Our Founder

Ann M. Jernberg 1928 – 1993

Ann Jernberg began an active clinical practice in the 1950s. She was awarded her Ph.D. in Human Development by the University of Chicago in 1960. For a time in the early seventies, while maintaining her practice in Chicago, she lived in Indiana and was chief psychologist for the LaPorte County Community Mental Health Center. It was while training and supervising young staff members there that she began exploring the potential of short term treatment.

In 1967 she became the Clinical Director of the mental health program of the Chicago Head Start program and was faced with the necessity of finding a way to serve the mental health needs of the hundreds of preschool children, among the thousands in the program, who desperately needed therapeutic help. Finding that there were no facilities in Chicago which could offer therapeutic services for more than a very few children, she developed an innovative therapy program. Since there were no funds to pay professionals, she sought out, trained and supervised lay people, from graduate students to Head Start mothers, to treat these children. The major precondition for these therapists, given that formal education requirements simply could not be met, was that they have the flexibility, openness, ego strength and native talent to be able to learn and apply therapeutic skills. It was clear, as attested by observation, clinical intuition and reports from teachers and parents, that the program was successful.

Two films were made of the therapy in progress, Here I Am and There He Goes. These films gave dramatic evidence of the changes in these particular children – three in number – as a result of the therapy. Three years later these same children were filmed in natural school and playground surroundings and this follow up – perhaps the first of its kind to be documented on film – showed undeniably that the progress made in therapy had been maintained and expanded upon.

At the time the films were made this therapy program had no name. The name “Play Therapy” seemed inappropriate since the therapy process differed so dramatically from traditional play therapy in being interactive, vigorous and physical. The film maker, seeing the high degree of playfulness and joy that permeated the therapy with the children, suggested the word “Theraplay” and it was immediately adopted as the name for this unique kind of therapy.

Subsequently, Ann started The Theraplay Institute, a teaching, training and treatment center. Her book, Theraplay: A New Program for the Treatment of Problem Children and their Families, was published by Jossey-Bass in 1979. This book is now in its third edition (2010), authored by Phyllis B Booth, MA.

Though she devoted much of her time and talent to The Theraplay Institute, Ann continued her private practice and also continued to write, producing many book chapters and articles as well as Theraplay training publications. She was posthumously honored for her outstanding contribution to the profession of psychology at the Illinois Psychological Association’s annual awards luncheon, November 5, 1993.

In her own life, Ann embodied the qualities of confidence, joy, and love of others she hoped to instill in her patients and she was a model of those qualities for all of us who worked with her. She was a courageous, strong, determined woman. She faced life’s vicissitudes – most notably her long battle with cancer – with amazing fortitude. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She faced life with zest and enthusiasm, always on the look-out for an opportunity to share a good laugh. She was intensely interested in others. People sensed her compassionate interest and in the briefest encounter would pour out the stories of their lives – coming away comforted and enriched, knowing that their burden was now shared with a wise, caring fellow human being. She was a great story teller. Perhaps that was one reason she relished hearing other people’s stories. She went through life looking for interesting encounters which she could artfully turn into tales to share with others.

A colleague commented, “Those she touched through her teaching all have a spirit, a lively playful optimism that I find contagious. Those she taught have spread this spirit far and wide. She will be remembered and will live on in all who have been touched by her creation.”

The Ann M. Jernberg Award

The Ann M. Jernberg Memorial Award was created in 2003 to honor those who have made an outstanding contribution to Theraplay and/or The Theraplay Institute.

Jernberg Award Winners:
2018 Angela Siu, Ph.D., RCP, CTT/T, RPT-S
Theraplay Practitioner, Trainer/Supervisor
2011 David Myrow, Ph.D.,
Susan Bundy-Myrow, Ph.D,
Certified Theraplay Trainer/Supervisors
2009 Gayle L. Christensen
Executive Director, The Theraplay Institute
2008 The Finnish Theraplay Association, Founding Members
Jukka Mäkelä, M.D.
Lotta Lassenius-Panula, M.D.
Ilona.Vierikko, R.N.
Sinikka Savola
2007 Terrence Koller, Ph.D.
2006 Phyllis Rubin, CCC-SLP, PsyD
Certified Theraplay Trainer/Supervisor
2005 Charles R. (Chuck) West, M.S.
2004 Sandra Lindaman, MA, MSW, LSW
Certified Theraplay Trainer/Supervisor
2003 Phyllis B. Booth, MA, LCPC, LMFT, RPT/S
Certified Theraplay Trainer/Supervisor

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