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What is PCIT?

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based therapy for young children (ages 2.5 - 7 years old). It is designed to address a range of child behaviors – from mild non-compliance to more severe behavioral problems like aggression and intense tantrums.

PCIT helps families achieve more connected relationships with their children, and increases child compliance to parent requests. During interactions with their children, parents are taught step-by-step techniques during live coaching. Parents learn skills that empower the parent’s use of behavior management and discipline, while helping children develop self-regulation of their behavior.  

PCIT builds on present strengths in your relationship with your child. You will be taught many positive parenting techniques, as well as the appropriate use of discipline.

Who benefits from PCIT?

Both the parent and child benefit from PCIT.  The child learns better self-regulation, the parent learns skills to manage child behaviors effectively, the whole family experiences more peaceful interactions. PCIT has been shown to be helpful for children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), anxiety, and trauma.


PCIT helps parents with children who display problem behaviors like:

  • Temper tantrums

  • Not listening to adults

  • Difficulty playing with other children

  • Hitting or kicking others

How long is treatment?

Treatment is short-term and delivered via telehealth/virtual visits.  Weekly, 45 minute to one-hour therapy sessions generally occur for 12-20 weeks.  PCIT is delivered in two phases.


Phase 1:

Child-directed interaction involves the parent following the child's lead using PRIDE skills (Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, and Enjoy).  The parent ignores annoying behavior and manages dangerous behaviors.  During Phase 1, the child develops healthy social skills (sharing, taking turns, etc.), focuses on tasks for longer periods of time, and becomes more connected to the parent.


Phase 2:

The parent teaches his or her child to follow directions and have positive behavior at home and in public.  During Phase 2, the child learns to follow directions and accept limits. Research has shown that when children learn these behaviors at home, they also display them at school and with other caregivers. 

How do parents and children learn the PCIT skills?

Parents learn the PCIT skills with their therapist during weekly virtual sessions.  The therapist will provide you with guidance on how to set up your home for PCIT.  The therapist provides direction or “coaching” through wireless earbuds worn by the parent during the therapy session.  Parents commit to daily practice between sessions to allow both parent and child to fully learn the new PCIT skills.  


PCIT is successful because it helps parents and children learn by doing.  Live coaching helps parents discover what they are doing well and helps them to master skills so they can use PCIT skills in everyday life.

Who pays for PCIT?

PCIT is a mental health outpatient therapy, which is covered by most insurance companies. Dr. Candace Hawthorne participates with Highmark/Blue Cross Blue Shield and UPMC insurances.  Her participating plans are the commercial, either provided by an employer or purchased through the Market Place. She does not accept Wholecare, CHIP/KIDS, Medicaid or Medicare.  Please see the Fees & Insurance section of our website for an explanation of the private pay rates.

How will learning PCIT at home improve my child’s behavior
at school or with other caregivers? 

Research on the effectiveness of PCIT has consistently shown that children’s behavior improves inside and outside the home. This is because the child’s relationship with their parent is powerful and important. When the child experiences consistent responses from parents, it helps them to learn the expectations for behavior. Because of parents’ importance, the praise the parent provides for positive behavior will motivate the child to display these behaviors with teachers and other adults. Additionally, our staff is available to provide consultation to teachers and caregivers so that they can interact with the child in ways that are in line with the PCIT model. 

Who will be teaching me PCIT?

Dr. Candace Hawthorne is a Licensed Psychologist with a doctorate in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Hawthorne has been working with children and families for over 40 years. She began her career as an occupational therapist and has been working as a licensed psychologist for the last 10 years. As a result, Dr. Hawthorne brings a multidisciplinary approach to her work. As a psychologist, her previous positions include psychologist at Children’s Hospital of UPMC, and the Matilda Theiss Child Development Center at Western Psychiatric Institutes and Clinic at UPMC. Dr. Hawthorne has provided assessments and ongoing therapy to children, as well as consultation in hospital clinics (feeding and NICU). Dr. Hawthorne has provided inpatient and outpatient care, in various early childhood settings including early intervention, Head Start, private practice, and early care and education centers. Dr. Hawthorne is internationally certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) and in Child and Parent Psychotherapy for Trauma (CPP). Dr. Hawthorne specializes in working with children and parents from toddlerhood into middle childhood, helping to decrease family conflict, and to increase child compliance and emotion regulation. 

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