A Qualitative Analysis of Attrition in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 2;19(21):14341. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192114341.


Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is one of the strongest evidence-based treatments for young children with behavior problems. Despite the efficacy of PCIT, many families fail to complete treatment, with attrition rates ranging from 30 to 69 percent. Preliminary research on attrition in PCIT treatment studies has linked maternal distress, negative verbal behavior (critical and sarcastic comments towards the child), lower socioeconomic status (SES), and fewer child major depressive disorder (MDD) diagnoses with premature termination from PCIT. However, more research is still needed to identify the range of reasons for treatment discontinuation. The purpose of the present study was to explore the range of reasons for premature termination from PCIT by conducting in-depth interviews with parents who discontinued PCIT using a qualitative design methodology. Results yielded eight themes, which were organized into three constructs: child-directed interaction (CDI) successes, difficulties with treatment, and the need for more clarity and orientation. Several existing treatment strategies that emerged from the data could be applied to PCIT to further enhance it and potentially reduce dropout (e.g., reconceptualizing dropout from PCIT, micro-orienting strategies used in other cognitive and behavioral therapies and dialectical behavior therapy). Understanding the reasons why parents drop out of PCIT and exploring different adaptations that can be made can further enhance this evidence-based treatment and increase its accessibility.

Keywords: parent–child interaction therapy; treatment attrition.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Verbal Behavior

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.