Q&A About Filial Therapy
Monday, September 18, 2017-Hany Cheng
Filial Therapy is still pretty unheard of in the Malaysian context. We’ve gone through the basics of it as well as the 4 goals hoped to achieve through filial therapy, not to mention the special play skills parents can learn to conduct during playtime with their children.
To refresh your memory, the play skills are:
2. Reflective Responding
3. Limit Setting
So, what’s next after filial therapy?
Ultimately after filial therapy has been completed, of course, we hope that it encourages parents to spend some special one-on-one time with their child. Not just children, but filial therapy can also be applied for teenagers. What we want to make out of this time together is just creating a wholesome, bonding experience for both parent and child.
For teenagers, parents can spend about an hour a day with them, one-on-one, no distractions. When parents continue to be there for the child, non-judgemental, they are ready to accept who their children are as a person.
This parent-child bonding time also provides the basis for all relationships. The child is able to feel like their mother or father is always there, and that the parent understands and listens to the child. When parents are able to spend one-on-one moments of undivided attention with their child, it provides a good memory for the child as well.
There is no end to the journey, but in the context of the therapy sessions, we hope that within the 10 sessions, the parents are able to master all the skills and to be able to conduct it on their own. In that way, we hope to change the family dynamic, also not forgetting that the therapist will be there to guide the parents too.
How can I expect my child to behave after filial therapy?
Ideally speaking, you can expect your child to be happier and more confident, and they are able to express themselves and their feelings better. Through filial therapy, the child learns to be more responsible for their behavior as well as how to make better choices.
Behaviourally, your child won’t act out to grab attention, as they already have your undivided attention during the quality time together. That’s why it’s important to spend proper, quality time with them.
Parents can also expect a big change of perception in themselves, whereby they are now able to see their child’s world differently, as they are looking through the child’s eyes. Because of that, parents will be more accepting and develop empathic understanding towards the child. They will also feel more joy spending time with the child.
The parent-child relationship and bonding is enhanced so much more, because now, everyone knows each other better, and they are all connected in a meaningful, emotional way.
Can this therapy be also used for children to bond with a parent/guardian they are less fond of/close with?
The essence of the therapy and also the first thing we teach parents is about the donut. Don’t focus on the hole, but just focus on the donut. The hole resembles the child’s problems, like acting out or lying and stealing - no, we don’t focus on the hole at all. It’s all about the donut as a circle that never ends, connecting people together.
This particular skillset is ideal for the guardian the child is less fond of to learn about the child’s world and to see what’s going on there. It’s definitely recommendable for everyone, as it’s during these play sessions that the guardian and child will really be able to bond.
There has been previous research in the West as well, but with teachers instead of parents. This therapy is called kindertherapy, whereby the teachers learned about filial therapy and conducted it with their students. There were amazing changes in the teacher-student relationship dynamic, as they are are more closer and connected. The students were also able to learn better because when they trust or love their teacher, that’s how they learn the best.
Oftentimes, parents have this expectation that they’re here for the therapy because they want to fix something, or they want to get rid of something so that they can move on. In filial therapy, however, we don’t focus on the problem, but we focus on the bond, the donut.
This sounds very interesting, where can I learn filial therapy?
Filial therapy is still pretty new in Malaysia, but it has been practised in the West for over 50 years now. Right now, there is no formal training of filial therapy available here, but there are informal ones for parents to learn the skills.
As filial therapy is pretty specific in child-centered play therapy skills, I feel that it’s something important to be brought into our setting, into Malaysia. To help our families even more, we need to expand on this knowledge. Kids’ needs are universal regardless of age or skin colour, so it is applicable for any context - even in Malaysia.
As of the moment, I know if a few NGOs who conduct filial therapy informally, some in Mandarin and some in Bahasa Malaysia. It’s still not really that popular in Malaysia right now, so hopefully by spreading this word about filial therapy, it helps to create awareness about it.
Hany Cheng is a licensed mental health counselor. She is passionate in helping families to enhance their parent-child relationship through filial therapy. Currently, she is pursuing her PHD in researching the topic of applying filial therapy in Malaysia. She is also the co-founder of Havan Clothing - a social enterprise that empowers children's artwork through fashionable clothing.