Available for Phone and Internet Consultation / elianagil@me.com / 202-257-2783

Family Play Therapy

Early Training and Experience

My earliest training was in marriage and family therapy in California.  I went to a program originally developed by Virginia Satir and Martin Kirschenbaum.  I was fortunate to be inspired by a number of gifted and bright family therapists and to attend a number of family therapy demonstrations by some of the pioneers in the family therapy field. I was delighted when the demonstrations included youth, usually teenagers.  

It was rare indeed to see young children participating in family therapy and when they did attend, they were often asked to “keep busy” in another room or to play quietly while their parents talked. This distressed me and I found myself unable to focus my attention on the talking adults.  

Instead, I was constantly watching the children, wondering what they were thinking, or what they were doing.  On a few occasions, I was able to pull drawings out of the trash after the sessions had ended, and I found incredible communications through art.  I was determined to find out more about working with children and had to seek it out myself.

Play Therapy

Once I began to find workshops about children, I was quickly introduced to play therapy and I was hooked!  I was particularly impressed with Violet Oaklander and Dora Kalff, both of whom I was able to see in the 70's.  I can honestly say that listening to Dora Kalff changed my life and on my way home, I was calling a carpenter friend to build me a sand box.

I also remember Violet Oaklander, and my biggest memory from that initial training was that I wanted to learn about art therapy, specifically clay work, as well as psychodrama. Fast-forwarding from those early days, I made it my business to learn as much as I could about working with children.

And yet one other thing intrigued me:  why did family therapists exclude children from their sessions (while promoting systemic work), and why did child therapists seem to shy away from family work? There were notable exceptions to the rule of course, but overall there were consistent and obvious trends in the way children and their parents were being treated separately by mental health professionals.

Play Is Children’s Language

My interest led me to identify and discuss ways in which the two approaches could be bridged. I wrote my book, Play in Family Therapy, in 1994 and since that time have prioritized bringing this material to ambivalent professionals on either side of the coin.  

Overall, it seems that not only are more and more therapists are working with both, but there have been a number of highly successful parent-child dyadic therapy models that privilege the participation of parents with their children (see for example, Theraplay, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Child Parent Relationship Therapy (based on Filial Therapy), and Child Parent Psychotherarpy).

Family Play Conference Interview

Dr. Eliana Gil
Medford, MA
Available by Phone and Internet Nationwide
202-257-2783 / elianagil@me.com

No one depicted on this website is a current or former client of mine, the Gil Institute, or the Starbright Training Institute.