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October 2002Vol. 3, No. 8Outcomes Being Documented for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

What is Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, or PCIT? You might call it the Cyrano de Bergerac approach to parent education. During PCIT, parent and child take center stage while, behind the scenes, a therapist coaches the parent with appropriate lines to say to the child ("You're sitting very nicely!"). The goal, and proven result, of PCIT is to halt the downward spiral of family violence by retraining parents in new techniques to build positive relationships.

PCIT began in the 1970s as a way to treat children with serious behavior problems and later was adapted to the child maltreatment population. During PCIT sessions, parents wear a small audio device (an "earbug"). A clinician observes the parent and child through a one-way mirror and communicates with the parent through the earbug. Parents are coached to swap commands and criticism directed at their child for strategies that reinforce positive behavior.

It Is Working

The CAARE (Child and Adolescent Abuse, Resource, and Evaluation) Center at the University of California Davis Medical Center (UCDMC) in Sacramento has provided PCIT for about 6 years. According to Alissa Porter, CAARE's PCIT training coordinator, "We've looked at data 6 months out, and skills have been maintained." Parents show improvement in listening skills, physical proximity, and positive, constructive dialog and a decrease in sarcasm, criticism of the child, and personal distress.

Empirical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of PCIT as a treatment for abused children and their families. The UCDMC PCIT program studied 162 groups of "parent"-child pairs: children living with their biological parents (93), with foster parents (41), and in kinship care (28). The groups were surveyed before and after completing the PCIT program. The results were impressive, in terms of reducing the number of children at risk:

  • Children and Biological Parents: 41.9% at risk before PCIT, 16.1% at risk after PCIT.
  • Children and Foster Parents: 58.5% at risk before PCIT, 34.1% at risk after PCIT.
  • Children in Kinship Care: 50% at risk before PCIT, 34.1 at risk after PCIT.

Preliminary results from long-term studies indicate that the skills learned during PCIT and the reduction in risk factors are retained after many years. CAARE also offers post-therapy booster sessions to help parents maintain their skills.

UCDMC and the University of Florida offer clinical training in PCIT.

For more information, contact:

Alissa Porter
PCIT Training Coordinator
CAARE Center
Department of Pediatrics
University of California Davis Medical Center
3300 Stockton Boulevard
Sacramento, CA 95820
Phone: 916-734-6610

Sheila M. Eyberg, Ph.D.
Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology
Child Study Lab
Department of Clinical and Health Psychology
University of Florida
P.O. Box 100165
Gainesville, FL 32610
Phone (352) 265-0680 ext. 46878