Navigating Play Therapy with Siblings: Practical Tips for Child-Centered Play Therapists

May 29, 2024

In this episode, I answer a listener question about working with siblings in play therapy. I share that joint sessions can be beneficial if siblings experienced the same stressful event, but recommend having individual sessions first to build rapport.

If a therapist is already seeing one sibling and the parent asks to start the other, I advise getting permission from the current child client first to preserve the relationship. If the child declines, it’s best to wait until ending with the first child.
I discuss scheduling options when seeing siblings individually:

  • 30 minute split sessions
  • Back-to-back full sessions
  • Alternating weeks

For parents wanting therapy for multiple children, exploring filial therapy to support the whole family may be warranted.

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Navigating the Complexities of Working with Siblings in Child-Centered Play Therapy

As a play therapist coach, I often receive questions about working with siblings in play therapy. Recently, I received an email from a listener in Ireland who was curious about the approach to take when working with two children from the same family. I share my thoughts on this topic and provide some practical advice for play therapists facing similar situations.

When Joint Play Therapy Sessions Can Be Beneficial

If siblings have experienced the same stressful or traumatic event, such as a cross-country move, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or any other shared experience, it can be appropriate to see them together in joint play therapy sessions. This approach allows them to process the experience together and can be defined as group play therapy.

However, it’s essential to build rapport and establish a relationship with each child individually before bringing them together in joint sessions. I recommend having at least three individual sessions with each sibling to foster trust and create a strong therapeutic bond. This one-on-one time is crucial, as it can be challenging for children to engage equally and form a connection with the therapist when another sibling is present from the start.

Navigating Requests to Work with Siblings When You’re Already Seeing One Child

In some cases, a play therapist may start working with one sibling, and halfway through the process, the parents recognize the benefits and request therapy for another child in the family. When faced with this situation, I believe it’s essential to prioritize the therapeutic relationship with the current client.

Before agreeing to work with the sibling, I suggest asking the parent if they have discussed this with your current client. Regardless of their response, follow up by expressing your commitment to preserving the therapeutic allegiance and avoiding any perception of betrayal or breach of trust. Seek permission from your current client to start working with their sibling. If they agree, you can proceed with bringing the sibling into therapy. However, if your client says no, respect their decision and wait until you have concluded working with them before transitioning to the sibling.

Considering Filial Therapy (CPRT) for Families with Multiple Children

When a parent expresses the need for therapy for several children in the family, it’s worth exploring Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) as a potential solution. CPRT focuses on changing the way parents interact with all their children, allowing the entire family system to benefit from the child-centered principles and improved relationships.

By advocating for CPRT in such cases, you can help the family address the needs of multiple children without the logistical challenges of individual therapy sessions for each child.

Logistical Solutions for Scheduling Sibling Sessions

If you do decide to work with siblings in individual sessions, there are several options for scheduling:

1. 30/30 Split Sessions: Book one hour and allocate 30 minutes to each child. While the sessions are shorter, they can still be effective.

2. Back-to-Back Sessions: If the family is willing and able to pay for two spots each week, schedule back-to-back sessions for the siblings, allowing each child to have a full 50-minute session.

3. Alternating Weeks: Once the therapeutic relationship is established with each sibling (after three individual sessions), you can switch to an alternating weekly schedule. The session time remains the same, but the siblings alternate weeks.

Keep in mind that when scheduling alternating weeks, the overall therapy process may take longer in terms of calendar weeks, but each child will still receive the necessary number of sessions.


Working with siblings in play therapy requires careful consideration and a tailored approach based on the family’s unique circumstances. By prioritizing the therapeutic relationship, seeking permission when necessary, and exploring options like CPRT, play therapists can effectively support siblings while navigating the complexities of family dynamics.


  • Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J. (2010). Child-Centered Play Therapy (1st ed.). Wiley.
  • VanFleet, R., Sywulak, A. E., & Sniscak, C. C. (2010). Child-centered play therapy. Guilford Press.
  • Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
  • Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Benedict, Helen. Themes in Play Therapy. Used with permission to Heartland Play Therapy Institute.
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