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Does PCIT Actually Work?


A child doing PCIT therapy

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based treatment for kids with behavior problems such as aggression, impulsivity, and defiance. Typical diagnoses are ADHD or ODD (although PCIT can also be used for kids with autism, Selective Mutism, and anxiety disorders) and the original age range was 2 to 7 (now there is an older child protocol for up to age 10). The typical problems in families include not following caregivers’ directives, frequent tantrums, hitting/hurting, whining and other annoying behaviors, and things like running away in public. [For Selective Mutism, it's kids who might be a chatterbox at home but are not speaking at school and in public. Their goal is to be able to speak freely with less familiar people.]

 

PCIT has 40+ years of research backing and the way it works is really unique: parents are coached in the ear while in play with their child. In this way, the caregiver, rather than the therapist, is the agent of change. You can find more information for parents here and the research backing here.

 

My involvement with PCIT actually began as an undergraduate student. I was the lab manager for the PCIT Lab (research group) at Auburn University. This meant that I had to learn the “language” of PCIT really well, and I remembered it for years to come. When I was on internship, I jumped at the opportunity to become PCIT certified! [PCIT can only be delivered by therapists who are certified, which is a process of training and completing supervised therapy hours in the treatment.]

 

I have been a PCIT therapist ever since, treating many families dealing with challenging behaviors at home. I’ll give my answer to the “does it work” question based on my own clinical experience, rather than just the research...

 

First of all, I ask myself this question each time I meet a new family! I hear from caregivers who are having such a hard time with their child’s behavior and feel completely hopeless. They describe a home situation that sounds so challenging and I’m not sure if I could handle it if we switched shoes. Yes, PCIT works, but will it work for this family?

 

Time and time again, within about 3-4 months of consistent, weekly appointments and daily practice, I see caregivers who are in absolute shock at how well PCIT is working. Most of the time, the families are close to graduating from therapy by this point. Their child’s behavior has significantly improved, caregivers feel way more confident, and everyone is noticing the change.

 

The biggest factor is having a caregiver who is consistently attending therapy, practicing the skills, and just generally thinking of PCIT as a new language and way of behaving with their child. These families find success, and way faster than they expected!

 

Now I do not expect a family to have this sort of hopefulness from the beginning of therapy. How could you when you feel like you’re in the middle of a tornado? But with expert guidance, change is possible. Most importantly, PCIT is attachment-based and parents can get back to what we want happening: bonding and enjoying time with their children.

This site teaches the principles of PCIT to someone who may not be able to get started with therapy right away: https://www.pocketpcit.com

 

I offer virtual PCIT to families in Georgia and PSYPACT-authorized states.


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