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I- PCIT: Internet Based Parent-Child Interaction Therapy


Written by Dominic Tannoia, PhD

What is PCIT?

To understand what I-PCIT is, we must first understand what PCIT is. PCIT stands for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. PCIT is an evidence-based treatment for children ages 2-7 (and sometimes older) who are struggling with disruptive behaviors. An evidence-based treatment is a treatment that has been shown time and time again in research studies to be effective, and PCIT is one of only a handful of treatments for disruptive behavior to hold such a title. Disruptive behaviors are things like not listening to instructions, arguing with adults, and tantrums.

How does PCIT work?

PCIT is different from traditional therapy because the therapist teaches parents skills to manage and navigate difficult situations with their child during live coaching appointments, rather than the therapist talking directly with the child during appointments. PCIT has two stages. First, parents are taught positive attention skills to encourage appropriate behavior and discourage disruptive behavior. Second, parents are taught skills to help their child learn how to listen to their instructions, along with a consistent consequence for when their child chooses not to listen when parents need them to.

What happens in PCIT?

When a parent or parents and their child attend an appointment for PCIT, the main goal of the appointment is to practice building skills. This is accomplished by the therapist providing live coaching to the parent as they interact with their child. At first, these interactions occur during playtime, but once PCIT enters the second stage, these interactions also consist of listening practices.

How is I-PCIT different from PCIT?

PCIT was initially developed for in-person appointments. Parent(s) and their child would play with each other in a special PCIT playroom while the therapist observed from the other side of a one-way mirror. The parent being coached would wear headphones so that the therapist could communicate with them and give them coaching without their child hearing. The only difference between PCIT and I-PCIT is that I-PCIT is delivered via telehealth – all other aspects of the therapy are the same. Parents are asked to wear Bluetooth headphones so the therapist can coach them and to set whatever device (e.g., phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) they have used to log into the appointment in a place that will give the therapist a view of the area where parent and child will be playing together.

Is I-PCIT as effective as PCIT?

Initial research says yes (read the results of a recent study HERE). I-PCIT has been around for a while, but the COVID pandemic led to a huge surge in the number of practitioners offering the therapy. Research is a slow process, but since that time, the studies investigating the effectiveness of I-PCIT have been positive and have even begun noticing a hidden benefit. Since I-PCIT is delivered in the home, parents get the opportunity to build skills managing disruptive behavior where the behavior actually occurs! Rather than learning skills in the therapy office and then trying to generalize them to the home environment, parents learn to use the tools they need right in the place they need them most, at home.

Providing PCIT to families is an experience I value so highly as a therapist. It is so meaningful to me to help parents strengthen the bond they have with their children and learn skills to better their relationship for years to come. It’s not uncommon for parents to tell me that the work we have done together has changed their lives; those are the moments I live for as a therapist.

Learn more about PCIT at The Ross Center.  To set up an appointment with Dr. Tannoia or any of our PCIT-trained therapists, please contact us.

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