Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

Director: Matthew Young, Ph.D.


The Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is a treatment program designed to help parents reduce disruptive, aggressive, noncompliant, & oppositional behaviors in young children.  PCIT also helps to improve the relationship between a caregiver and his/her child. PCIT is one of the most effective treatments available for children with behavior problems between the ages of 2 and 6 years. This 12-20 session treatment will teach you the skills that professionals (such as psychologists, special education teachers, and family therapists) use to improve child behavior.


  • Decrease disruptive or inappropriate behavior
  • Increase appropriate and desired behaviors
  • Enhance the relationship between parent and child
  • Improve your child's self-esteem
  • Teach your child new ways to manage and reduce frustration and anger
  • Help your child develop new strategies for attending and organizing his or her work or play
  • Help your child follow directions the first time you tell him or her to do something
  • Teach you alternative ways to manage your child's behavior now, and helping you develop ways to effectively address future behavior problems


PCIT is effective for children ages 2-6 who experience a variety of behavioral challenges.  PCIT is also a beneficial approach for children with several childhood psychological or psychiatric diagnoses including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and adjustment disorder.  In addition, PCIT has been found to be effective at addressing behavioral problems in children with depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders, as well as children with a history of trauma, abuse or neglect.  PCIT is appropriate for children who display any of the following:       

  • Refusal and defiance of adult requests
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Short temper
  • Severe or frequent tantrums
  • Aggression to siblings, self, peers, or adults
  • Intentional destruction of property
  • Parent-child relationship issues
  • Difficulty staying seated or playing quietly
  • Difficulty taking turns or following rules
  • Purposely annoying others

PCIT is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on enhancing the relationship between you and your child, increasing your child's self-esteem, reducing your child's frustration, and helping your child with organizational skills. The second part focuses on teaching your child listening and minding skills, using age-appropriate discipline techniques to deal with your child's behavior, and problem solving.

We recognize that many parents would like to start with the listening and minding skills. However, research and our experiences with families like yours suggest that behavioral parent training works better when the relationship building skills are practiced first and the listening and minding skills are practiced second. When the relationship building aspects of treatment are done first, children are more likely to listen and mind with a positive attitude in the second part because they have learned to enjoy interacting with their parent and they want to please the parent.  PCIT treatment is not time-limited. Treatment is considered complete when you have mastered both sets of skills and rate your child's behavior within normal limits on a behavior rating scale.


We welcome all types of families who want to help their child through PCIT. Although we primarily refer to “parents” in this document, the caregivers who participate in PCIT may be: 

  • Biological parents
  • Step-parents
  • Foster parents
  • Adoptive parents
  • Legal guardians
  • Grandparents
  • Kinship caregivers

At the start of treatment, we ask families to identify the “primary” caregiver who will commit to attending every session.  Other caregivers are always welcome to attend as many sessions as possible.  Later in the program, some families also choose to have additional caregivers learn the PCIT skills, including teen/young adult siblings, nannies, babysitters, or other relatives.  


Phone screening:  Families who express interest in the PCIT program will participate in a telephone screening to review PCIT, assess fit for the program, and discuss scheduling an initial appointment.

Intake, assessment, and feedback (1-2 appointments): Parent(s) and the child will participate in a diagnostic assessment in the clinic.  This includes interviews, completing questionnaires, and receiving additional information about PCIT.  Parents will receive feedback on the results of the assessment and work with the clinical team to determine the best treatment approach for their child.

Pre-treatment PCIT assessment: Parents and children will play in the clinic while the therapist watches from the observation room.  The therapist will observe how your child acts with you alone in different situations for 25-30 minutes with each parent.  These observations help the therapist tailor the treatment plan to your child’s needs.  Parents also complete additional questionnaires about their child and family.

Teaching Session (parents only): Parents receive feedback on the results of pre-treatment observation and questionnaires.  The therapist will explain and show you the specific PCIT skills to help you gain improvements with your child’s problem behaviors.  There is one additional teaching session at the start of the second half of the PCIT program

Coaching Sessions:  Parents and children play together, while parents practice the PCIT skills to manage child behavior.  The therapist observes and communicates to the parent with a “bug-in-the-ear” audio device.  In families with multiple parents participating, the adults take turns in the play room with the child, and have the opportunity to observe each other during coaching.  The therapist provides immediate support and coaching to parents, and tracks progress weekly.  Most PCIT sessions are focused on coaching. 

Graduation: Once treatment goals have been reached, the therapist and family meet to review progress, celebrate the child’s success, and plan for managing future behavioral challenges.  Families have the opportunity to participate in a post-treatment PCIT assessment to measure behavioral change since the start of treatment.


As a parent, you are the best person to decide how well PCIT fits you and your child. Here are some important points to help you decide:

  1. PCIT focuses on building parents’ skills in relating to their child. It helps the child by helping you build positive and effective parenting skills.
  2. The PCIT therapist does not work directly with your child — change happens through changing the parent-child relationship.
  3. Trying new skills can feel awkward at first. Practice is the best way to learn them, so most PCIT sessions focus on parent-child play and therapist feedback on your use of skills.
  4. PCIT requires an investment of 12-20 weeks, including weekly therapy sessions and daily homework practice for 5-15 minutes.
  5. Parents need to attend consistently and call at least 24 hours in advance when they need to miss a session.  Families who cannot consistently attend sessions are unlikely to benefit.  
  6. PCIT ends when you are confident in your parenting skills and demonstrate them with your child in sessions.
  7. We want and expect you to tell us if you have questions about the treatment program.





3.            “Pocket PCIT” a free book in the Apple Bookstore



Matthew Young, PhD


Many insurance and Medicaid plans are accepted.  Questions about coverage? Call Psychiatry Intake at 773-702-3858 & mention the PCIT program with Dr. Young