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PCIT: Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

What is Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)?

Tired of getting phone calls from school 
about your child's behavior?

Is your child destructive?  
        For example, does s/he break things on purpose?

Feeling overwhelmed by your child's tantrums?

Embarrassed by your child's behavior when out in public?

Love your child but don't like your child 
because of challenging behaviors?


PCIT is an evidence-based treatment for young children with behavioral problems. 

​The decision as to whether PCIT is the most appropriate treatment for you and your child is between you and your mental health professional. 

PCIT is conducted through "coaching" sessions during which you and your child are in a playroom while the therapist is in an observation room watching you interact with your child through a one-way mirror and/or live video feed. You wear a "bug-in-the-ear" device through which the therapist provides in-the-moment coaching on skills you are learning to manage your child's behavior.

PCIT is done across two treatment phases. The first phase of treatment focuses on establishing warmth in your relationship with your child through learning and applying skills proven to help children feel calm, secure in their relationships with their parents, and good about themselves.  ​

The second phase of treatment will equip you to manage the most challenging of your child's behaviors while remaining confident, calm, and consistent in your approach to discipline. In this phase, you will learn proven strategies to help your child accept your limits, comply with your directions, respect house rules, and demonstrate appropriate behavior in public. ​

With consistent attendance and homework completion, PCIT can be completed within 12-20 sessions, though treatment is not time-limited. Treatment is considered complete when you have mastered both sets of skills and rate your child's behavior within normal limits on a behavior rating scale.


We’ve tried therapy before. How might PCIT be different?

Many behavior parent training programs teach similar parenting skills, PCIT differs from other programs because it:

  • emphasizes in-session parent practice of skills
  • parents receive live coaching and feedback related to skills
  • parents are required to master specific parenting skills
  • PCIT is not session-limited.
  • Graduation is based on parent demonstration of mastery of skills
  • Parents rate children's behavior problems as within normal limits before treatment graduation. 

How long does it take to complete PCIT?

The average length of treatment typically varies between 12 and 20 sessions. Treatment length is variable based on each family's specific needs. Some families complete treatment in fewer than 12 sessions. Other families take more than 20 sessions to meet 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 homework practice in between sessions
  • The rate that caregivers display mastery 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.


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