Technology Boosts Success with Children's Trauma Behaviors

For parents and caregivers of children who have experienced severe trauma, managing their non-functional behaviors such as tantrums, defiance and extreme whinyness is a challenge. One of the techniques used by therapists at Kinship Center’s Children’s Mental Health Clinic in Tustin is “Parent-Child Interaction Therapy” (PCIT), an intensive treatment program designed to help both parents and children.

“PCIT improves the quality of the parent-child relationship and teaches parents the skills necessary to manage their child’s severe behaviors,” say Margaret Creek, MFT (shown here in the PCIT lab) and Sophia Sandoval-Meyer, LCSW, who are certified in this technique and are training other Kinship Center therapists.

Sandoval-Meyer, a senior Kinship Center therapist, explains the parallel process of having the therapist in headphones  interacting with and instructing the parent, who is with the child on the other side of the one-way window, while at the same time the parent interacts with the child based on instructions received through the earpiece. “The child doesn’t know we’re here, and while he or she is playing, the parent is building skills in how to notice and comment when the child does something positive and also when and how to ignore most behavior that is negative,” says Sandoval-Meyer.

“The child likes the close attention the parent is providing, and the positive behavior continues to be praised and reinforced,” says Creek, who is also a Board-certified art therapist. “We coach the parent to redirect certain behaviors or begin to talk about her own play, rather than focusing on something negative the child is doing. We might even tell the the parent to turn her back on the child for a moment. Of course the therapist can see how the child reacts, and can direct the parent what to say or do next.” Parents practice their new skills at home from the direction they have received in the laboratory, says Creek. “When parents do their ‘homework’ we see a significant behavior change in the first month or two. Parents now have a recipe book, and this builds their confidence. The outcomes and the feedback from parents have been overwhelmingly positive.”

The training is intensive. Sandoval-Meyer says that it took nearly a year to become certified, primarily because a requirement of certification is to successfully “graduate” two families  through the program. “It might take 18-24 weeks for a family to complete the treatment,” says Sandoval-Meyer. “But in what other therapy setting can you have exceptional results in only a few months? PCIT is an amazing program for Kinship Center.”

Kinship Center’s PCIT program is under the umbrella of the University of California Davis. In addition to training more therapists and expanding the program , Sandoval-Meyer and Creek are building a research program at Kinship Center based on guidelines from UC Davis on identification of  appropriate clients, pre and post-testing, documentation and data analysis.  “We expect the research to take perhaps three years,” says Creek. “It will be focused on post-adoption and will make our work evidence-based, which is increasingly desired by funders and is important in the field of children’s mental health.”

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