What is PCIT?

Parenting can be hard. There are good days and not-so-good days, however when the good days feel few and far between it can have a big impact on our mental health. The phone calls from school or daycare might feel repetitive. Handling tantrums and destructive behavior at home may feel overwhelming. Worrying about going out in public and risking a tantrum can feel exhausting. The isolation that comes with handling your child’s challenging behaviors can often cause you to feel lost or confused with what to do.

That is where Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) can come in.

PCIT is an evidence-based treatment for children ages 2-7 years old with behavioral challenges. PCIT has over 50 years of research to back its long-term effectiveness for both parents and children. PCIT is conducted through a variety of different approaches, including observations, education, and coaching. The approach provides therapists the opportunity to provide in-the-moment guidance and support for parents in using and mastering new skills to help mange your child’s behavior.

PCIT involves two treatment phases. The first phase called Child-Directed Interaction (CDI), focuses on your relationship with your child and strengthening the foundation of that relationship. The approach in this phase of treatment involves supporting parents in learning and applying skills through play with their child to build a secure and positive relationship. Through the CDI phase parents often quickly see a decrease in the frequency, severity, and duration of tantrums and negative or attention-seeking behaviors, as well as an increase in self-esteem and pro-social behaviors for their child.

The second phase called Parent-Directed Interaction (PDI) provides parents with the skills to manage their child’s challenging behaviors. There is a large focus on parenting strategies used to support your child with following directions, accepting limits, behaving appropriately outside of the home, and following rules in the home. This phase comes second because it builds off the strengthened foundation that is created in the first phase. Parents often feel a new sense of calmness, increased confidence, and consistency in applying these skills. Common outcomes for children through the second phase include a decreased frequency, severity, and duration of aggressive or disruptive behaviors, decreased defiance, and increased compliance with adult requests, limits, and rules.

You may be wondering how long PCIT lasts. Or rather, you might be comparing it to past attempts of participating in therapy with your child where it felt like it was going to need to last indefinitely to help.

The good news is that PCIT is often completed in 12-20 sessions if there is consistent attendance and engagement. Not only that, but research has proven to show that PCIT provides both parents and children with skills that stick around for many years to come. PCIT is a great place to start when seeking out therapy to support your child in decreasing challenging behaviors. More specifically, PCIT provides a structured, step-by-step approach for parents to strengthen the child-parent relationship and provide their child with the opportunity to feel safe and secure within that relationship.

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Written By: Katie Grassel, MA, LPCC

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