Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
Dr. Erica Wells Cerrato
Dr. Raquel F. Concepcion
Dr. Bridget Davidson
Dr. Roseanne Lesack
Meet the PCIT Team
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based treatment for children ages 2 to 7. PCIT has been successful in treating emotional and behavioral challenges in children, including:
- Oppositional and Defiant behavior
- Challenges with Inattention and/or Hyperactive Behaviors
- Conduct/Behavior Disorder
- Child Maltreatment and Trauma, supported by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Anxiety Disorders, using the PCIT-CALM adaption protocol
How Does It Work?
The average length of treatment typically varies between 12 and 20 sessions (3-5 months with weekly 45-minute sessions). Treatment is a caregiver-coaching mode, where the caregiver is taught to be the child’s play therapist, through guided coaching from a certified PCIT therapist, using a “bug-in-the-ear” communication system (i.e., wireless Bluetooth headsets). Therefore, the therapy can be provided via telehealth or in person. PCIT consists of two phases: Child-Directed Interaction CDI) and Parent-Directed Interaction (PDI).
During the first phase (CDI), children are encouraged to lead play sessions, and the caregiver is supported by the therapist to provide understanding, comfort, and support for the child. The caregiver is guided to use play therapy skills to support their child, strengthen the caregiver-child relationship, and build attachment. With the therapist’s coaching the caregiver, the child:
- Builds developmentally appropriate independence
- Grows their coping skills and impulse control
- Learns appropriate social and play skills
- Strengthens their communication skills
The second phase (PDI) focuses on equipping caregivers with the skill set to manage their child’s behaviors confidently and consistently. The therapist coaches the caregivers through live coaching via telehealth and provides instructions for implementing effective instructions, follow-through, and boundaries on behavior.
Positive outcomes to expect from PCIT:
- Encourages independence in children.
- Improved public behavior
- Improved compliance and less defiance
- Increased self-esteem and social behaviors in the child
- Increases a child’s ability to manage frustration.
- Improves child’s attention skills.
- Less parenting frustration, more confidence
- Less frequency, severity, and duration of tantrums, aggression, and destructive behavior
- Reduced attention-seeking behaviors, such as whining
- Safety and security for both caregiver(s) and child
- Strengthens child’s social skills.
PCIT-CALM is a specialized treatment that includes live, real-time coaching in which the therapist guides the parent to respond most effectively to their child’s anxious behaviors. The CALM Program is a modification of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). The CALM Program (Coaching Approach Behavior and Leading by Modeling), developed at CUCARD by Jonathan Comer, Ph.D., Anthony Puliafico, Ph.D., and Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D., is an evidence-based cognitive-behavioral treatment used to address anxiety disorders in young children ages 2-7.
The PCIT-CALM Program addresses the needs of young children presenting with:
- Separation anxiety
- Social anxiety
- Generalized anxiety
- Specific phobias
Treatment goals include:
- Providing caregivers with direct and specific skills for encouraging their child’s brave behavior and decreasing their child’s anxious behavior
- Using positive reinforcements
- Providing opportunities for children to practice coping with anxiety-provoking situations in a gradual, supportive manner
- Decreasing child and caregiver distress during anxiety-provoking situations
- Strengthening a positive, mutually rewarding caregiver-child relationship
What is the length of treatment and factors that impact treatment?
The average length of treatment typically varies between 12 and 20 sessions (3-5 months with weekly 45-minute sessions). Treatment length is variable based on each family’s specific needs and treatment graduation requirements.
The length of treatment is likely based on the following factors:
- Family’s regular attendance to treatment
- The extent that caregivers engage in quality home practice in between sessions
- The rate at that caregivers display competency of PCIT skills in session
- The intensity of the child’s behaviors at the start of treatment
- The rate at which caregivers report reductions in children’s behavior problems
- The extent that the child has other emotional or developmental concerns
- The fulfillment of a specific treatment or case plan if referred by child protective services.