Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Shows Positive Outcomes for Parents & Children

There are many treatment options designed to help alleviate symptoms of trauma in children, but very few focus on rebuilding the important relationship between traumatized children and their caregivers. “Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), originally developed for families of children with disruptive behavior disorders, has shown potential to fill this gap in childhood trauma treatment by helping physically abusive parents transform their parenting practices and by offering a variety of skills to non-offending parents and caregivers,” said a team of researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Originally developed by Dr. Sheila Eyberg in the 1970’s for young children with disruptive behavior disorders, PCIT has been successfully used with a variety of other populations, including children with developmental delays, children in foster care, children who have been exposed to domestic violence and children with prenatal substance exposure.”

The team enrolled 53 participants and 23 clinicians to conduct a study that examined the effectiveness of PCIT. The participants were enrolled in PCIT, and after the caregivers were taught skills for interacting with their children, they were instructed to engage with the child while being coached remotely by a clinician. This technique allowed the caregiver to build a bond with the child under the guidance of a trained expert. At the conclusion of the study, the rates of parental stress had decreased by 54%. The team also administered the Trauma Symptom checklist for Young Children and realized the levels of clinical rage had decreased, so much that 36% of the subjects no longer met the criteria for clinical rage. The team noted that some of the children did not respond well to the time-out approach used by the caregivers and suggest further research to determine what method would provide the best outcome for these children. They added, “Another area for future research may be to address whether a full trauma intervention protocol such as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is necessary for children to decrease symptoms in addition to PCIT or whether adding certain treatment components (e.g., stress reduction and relaxation skills) could suffice for some children.”

Pearl, E., Thieken, L., Olafson, E., Boat, B., Connelly, L., Barnes, J., & Putnam, F. (2011, March 28). Effectiveness of Community Dissemination of Parent–Child Interaction Therapy. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0022948

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maddie

    August 17th, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    I think that it is a wonderful idea to include therapy components for the children and the parents together. I think that a lot of times what is wrong with the kids stems from the parents but that part gets overlooked, but you can’t fix one without the other. There need to be ways to allow the therapy to be true treatment and not just a band aid over something that looks wrong on the surface but is getting no healing beneath.

  • Terry

    August 17th, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    A child with health issues is not only an issue for the parent for just the obvious reason but also because it can go on to affect the relationship they have with the child,even forever.

    But the involvement of the parents in therapy should be dependent upon the age of the child because once a child is in the pre-teens,it may become negative to have a parent monitor the therapy all the time.It may make the child feel like he or she has a problem.

  • L.D.

    August 17th, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    It must be extremely hard to build that trust again on both sides. My adult son has let me down repeatedly, making promises he doesn’t keep and generally being lazy while enjoying all the comforts of home. All he wants to do is play games online. When I need to count on him the most, like if I’m sick or need him to do more to help out, he’s at his worst for some reason. Then he wonders why I lose my temper and lash out. We go over and over the same ground, me pleading with him to do more and act responsibly and him blowing it off after a few days like a child.

    What he’s not getting is how close he is to being kicked out because he won’t do the most basic things that are expected of him like putting out the trash until he’s been reminded. He barely works so all our money goes on feeding and clothing him too. He’s supposed to be a man, not a child, but he won’t behave like it until he’s kicked out I guess and finds he has nowhere to go. He’s never tidy and I’m embarrassed to introduce him to anyone. I understand for sure why parents lose it sometimes because you get sick to death of talking and talking, getting your hopes up that this time it’ll be different and being let down by them all over again.

  • GRant

    August 17th, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Why not try this more often?
    I mean it seems kinda crazy at first that a parent would need a coach.
    But I guess that kids don’t really come with an instruction manual. Good for those who responded to this and felt less stress afterwards.
    I am sure that the kids felt less stressed too.

  • Jeanette Gordon

    August 17th, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    “…and after the caregivers were taught skills for interacting with their children, they were instructed to engage with the child while being coached remotely by a clinician. This technique allowed the caregiver to build a bond with the child under the guidance of a trained expert.”

    Whoa, back up a little there. Remotely? As in not in the room? That doesn’t sound too safe to me for the child. I wouldn’t call that guidance by a trained expert if they are not actually present. What exactly do they mean by remotely, over the phone or what?

  • scott

    August 17th, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    whether the child is in care or the parent,the relationship between the two is affected due to a problem that one may have.I have seen this happen with my aunt and her’s not like one wants to run away from the other due to the problem but something happens down the road…something weird that will change the dynamics of the’s hard to explain though…

  • Daryl.A

    August 18th, 2011 at 3:35 AM

    Relationships are extremely important.And to have a great parent-child relationship when the child is under stress or is going through problems is surely a big thing.It is an asset for the child at a time like that.It will help the child tide over the problems knowing thatthe parent is with them standing by them.

  • Deanna

    August 18th, 2011 at 4:11 AM

    This is so important but is so often overlooked. The relatiionship between the parent and the child is often the key to finding out what is going on with a child’s behavior. And then we forget about that during therapy. But you have to have the answers for all of the pieces for there to ever be complete healing. And I think that a big part of the problem is that parents feel overwhelmed and ignored, and they think that people look upon them badly when their child has a problem. But that is not the truth. I would love to be bale to give them care and support too, to hopefully raise their standards as well as awareness as to what it means to be a really good parent.

  • benjamin-ute

    August 18th, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    problems of all sorts come and go. they can be physical,mental,financial or what not,bbut all will eventually pass. what sticks are our relationships. and that is the reason why it’s so important to be protective of them and try and prevent any fallout.


    August 19th, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Therapy that includes all parties that are in question would always be beneficial because we are giving a chance for both of them to introspect and give their own views to each other..Good to know family related therapies are getting a boost.

  • Karen

    August 19th, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    Unfortunately, kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and, let’s fact it, parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances. PCIT is very effective when working with families where the child is oppositional and perhaps the parents just do not have the skills needed to encourage more adaptive behavior. Trust me, it works!

  • Dean

    August 19th, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    This is going to sound harsh and I am sure that there are readers among you who will take this the wrong way. But my question is this: why do there continue to be so many people who are so screwed up and can barely live their own lives, yet they are determined to continue to procreate and screw things up for another generation? I mean, let’s get real. If you are already screwed up, then let it stop with you and don’t pass that on to an innocent child.

  • Kate Jacobs

    August 22nd, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    Transforming the parenting practi- no. Just no. Any man or woman who is an abusive parent deserves to have the children taken away permanently, and they need to be put in jail for child abuse.

    We did not spend decades making laws to protect children so we could casually say “Abusive parents can change” when it remains a problem.

    They are waiting lists miles long of willing adoptive parents who want to love and nurture a child. Give the children a second chance, not the parents! Children should never be hurt more than once by an abusive parent and when you do give them back, that’s the risk you take.

  • dina cuthbert

    August 22nd, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    @Kate: You’re right! I certainly wouldn’t want an abusive parent near my children, and if they know what’s good for them they would not want to be within arm’s reach of me either if I saw them hurting their own.

    These children aren’t guinea pigs! Did anyone actually ASK them if they wanted to be reconciled with the parent?

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