Date of Paper


Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)


Social Work

First Advisor

Jessica Toft


Social Work


Current research suggests that infants and young children can make great gains in the area of attachment with a consistent and nurturing caregiver; the established view has been that after the age of three forming a secure attachment is incredibly difficult. The purpose of this systematic literature review was to answer the question: What is the effectiveness of Theraplay as a form of treatment when working with children over the age of three who have difficulty in forming a secure attachment to a caregiver? This review was set up using peer-reviewed articles, books, and dissertations. The databases PsycINFO, Academic Search Premier, and SOCIndex were systematically searched using the terms; “theraplay” AND “attachment” or “stress response” or “attunement” or “neuroplasticity” or “treatment” or “reactive attachment disorder” or “trauma” or “children” of “effectiveness”. Out of these searches, 11 articles, books, and dissertations satisfied criteria for inclusion and were used in the final review. Four themes emerged through the synthesis of the literature around the aspects of Theraplay that appear to make it an effective therapeutic intervention for children over three who have issues in the area of attachment; 1) increasing parents’ ability to understand child and child’s needs; 2) engaging in ways that build connection between child and parent; 3) Making the child feel nurtured and cared for; and 4) the commitment and skill of the Theraplay therapist. The research suggests that the many elements of Theraplay cohesively support the strengthening of parent-child relationships. Moving forward, more experimental design studies are needed to ground findings in more concrete and generalizable outcomes. Exploring the effectiveness of Theraplay with children who have co-occurring disorders is also an important area for further study.

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