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Oct. 13, 2021

Making remote parent-child therapy a reality in Japan

Kumi Kuroda, Team Leader

Image of Kumi Kuroda

Laboratory for Affiliative Social Behavior, Center for Brain Science

Can you give us a summary of your research project?

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is a behavioral therapy that is used world-wide for preventing child abuse, preventing the recurrence of child abuse, and for children with problematic behaviors. It is usually conducted face-to-face, but overseas, remote PCIT has been conducted for about a decade. In our research, we are using brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the correlates of cognitive and behavioral changes in parents caused by remote PCIT, with the aim to generate behavioral neuroscientific evidence for improved child-rearing. We also plan to compile know-how together with practitioners so that remote family support can be utilized in Japan.

Why did you decide to undertake this project?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been global concern that the isolation of families could lead to increased child abuse and intimate partner violence. We felt a need to deploy remote family support especially in such a crisis. The lack of professional program providers was already an issue in Japan even before COVID-19. We believe that remote support can be useful not only during the COVID-19 but also for areas that simply lack support resources. In addition, since the research is being done at RIKEN, with its advanced neuroscience program, we can start to examine what neuroscientific changes are involved in changes of human nurturing behavior. This is an area that has not been sufficiently studied until now.

What methods are you using in your research?

First, we are recruiting caregivers who have had difficulties interacting with their children and are providing remote PCIT to them. The participants will be divided into two groups. The first group to receive PCIT will undergo a questionnaire survey, behavioral analysis, cognitive function tests, and functional MRI (Child-related Stimulus Conditions) tests at the beginning of PCIT, upon completion of PCIT, and four months after the completion. For the group that will perform PCIT later, the same survey and tests will be conducted four months before the start, at the start, and at the completion. In this way, changes in the caregiver's behavior toward the child can be assessed and further related areas can be searched for behavioral neuroscience.

What have you learned so far?

In the US, PCIT has been proven to be effective in preventing the recurrence of abuse and reducing problematic behavior in children. In addition, remote practice has been shown to be approximately equal to face-to-face practice. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that underlie the changes in parental cognition and behavior.

What future challenges are you confronting?

Many people are reluctant to adopt new approaches such as support programs. Careful consideration of family benefits and limitations should be made so that each family member and supporter can make a comfortable decision.