CMU opens a unique family-training facility on campus

Central Michigan University is now home to one of the more unique research centers in the country, competing with the likes of Duke, the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California.

CMU’s Center for Children, Families and Communities was launched earlier this year with a $300 thousand federal grant.

It’s an effort to promote a specific relationship therapy and to expand the center’s services throughout the state.

The therapy is known as PCIT, or Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. It’s a coaching program intended to improve parents’ relationships with their children.

Dr. Larissa Niec is a Co-Director of CMU’s Center for Children, Families and Communities.

She said using “in-the-moment” feedback allow therapists to teach parents new ways to interact with their children.

“If you think about anything you have learned, maybe a sport or musical instrument, how have you really learned to develop mastery of that,” she asked. “You probably had someone who was skilled, listening to you, watching you, telling you, ‘There, you did that just right; keep doing that,’ or ‘Whoops, that wasn’t just right; let’s try it a little differently.’”

Niec said coaching is much more effective than sending families home with pointers and and telling them to practice on their own.

Typically, PCIT helps children with what are called “already-developed” behavioral problems, things like attention and attachment issues.

With that said, Niec and her associates are aiming to stop these issues before they evolve.

“We are adapting an evidence-based intervention to make it into a prevention service, so we can reach more families more quickly before the problem becomes so extreme that it requires really intense services,” Niec said.

That’s where the grant comes in.

According to Niec and her partner, Co-Director Ignacio Acevado, the grant marks an important step, but only the first to a much bigger plan. The initial grant is intended to launch the program.

The next step would include testing and evaluating it.

Dr. Acevado said the center has already submitted another grant proposal to continue their work at CMU.

“We plan to keep writing and submitting these proposals and keep doing that research that helps get people access to better services,” he said. “With adequate support from the university, this really should become a national center of excellence on how to engage rural communities. It has every possibility of being that.”

Acevado said these federal grants speak to the positive perception of the impact and novelty of the work that is being done at the center.

He said the type of work and the quality of the work being done reflects well on CMU, as a whole.

While the center focuses on PCIT and expanding its services, it also provides a new type of hands-on experience for CMU students.

Niec said the center and PCIT presents students with opportunities that are quite rare for their age.

“Graduate students who are a part of my research lab are trained in that evidence-based treatment, so they can become therapists or researchers in that treatment,” she said. “Undergraduates have the opportunity to work and learn skills similar to what parents are learning, but also similar to what the therapists are doing, and they often get the chance to work with the children and observe sessions.”

The center opens opportunities for up to 35 graduate and undergraduate students each year.

In addition to the PCIT training, the center provides other services, like therapy for couples.

More information about the Center for Children, Families and Communities at CMU may be found on their website.

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