Parent-Child Interaction Therapy May Improve Depression and Emotional Function

Children engaged in an early depression intervention with a parent have shown improvement in rates and severity of depression as well as emotional function, according to a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

This single-blind randomized controlled trial included 229 children (age range, 3 to 6.11 years) who were randomly assigned to receive a treatment consisting of a parent-child dyad (n-114 dyads) who underwent parent-child interaction therapy with a new module for emotion development (PCIT-ED) and to be added to a waiting list (n=115). Children receiving PCIT-ED showed decreased rates and severity of depression compared with those in the waiting list, reduced impairment (Cohen’s d values >1.0),  and improved emotional function. Parents in the PCIT-ED dyads experienced improvements in depression and stress. 

The primary outcome of this study was a diagnosis of major depression, and secondary outcomes included severity of depression and scores on the Children’s Global Assessment Scale, Beck Depression Inventory–II, Preschool and Early Childhood Functional Assessment Scale/Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale, and Preschool Feelings Checklist-Scale Version. General linear models were used to evaluate continuous measures, and logistic regression was used to analyze diagnoses of major depression. 

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The study researchers concluded that “early intervention for depression may be a window of opportunity to modify emotional functioning, utilizing the powerful influence of the parent-child relationship during this relatively neuroplastic developmental period to remediate depressive symptoms. Given that depression is a chronic and relapsing disorder, these findings on an early, low-cost, low-risk psychotherapeutic intervention suggest that early identification and treatment of depressive disorders should become a public health priority.”


Luby JL, Barch DM, Whalen D, Tillman R, Freedland KE. A randomized controlled trial of parent-child psychotherapy targeting emotion development for early childhood depression [published online June 20, 2018]. Am J Psychiatry. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18030321