How Community Family-Enhancement Programs Can Help Families Learn and Grow (part II)

by Mar 17, 2023Family Counseling

In our last post, we looked at community health, thriving families and parenting education. In
today’s post, we will explore the role fathers play in healthy family systems.

Focus on Fathers

Pruett et al (2019) conducted some research and found that when father involvement increased, there was a concommitant decrease in couple conflict. This translated into more supportive coparenting. Positive father involvement influenced positive child outcomes, and saw either indirect or causal increases in household median incomes of $5000 per year.

One surprising finding demonstrated how father involvement from within the child welfarereferred group was higher and with more positive outcomes compared to a control group. This study also determined that mixing two groups of fathers and families, those who had been referred by child care agencies and those from a general control group, had a beneficial effect on all, with the possibility that removing stigma attached to child welfare agency protections helps normalize experiences for eveybody, and allows for increased engagement and self-reflection.

In addition to the above study, other similar programs focused on fathers and educating them about their own beliefs about emotions (in general and in their children). Teaching these fathers actual emotion coaching helped them express emotions and empathize with others.

Fathers reported that their own role models had never expressed or understood emotions, and that this particular workshop helped these fathers open up to their children and other significant people in their lives. Fathers became less dismissive of emotions.

Fathers’ partners also benefited (surprisingly) as the fathers displayed less emotion-dismissing behaviors; both fathers and partners reported greater parenting self-confidence and self-efficacy. Children’s prosocial behavior also showed improvement. This study demonstrated that fathers are open to improving relationships with their children.

Fathers, and males in general, may particularly benefit from akcnowledging repressed emotions. Fathers who partake in enhanced emotional connections with their significant others, children and families will have benefited from emotion-focused therapeutic interventions.

Emotion focused therapy uses therapeutic regard, engagement and alliance to support lived experiencing of emotional processing. Emotion focused therapy also uses role play exercises where reaching into the emotional dynamics of shame, guilt, blame, and enacting understanding and collaboration between repressed negative stances and one’s true inner center allows for a re-centering in one’s authentic voice.

In addition, when fathers (and other caregivers) have tapped into their emotional networks, they are freer to choose appropriate treatments.

Emotion-Focused Family Therapy

Family systems approaches are needed to help children with mental and emotional disturbances since optimal caregiver functioning is tied to positive parenting and positive child-rearing. In addition, positive-parenting models emotion regulation for children. Emotional dysregulation may be viewed as a marker, symptom and outcome of mental dysregulation.

Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) targets parental stress, the latter which leads to anxiety and emotional dysregulation. EFFT helps families address feelings of low self-efficacy and consequent dysregulation by transforming parental emotional blocks and unprocessed emotions. Parental fears of causing distress in their children are also taken up with EFFT.

Timulak & Keogh (2019) found that when well-adapted, emotions help and work as signals; when maladaptive, emotions can take up chronic and intransigent positions such as helplessness and anxiousness.

Emotional schemas from the past act as barriers to self-efficacy, and don’t allow for integration of prior material. Triggers can have historical origins, for example in childhood traumas and neglect; internalization of caregiver negative cognitions about self; and humiliations, along with all sorts of injuries to the emotional system. Triggers can also be contained in current situations which cause injury and perpetuate cycles of dysfunction, in turn leading to negative valuing of self and concomitant despair, anxiety and fear of rejection or re-victimization.

Lafrance Robinson et al (2016) conducted research on emotion‐focused family therapy for eating disorders and found that EFFT teaches advanced caregiving skills to caregivers, postulating that even if caregivers have low self-efficacy, fear, shame, or even mental illness, they can still emotionally self-regulate and gain self-confidence so as to step into recovery coaching roles for their children with eating disorders.

This study showed decrease in self-blame, and concomitant emotional regulation in parents, which in turn elevated self-efficacy. Parents reported engaging in new behaviors after only one day of the workshop, with intentions of integrating new perspectives into their daily lives with their children.

When parents are taught to look at emotions instead of behaviors, they become emotion coaches for their children, and find they can relate better: they are not evaluating behaviors. Parental selfefficacy rises and child symptomology drops.

Even single-session therapy used for walk-ins provides good outcomes, and may also be utilized in a community setting as another type of intervention where families can drop in and be allowed to express frustrations and find guidance.

Future studies could include setting up drop-in emotion-focused sessions for families seeking help. These participants can experience choice as to what day or days they pick to arrive. The participants may also have the option of keeping the intervention to brief one-time sessions, or else signing up for longer activities. The longer-duration activities could be provided in a menu format so that participants can decide for themselves which ones they feel will most benefit them and their families.


Parenting programs, interventions and therapies offered at the community level can provide families with practical measures for dealing with family dysfunction. Community members and families benefit from empathetic clinicians whose focus remains on caring for children with problematic behaviors.

Programs need to set a level-playing field for participants. Instead of blaming parents whose present or past behaviors/situations may be problematic, and translating that blame into specific interventions aimed at populations who feel stigmatized, future invitations into therapeutic and family communities/programs should omit any hints at outsider status. Instead, parents or caregivers should be invited to participate as co-creators.

References :

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