Skip navigation

Clinic for Child & Family Psychology banner

Specialty Clinics

Disruptive Behavior Clinic



The clinic provides thorough evaluations of children and adolescents who are having disruptive behavior problems such as aggression, anger, oppositionality and non-compliance. The evaluation includes child, parent, and teacher interviews, family history, structured diagnostic interviews, behavioral observation, and completion of standardized questionnaires.


The clinic offers several effective treatments for disruptive behavior problems, including behavioral family therapy, parental management therapy, aggression replacement therapy, and individual cognitive-behavioral therapy. Research has shown that a combination of family and individual psychological treatment is usually the most effective approach to treating these kinds of problems. Medication is generally not effective for treating the core disruptive behavior symptoms, though medication can be helpful for children with co-occurring ADHD. Progress will be assessed on a regular basis using standardized psychological instruments in addition to real-life indicators of change such as number of school detentions, homework completion rate, or frequency of arguments.


Youths with disruptive behavior problems frequently present with other co-occurring problems such as ADHD, depression, and academic problems. Such youths may benefit from additional treatments geared toward these co-occurring conditions. Some of these co-occurring conditions, such as ADHD, may benefit from medication. The clinic does not offer pharmacological treatments, but will provide referrals to child and adolescent psychiatrists for medication consultation

For information and referral, call the clinic at 303-871-3306

How common are disruptive behavior disorders?

Disruptive behavior disorders represent 1/3 of referrals to child psychological clinics and roughly 15-20% of youths under the age of 18 will meet clinical criteria for a disruptive behavior disorder. Many children with other disorders such as ADHD and depression also have problems with aggression and self-control, and may benefit from treatment of these problems as well.

What types of problems are included?

Two primary syndromes are included under the category of disruptive behavior disorders. The first, seen often in younger children, is characterized by a pervasive pattern of negative interactions with adults and peers, and non-compliance with adults. Such children often have difficulty following rules at home and school and often seem unresponsive to punishment. The second, more severe pattern of disruptive behavior is characterized by frequent rule-breaking behavior that can include truancy, vandalism, theft, and starting fights. Conduct disorder can range from mild to severe, and may include serious infractions of the law.

Can these types of problems be effectively treated?

The earlier these problems are addressed the better. Disruptive behavior disorders are very stable and tend to get worse with time if left untreated. The good news is that the treatments for disruptive behavior disorders offered at our clinic have met the very stringent criteria for evidence-based treatment of childhood disorders outlined by the American Psychological Association. A substantial number of well-controlled studies have shown that behavioral family- and skills-based psychological interventions are superior to no-treatment, medication treatment, and non-behavioral treatment in alleviating disruptive behavior problems. In particular, evidence suggests the importance of parent management therapy, the predominant approach in six of the nine “most effective” treatments for disruptive behavior disorders and a prominent component of two others. Therefore, parent- and family-based treatments represent the first-line treatments recommended by the major psychological and psychiatric associations. The principles and skills learned in parent management therapy and individual cognitive behavioral therapy not only help youths and their families overcome current difficulties, but also can prevent the development of worse problems in the future.