What is Parent Child Interaction Therapy?

Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)First developed in the 1970s as a method of treatment for young children with serious behavioral problems, Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) has been successfully adapted for use with children aged 2 to 7 years old who display disruptive behavior and/or who have experienced trauma due to child abuse or neglect.

PCIT supports parents and caregivers for children with behavioral problems. During therapy, adults first learn and then practice new ways of interacting with children with emotional or behavior problems, language issues, developmental disabilities, or mental health struggles.  PCIT enhances the parent-child relationship and teaches parents behavior management skills they can use to have positive interactions with their children.

PCIT is the only evidence-based practice in which the parent and child are treated together throughout the entire process. And PCIT and PCIT-based programs help prevent child abuse and neglect and decrease the child’s risk of antisocial and criminal behavior later in life.

How does it work?

Parents and caregivers learn how to engage positively with their children, helping them to build a better relationship; in turn, the child’s behavior often improves. By working to reduce stressful interactions within the family and negative behavior from the child, PCIT can help improve overall family dynamics. Additionally, PCIT encourages the practice of new behaviors and ways of communicating that are more supportive and reassuring. With practice, these new skills can reduce anger and aggression, and increase confidence and better behavior for both the parent and child.

What should I expect in a typical PCIT session?

PCIT typically takes between 12 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting between 1 and 1.5 hours.

PCIT focuses on improving the parent-child relationship in two phases.1 The first phase, Relationship Enhancement, is also known as Child Directed Interaction (CDI), because parents are taught to follow the child’s lead. This phase works to improve the quality of the relationship between the parent and child. In these sessions, the child selects a toy or activity, and the parent plays along while being guided by the therapist. The therapist acts as a coach, teaching parents to use positive skills such as Praise, Reflection, Imitation, behavioral Description, and Enjoyment (PRIDE).

The parent will also learn ways to decrease how often a child has a tantrum, as well as making those tantrums less severe. And the parent will learn how to lessen negative attention-seeking behaviors in their child. In turn, the child will experience increased feelings of security, safety, and attachment to the primary caregiver. The coaching sessions will also help the child to improve his or her attention span, self-esteem, and positive social behaviors, such as sharing and taking turns. The second phase of treatment is Parent Directed Interaction (PDI), or Compliance and Discipline. This phase focuses on creating a structured and consistent approach to discipline. Here, the parent takes the lead. Parents are taught to give clear, direct commands to their child and to provide consistent consequences. During these sessions, the  therapist coaches the parents on strategies that help their child accept limits, comply with directions, respect house rules, and demonstrate appropriate behavior in public.

At each session, the progress of the child and parents is recorded. Areas for improvement and successes are also highlighted and worked on. Parents play an active role in this therapy and have five minutes of “special time” homework with their child every night.

Contact Us

Please contact The Center for Mental Health at 970.252.3200 to set up PCIT services.

1. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals. (2019, February).  (
2. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).  (
3. Urquiza, A. (2013, January 28). Why is PCIT important for Foster Children? (