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Understanding Parent child interaction therapy (PCIT)

Greeting! I am Jill, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Angelus Therapeutic Services. In working with children over the last 20 years I have seen a lot of kids and families who are struggling with how to connect, manage behaviors, and develop routines and relationships that allow them to flourish and enjoy time with each other. There are so many young children that are struggling with understanding their emotions, finding words to express themselves and who can be very reactive to what may seem like ‘small’ events to others. Although this population can be challenging, I very much enjoy it because there is so much growing and progress that can be made.

One of the ways to treat these challenges in therapy is called PCIT, which stands for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.

PCIT is used to help families with children ages 3-7 who may be struggling with:
  • losing focus easily,
  • being defiant,
  • not following instructions,
  • children who may appear to have attachment issues,
  • can be aggressive,
  • struggles with getting along with their siblings.

How do you know it can help my child? 

PCIT is what is called an evidenced based practice, which means it is very well tested, used and regulated with a full training process that ensures the therapist is experienced and well versed in helping families healed. There is a year-long process of training and developing experience to become certified in PCIT, which I have fully completed.

PCIT is hands on, where the parents get to enjoy the experience of working with their child in a healthy and positive play environment. The therapist will assist the parents in completing the therapy with their child. This is used to build a more secure attachment with their primary care giver and to help that caregiver learn healthy & consistent discipline for when things get a little rocky. This is done with both the parent and child present. I, as the therapist takes on an observer role and coaches the parent on how to use play therapy to build a more warm and nurturing relationship. Which can understandably have become difficult over time as children may have experienced different traumas, struggles and delays in their lives.

How long does the PCIT process take:

PCIT can be done in as little as 12 weeks. It is split into two sections of learning.

The first six weeks are Child Directed Interactions, which means the parent follows the child lead in play and uses positive social skills to build a secure attachment.

The second 6 weeks are parent Directed Interactions, meaning the parent will learn to give and use effective commands as well as have a tried-and-true discipline technique that they can use anyway.

As the therapist I am able to be very discreet in my coaching by allowing the child and caretaker to be in the play space together with myself in another space observing through video and being able to make suggestions to the parent through an earpiece. Thus, ensuring that the child sees that adult as the lead in the process.

The idea of having someone watching you play with your child on video and ‘whisper’ hints in your ear, may seem odd, but it is no more strange then having a personal trainer at your gym walking you through how to correctly use machines to get the best benefit out of your workouts. In this circumstance, the therapist is walking you through techniques and strategies that help you get the best benefits out of your therapy time, AND your natural play and interaction time at home. 

Is that it?? All I need to do is come once a week and my kid’s behaviors change?

Not quite: As can be imagined nothing can be changed in a family simply from coming to a PCIT session once a week and only trying these techniques in that space. As part of this therapy there is an important and required 5 minutes of homework each day to help the parent and child learn and reinforce these skills.

Over the course of time, a decrease in negative behaviors is measured from completing simple check in assessments each week. This helps the family and therapist gage where focus and further fine tuning may be needed as we work through the process.

improving childs behaviors in therapy
So what are the goals in Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

At the end of the PCIT process our goals are to increase positive attachment and connections between the child and their primary caregivers, increase positive attention span at home and school, for families to be able to have more positive and relaxed interactions, to decrease anxiety about going to the store with your kiddo or into social scenarios which may have previously triggered meltdowns, and to help your child to truly alter their behaviors so that they can have quality social relationships with family and friends.

I understand that this was a lot to go over but I would be happy to explore with you how this or other types of treatment may be able to help move your family from stressed and struggling to feeling connected and calm. I am currently accepting new children into our PCIT program and would love to work with you. I am at our Mercer County office on Mondays & Tuesdays at 2500 Highland Road Suite 102, Hermitage, PA 16148 and at our Lawrence County office at 143 E Wallace Ave, New Castle, PA on Wednesdays & Thursdays. Reach out to us today by completing our ‘getting started’ tab and we can walk you through the process of getting started on this new journey to help grow and support your family. 

PCIT Certified: 

Jill Winklevoss, LCSW

Working with Children, Teens & Adults

Accepting new clients for in person appointments in our New Castle & Hermitage offices, or virtually anywhere in PA using our secure telehealth platform!

  • ADHD
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Coping Skills Growth
  • Depression
  • Foster Care & Adoption
  • Mindfulness/Meditation
  • Grief/ Loss
  • Parenting Issues
  • PCIT Certified
  • Reactive Attachment
  • Stress Management
  • Trauma/PTSD

Digging Deeper:

Blogs related to helping children & Families:
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External Supports and Resources:

    At Angelus we have a great group of therapists available to help you child and family through your healing journey. Reach out today to get started and see if one of our therapists is the right fit for you.

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