Friday, June 22, 2012

MGH program teaches fathers to engage

FATHERLY FOCUS: Levy at one of several Father's Day-themed events hosted by the White House.

What can we do to help men become better fathers? In honor of Father's Day, a group of experts gathered at the White House June 13 to help address that very question. Among them was Raymond A. Levy, PsyD, director of The Fatherhood Project in the MGH Department of Psychiatry.

Levy founded The Fatherhood Project in 2010 after years of counseling families and studying data about the father-child relationship. Over time, Levy saw a pattern - children with absent dads often have higher rates of substance use, mental health problems and teen pregnancy. On the flip side, he saw that children who have fathers who are emotionally engaged do much better throughout their life; for example, they are less likely to break the law when they get older.

"In The Fatherhood Project, we teach men how to relate to their children whether they live with them or not. That seems to be the key to good parenting - the ability to connect to a child's emotional world, regardless of whether both the father and child live together in the same house," says Levy. "Research shows that behavioral, social, emotional and academic outcomes are all better if a child has a father who is emotionally engaged. The findings are very powerful."

The Fatherhood Project offers counseling to individual fathers, couples and families as well as group sessions to teach fathers skills to improve their parenting. "For some men, learning how to control their temper may make a real difference. We teach men that they need to be able to regulate their own emotions before they will be able to be an effective father," Levy explains. "For others, we teach them how to show affection. We also teach empathy -how to put yourself in your child's shoes - and the importance of being a role model for your child."Both the individual and group sessions are covered by most insurance companies.

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