Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Dr. Ryan Conway on Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

By | NESCA Notes 2018


Ashlee Cooper
NESCA Marketing and Outreach Coordinator


PCIT was first developed in the 1970’s. How did you become interested in this treatment?  

My first exposure to PCIT was in graduate school, in a course through my doctoral program that covered evidence-based therapies for childhood externalizing disorders, including ADHD and disruptive behaviors. I was immediately intrigued by the methodology given my interest in providing behavior therapy to young children and supporting parents.

What training is involved for a therapist who wants to provide PCIT?

PCIT training for therapists is highly structured and time intensive. It includes in-person training and live practice with PCIT Master Trainers, as well as ongoing consultation to ensure treatment is being delivered effectively.

Who is the target audience for this treatment?

PCIT is for young children, ages 2-7, along with their caregivers. It is an empirically supported therapy for children who demonstrate emotional challenges and behavioral problems (e.g., noncompliance, aggression). Some children might have a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and/or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), although it is not necessary to have a formal diagnosis in order to participate in treatment and get help!

How does PCIT work?

PCIT is a dyadic treatment, in which parents and children participate together. It is delivered in weekly 60-minute sessions that progress through two treatment phases. In PCIT, parents learn specialized techniques to improve interactions with their children and effectively manage their behaviors at home. What is unique about PCIT is that the therapist coaches parents in real time, where the therapist is able to observe certain behaviors and interactions while offering immediate feedback, which is then continuously practiced at home in between sessions.

Video Link: Dr. Conway explains PCIT


Can you speak more to the two phases of PCIT? Why is it important to complete the first phase before moving on to the second?

As mentioned in the video above, PCIT has two phases. The first phase is called Child Directed Interaction (CDI), in which caregivers learn and practice new parenting techniques in the context of playing with their child. However, even while playing, parents are practicing essential behavioral techniques for children who tend to have self-regulation challenges, such as giving lots of attention to positive behaviors and learning to ignore negative behaviors. CDI helps to promote positivity in parent-child interactions, which then sets the foundation for the second phase, called Parent Directed Interaction (PDI). The focus of PDI is teaching parents how to give effective commands and learning specific techniques to increase child compliance at home and in public settings.

What are some of the program goals? How long does it take to complete treatment?

Goals of PCIT include reducing challenging child behaviors, increasing child social skills and cooperation, improving the parent-child relationship and decreasing parental stress.

PCIT is time-unlimited, meaning that families remain in treatment until caregivers have mastered certain skills and child behaviors fall in the more typical range of development. While treatment length varies, given its structured, skill-based and targeted design, families typically graduate from treatment in about 12 to 20 sessions. Keep in mind that the length of treatment depends on each family’s specific needs, as well as other factors (e.g., regular attendance, completion of home practice in between sessions, and the intensity of the child’s behaviors at the onset of treatment).

When talking about PCIT, I have heard you say that parents are “not the problem, but part of the solution.” What do you mean by this?

Yes, I heard this once from a PCIT Master Trainer and it has stuck with me ever since! In PCIT, parents essentially are the agent of change in improving their child’s behavior. By promoting warmth in the parent-child relationship, learning new ways of relating to their child and employing both a consistent and predictable approach, parents are able to get back to enjoying their child again.

What advice do you have for families who may be considering this treatment?

There are many behavioral parent training programs out there, so it can be helpful to speak to a professional to determine which might be best for your family. While many parenting programs teach similar skills, PCIT is so effective because it emphasizes in session learning and practicing of skills through coaching, as opposed to separating learning in session and practicing at home. This process enables caregivers to feel increasingly equipped and confident in their parenting, after sometimes feeling defeated about ongoing behavioral challenges dealt with at home.

Are there any additional references to learn more about PCIT?

Yes, absolutely! Please check out my prior blog post about PCIT here: https://nesca-newton.com/pcit/ You can also visit PCIT International’s website (www.pcit.org) for additional information.

If parents or guardians would like to speak to you more about PCIT, how can they reach you?

I would be happy to speak with any caregivers who are interested in PCIT and/or wondering if the treatment would be a helpful next step. I can be reached at rconway@nesca-newton.com or (617) 658-9831.


Ryan Ruth Conway, PsyD
Clinical Psychologist

Ryan Ruth Conway, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts individual and group therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal.












Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.