Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

Take-Home Objects for Parents in Family Therapy

In partnership with a New York City-based child mental health institution, our Emotion-Centered Design approach was used to supplement the existing program by designing a set of tools to help parents to remember to practice their skills more often at home.

Project Timeline: September 2012 to May 2014

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is an evidence-based therapy program to support children with what’s called disruptive behavior disorder. The therapy is centered on treating the parent. The clinicians who facilitate the program teach parents special interaction skills to encourage the positive behaviors of their children. 

Phase 1 | Discover

After learning skills in the clinic, the parents’ progress in the program depends on them practicing these special skills at home correctly and frequently. The original treatment protocol is for clinicians to give parents take-home worksheets to log practice time and results. By shadowing clinicians during therapy and conducting interviews with parents, it became clear that the worksheet is the weak link affecting the success of treatment.

Phase 2 | Envision

The Envision phase resulted in the new understanding that the difference between the treatment experience in the clinic and practicing at home is essentially about the quality of the environment the parent is in; the clinic room is uncluttered and controlled for parents to have optimal focus, yet in contrast, when parents go to practice the skills at home the environment is understandably unpredictable. Parents need to metaphorically bring their focus and skills home with them.

The main shift in focus was about asking, “What if this wasn't just a figure of speech? What if parents could literally bring their therapy skills home with them?

Phase 3 | Build

The final product is two-fold: one part service, one part object. Through an orientation service a designer introduces the object and the parent identifies a time and place one particular skill most needs to be practiced, for example: The skill “Praise” during breakfast time at the dining table. The parent is given the object, takes it home and places the object above the breakfast table as a reminder to practice “Praise.”

Phase 4 | Sustain

The strength of this object is reinforced by the weekly therapy sessions parents have with the clinician. Because the part of the design solution is an object that is present in parents’ homes, parents are visually reminded to continue practice even after they’ve graduated from the therapy program.

Watch a talk about this project.

Therapy Skill: Behavior Description

Therapy Skill: Behavior Description

Therapy Skill: Reflection

Therapy Skill: Reflection

Therapy Skill: Labeled Praise

Therapy Skill: Labeled Praise