HONOLULU --A family-focused therapy program has been adopted recently by Tripler Army Medical Center with the intent to improve military family relationships.

Researchers and providers from the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services, School Behavioral Health Team and Child and Adolescent Psychology Services, here, have been collaborating with the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to adapt a therapy called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, or PCIT, for use with military families.

Medical research has shown that there is a gap in treatment and resiliency-building for military families with young children. PCIT, which is not a new therapy, uses research-based treatments to help children with disruptive behaviors.

According to the program description, parents are taught specific skills designed to improve the parent-child relationship, improve the child's attention and concentration, increase frustration tolerance and anger management and increase pro-social skills.

"When I started my internship (at Tripler), I wondered why they did not have this program at the hospital because of the military children and the difficulty with separation, deployments and adjustments," said Dr. Shantel Fernandez, licensed clinical psychologist, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services School Behavioral Health Team, TAMC, and Tripler's principal investigator for PCIT.

"What makes us different from other PCIT programs is that this is the first time this (treatment) has been looked at with military families," Fernandez explained. "The research shows that there is an increase in disruptive behaviors in kids, more marital problems and more child maltreatments (due to the increase in deployments.)"

This intervention therapy has been shown to effectively reduce behavior problems in young children, improve the parent-child relationship, and reduce parenting stress and depression.

For Barbara Pritchard, adult supervisor, Mokapu Elementary School, and wife of U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Allen Pritchard, U.S. Marine Forces-Pacific, the interaction therapy has dramatically changed the relationship between her and her 5-year-old daughter, Faith Blair.

"(Faith) was out of control, defiant, and refused to follow direction or listen to teachers at school," Pritchard explained. "The therapy coached me on behavioral therapy (techniques) and then Doctor Fernandez met separately with Faith. (Fernandez) went over guidelines and how to get the achieved goal from Faith focusing on positive interaction and reward in the beginning phase and then incorporating discipline techniques.

"It was a very relaxed and calm environment and (Doctor Fernandez) answered every question I had," Pritchard added.

Tripler's PCIT program is focusing on children ages 2-6 years old and averages 15-18 one-hour sessions.

Pritchard says that she and Faith, who attended sessions from late September 2011 until March 2012, are now able to spend time together enjoying activities and less time in conflict together.

"She responds more quickly to me and my requests," Pritchard said. "She used to push and test limits and now I only have to tell her things one time or remind her once. She respects me more as a parent and, I think, respects all adults much better."

As an adult supervisor at an elementary school, Pritchard has been able to use the skills and techniques she has learned with her daughter and apply it at work.

"I learned very good coping skills to use; not just in a one-on-one family setting, but also it helps in my career," Pritchard said. "(Working at a school) gives me a nice, relaxed environment to practice those skills."