Implementation of Virtual Reality to Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Enhancement of Positive Parenting Skills: Study Protocol for Single-Case Experimental Design With Multiple Baselines

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Background: Disruptive behavior is a common reason for young children to be referred to mental health care services worldwide. Research indicates that treatments for child disruptive behavior where parents are the primary agents of change are most impactful. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an effective parent management training program currently implemented in therapeutic settings within the Netherlands. Ongoing research into improving the effectiveness of PCIT is being done within these settings. To further promote the key elements of PCIT, this study focuses on creating the opportunity for parents to practice positive parenting skills more outside of the clinical setting by adding virtual reality (VR) as an additional homework element. PCIT has shown to make impactful long-term improvements in parental warmth, responsiveness, and the parent-child relationship. Through VR, parents practice the taught parenting skills out loud in the comfort of their own homes in VR scenarios. We expect that VR addition will innovatively increase the effectiveness of PCIT. Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the added value of VR to PCIT by using a multiple baseline single-case experimental design (SCED). We expect to find that PCIT-VR will ameliorate positive parenting skills. By implementing the VR element, we secondarily expected that meeting the skill criteria will be achieved sooner, treatment completion rates will increase, and the parent-child relationship will be better, whereas parental stress and child disruptive behavior will decrease. Methods: A total of 15 children (aged 2-7 years) with disruptive behavior and their parents will be followed throughout the PCIT-VR treatment. Using a multiple baseline SCED with 3 phases, 15 families will fill out questionnaires weekly, in addition to having pre- and posttreatment and follow-up measurements to monitor their positive parenting skills, child disruptive behavior, parenting stress, and VR progress. Moreover, quantitative information and qualitative interviews will be analyzed visually and statistically and summarized to provide a complete picture of experiences. Results: As of February 2021, 6 families have been enrolled in the study at the moment of submission. Data collection is projected to be completed in 2023. Quantitative and qualitative results are planned to be published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as being presented at national and international conferences. Conclusions: The SCED-with its phased design, randomization, and the opportunity to replicate and assess both individual and group treatment effects-and adaptability of the VR technology are the strengths of the study. The risks of increased type I errors, maturation effects, or technological failure will be mitigated with the right statistical support. This study aims to magnify the scope of the treatment through additional skill training, ultimately in support of routinely implementing VR within PCIT.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere34120
JournalJMIR research protocols
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • PCIT
  • behavioral
  • child
  • disruptive behavior
  • disruptive behavioral problems
  • mental health
  • mobile phone
  • parenting
  • positive parenting skills
  • single-case experimental design
  • virtual reality

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