Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an empirically-supported treatment for preschoolers (2-7) who have disruptive behavior. PCIT has a long history of solid research evidence showing its effectiveness at reducing behavior problems, increasing positive child behavior, reducing parenting stress, and ameliorating parent depression.
PCIT has also been extended to children with a wide variety of emotional or behavioral difficulties, including:
fetal alcohol exposure
Families experiencing difficult situations such as divorce, bereavement, deployment, child maltreatment, or domestic violence may also benefit from PCIT, even if the child is not displaying significant behavior problems. PCIT can be appropriate for biological parents, step-parents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents--just about any primary caregiver a child counts on!
In PCIT, therapists work with parents to develop new strategies for addressing their child's behavior. The treatment consists of two phases, the Child Directed Interaction (CDI) and the Parent Directed Interaction (PDI).
In the CDI phase, parents are taught to use techniques similar to those used by play therapists to develop a warm, positive relationship with their child to form the foundation for setting appropriate limits and increase children's positive behaviors through selective attention.
Parents then learn, in the PDI phase, effective strategies for setting limits with children to reduce non-compliance, aggressive, and destructive behaviors.
Families continue in treatment until the parents master the strategies, the child's behavior is within normal limits for their age, and the parent is confident in managing their child's behavior. The average length of treatment is about 14-16 weekly sessions.
The feature that sets PCIT apart from other parenting interventions is the active coaching parents receive to help them learn to use the PCIT techniques and skills most effectively. In most sessions, the parent and child play together in a room with toys. The therapist watches the play through a one-way mirror and provides the parent with immediate feedback, support, and suggestions via a "bug-in-the-ear," similar to a bluetooth earpiece. In this way, the child experiences therapy as a chance to play with their parent or caregiver, while the parent is able to learn how to use the skills to the maximum effect. Therapist-coaches are also able to provide parents with a great deal of support as they learn new strategies and address challenging child behavior in session.
FINDING A PCIT THERAPIST
If your young child is experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties and you believe that PCIT may be a good fit for your family, start by visiting www.pcit.org to see if there is a PCIT trainer near you. If so, contact them via e-mail to ask if they know of any PCIT therapists in your area. Alternatively, you can call local providers of children's mental health services and ask for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) by name.