Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Several studies have shown that foster and adopted children have high risk of developing severe mental health problems (Blome & Steib, 2004; Golden, 2009; Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, Barth, & Slyman, 2004; McMillen. Scott, Zima, Ollie, Munson, & Spitznagel, 2004). On the other hand, evidence-based models are limited and less accessible for practitioners working with foster and adopted children (Dorsey, Kerns, Trupin, Conover, & Berliner, 2012). The goal for this study is to explore the practitioners' evaluations of Theraplay®, which is a relationship based model for meeting the pervasive clinical needs of foster and adopted children and their families. Exploring Theraplay in the social work field is meaningful because of its popularity among social workers and the substantial number of clients successfully treated with Theraplay. With Theraplay, attachment theory and neuroscience are applied to understand the necessity of attachment-based models in meeting the needs of foster and adopted children.

A mixed-method research design was selected for this study. It best answered the study's research questions with higher response rates and provided an in-depth exploration in this study (Groves, Fowler, Couper, Lepkowski, Singer, & Tourangeau, 2004). The survey data (N=87) were collected at the 6th International Theraplay Conference on July11-July 12, 2013 in Evanston, IL. The survey included a demographic questionnaire, which presented questions about the extent of their evaluations of Theraplay, the use of Theraplay in practice, and the Theraplay competency assessment with a case vignette. One case study was also analyzed for in-depth information. Two focus groups (N=10, 9 respectively) were conducted and the participants were asked to address Theraplay practice and their experiences in the treatment of this population.

The results of the statistical methods (descriptive statistics, correlations test, and one-way ANOVA) found that there is positive association between the levels of practitioners' Theraplay training and the effectiveness of the use of Theraplay for helping foster and adopted children and their families. There is also positive association between the practitioners' levels of competency and the effectiveness of the use of Theraplay for helping foster and adopted children and their families. The case study is an overarching picture of Theraplay practice and highlights the factors in Theraplay that leads to positive therapeutic outcomes. The study found that the therapeutic factors increased parent-child healthy connections, increased self-regulation of the child, parents' increased understanding of their child, and gained skills in parenting. Finally, the findings from the focus groups illustrated that Theraplay helps children build a positive internal working model. It helps parents gain insights and skills for helping their children's emotional and behavioral issues and it is an effective tool for practitioners to help foster and adopted children and families. This research has practical, theoretical, and research implications for social work practice, education, research, and training. These findings have potential to aid many stakeholders: foster and adopted children and their families, clinical social workers, foster and adoption workers, policymakers, and researchers. Informed by the researcher's own clinical experience and expertise through substantive training in the field of Theraplay, this research can be a prototype of the meeting points for clinical, theoretical, and research work in the field of social work.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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