Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) has been designed to treat behavior problems in children aged 3- to 6-years (Bodiford McNeil & Hembree-Kigin, 2010). PCIT is a combination of attachment theory and social learning theory. PCIT is an evidence-based parent training program and coaches parents in two sets of skills. The first skill set is Child-Directed Interaction (CDI), during which parents learn and apply play therapy techniques to enhance the parent-child relationship. The CDI portion of PCIT is based on attachment theory, which encourages parent nurturance of the child.

Image courtesy of photostock at

Image courtesy of photostock at

The second skill set is Parent-Directed Interaction (PDI), during which parents learn techniques for improving child compliance in order to decrease disruptive behaviors (Bodiford McNeil & Hembree-Kigin, 2010). PDI is based on social learning theory, which states that disruptive behaviors develop and are maintained through parent reinforcement of these behaviors (e.g., negative attention, allowing children to escape parent demands). PDI utilizes social learning theory to teach the child that negative attention will no longer be provided, and the child must adhere to parent expectations. Progress through PCIT is based on the parents’ mastery of CDI and PDI skills. The typical length of treatment is six months.

There are nine key features of PCIT (Bodiford McNeil & Hembree-Kigin, 2010). First, PCIT relies on working with the parent and child together to create change in the relationship and in behavior. Second, the PCIT therapist coaches the parent via bug-in-the-ear technology in order to provide corrective feedback immediately. The third key feature is that PCIT uses data to guide treatment. Parents complete behavior measures at the beginning of each PCIT session. The data is used by the therapist to determine areas of strength and need for that session. Fourth, PCIT uses a developmental lens through which to view the child’s behavior. PCIT understands that certain behaviors are developmentally appropriate, including temper tantrums and defiance.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

The fifth key feature of PCIT is that this treatment intervenes with families when the child is very young (Bodiford McNeil & Hembree-Kigin, 2010). Early intervention is important in reducing the likelihood that more serious behaviors will emerge as the child ages. The sixth key feature is that PCIT targets a wide range of behavior problems, including defiance, aggression, cruelty towards animals, stealing, lying, fire-setting, inattention, hyperactivity, sadness, anxiety, and parent-child relationship problems that can occur during divorce or adoption. The seventh key feature of PCIT is that it uses specialized equipment and space requirements, such as the bug-in-ear device, two-way mirror or live video feed of coaching sessions, and a time-out room. The eighth key feature is that PCIT focuses on patterns of parent-child interactions rather than targeting child behaviors alone. The final key feature of PCIT is that it utilizes a positive, non-judgmental approach to parents and children. PCIT therapists see and vocalize the positive things parents and children do during each session.

PCIT is currently offered at select Aspire Indiana offices. The referral process is very structured and acceptance into the program occurs on a case-by-case basis.

Work cited: Bodiford McNeil, C. and Hembree-Kigin, T. L. (2010). Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. Springer.

Dr. Christine Liedtke is a Psychologist/HSPP at Aspire Indiana. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Dr. Liedtke, you can learn more about Aspire Indiana at  You can also follow Dr. Liedtke on Twitter @cmliedtke_PsyD.


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