Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based, short-term intervention programme designed to help improve the quality of attachment relationships between caregivers and their children aged 2 -7 years old. Developed over 50 years ago by Dr Shelia Eyberg, it has stood the test of time in both evidence-based research and clinical practice outcomes. PCIT research findings have indicated that PCIT is appropriate to support a child diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, selective mutism, autism spectrum disorder, and disruptive disorders. In addition, research has supported internet-delivered PCIT to be an effective alternative when families are unable to attend in person.
PCIT is used to develop and improve feelings of security, safety, and attachment between a child and their primary caregivers. Through therapy, the caregiver can help their child increase their self-esteem, improve attention span, build prosocial skills (sharing and taking turns), increase flexibility, and improve compliance. PCIT can help children that struggle with transitions while supporting caregivers with their management of challenging behaviours. Caregivers are trained in the skills they need to effectively guide and direct their child’s behaviour, restoring positive interactions and promoting a more nurturing and understanding caregiver-child relationship.
Caregivers learn to master skills in the two phases of treatment – child-directed interaction (CDI) and caregiver-directed interaction (PDI). In both phases, the therapist supports and coaches the child’s caregivers through an earbud and a one-way mirror. Using the mirror and coaching the caregivers in real-time, is what sets PCIT apart from traditional therapy. The therapist can work with the caregiver to support the child and empower them with the skills they need to nurture the caregiver-child relationship.
Sessions last an hour and are scheduled weekly. The number of sessions needed depends on the ability of caregivers to master and use the skills, as well as the rate at which the child makes improvements.