT improves a parent’s ability to address child behavior problems that may arise.
When considering CPRT, it is important to note the 10-week time frame. Through the lens of therapy, this is not a very long time, but it can feel challenging as a caregiver to commit to attending group meetings 10 weeks in a row. It is also important to be able to commit regularly to 30 minutes of uninterrupted playtime with your child. This could present a challenge for families who have other children and no one else who can watch them during therapeutic play sessions.
If you have general concerns about your child’s behavior or emotions, CPRT might be a good fit for you and your family. If your child is experiencing more acute challenges that cannot be safely or adequately addressed at home, you could consider other types of therapies for your child.
Alternatives to Child-Parent Relationship Therapy
If you want to support your child’s emotional growth, but CPRT might not be the best fit for your family, here are some alternative programs:
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) — This type of therapy is suited for children who are experiencing behavioral problems. Unlike in CPRT, the play sessions happen in a therapeutic setting instead of at home. A therapist is situated in another room, coaching caregivers synchronously through an earpiece. This type of therapy is for children ages 2-7.
Parent Management Training (PMT) — This treatment program is for children with moderate to severe behavioral difficulties, including Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This training helps to reduce disruptive behaviors in children ages 3-13.
Behavioral and Emotional Skills Training (BEST) — In this single-day training, parents and caregivers learn to manage challenging behaviors at home.
Mightier — If you are looking for alternatives to therapy altogether, video game-based programs like Mightier are something to consider. Mightier’s clinically-tested biofeedback program helps children build their confidence and develop automatic calming skills.