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Parents as Partners Programme
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The Effectiveness of Couple Therapy
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How Parents as Partners is helping couples communicate and benefitting their children 

Cowans November 2015 web

(Part 1 of 2) Professors Philip and Carolyn Cowan reflect on their upcoming visit to England, where they will meet with the staff of Tavistock Relationships, family service providers from around the U.K., and those responsible for family policy in the government and local authorities.

Professors Philip and Carolyn Pape Cowan from the University of California, Berkeley, have been evaluating couples group interventions to strengthen family relationships for many years and have been working with teams at Tavistock Relationships on these issues for a number of years. Along with their colleagues Marsha Kline Pruett and Kyle Pruett from Smith College and Yale University, respectively, they have offered programmes in the U.S. and Canada - most recently to parents who are vulnerable because of their poverty or inadequate models of couple or parent-child relationships.

Their programme for parents is considered a preventive one because such vulnerabilities in parents leaves their children more at risk for developing troubling behavior problems and having less success socially and academically. The Parents as Partners programme is based on several earlier interventions guided by a family systems model in which attachment patterns established early in children’s lives shape their emotional, cognitive, and academic development and their later relationships with romantic partners and their children. The Cowans’ goal is to provide a setting that can help to disrupt such negative cycles across the generations.

We’re looking forward to visiting the U.K. again to collaborate with our colleagues at Tavistock Relationships, and to learn about the progress of the Parents as Partners programme, which a dedicated TR staff has been offering for the past four years based on decades of work in the U.S. and Canada.

We have an exciting and busy agenda once we arrive, involving meetings with Tavistock Relationships staff and local authority leaders who have been delivering Parents as Partners groups to parents, initially in many London boroughs and more recently in cities and towns to the north east, north west, and south. We will be attending meetings with clinicians who have been trained to conduct Parents as Partners couples groups in many locales, with staff in new agencies interested in being trained in the couples intervention, and with Caroline Nokes, Minister of the Department Work and Pensions, which provided funding for the most recent Parents as Partners programme offerings.

We are eager to learn more about the orientation of the new government after Brexit in terms of family support for strengthening the relationships of parents - as couples and with their children - by taking a relationship approach. We are hopeful that these discussions can help build on the work that Tavistock Relationships and other partners in the relationship support sector have been engaged in, so that the links between relationship health, mental health, and economic stability are better understood. Results from the groupwork programmes we’ve conducted in the U.S. have clearly shown that that the quality of both couple and parent-child relationships is inextricably linked (see recent documents from the Early Intervention Foundation). We are heartened to see that the results of the first U.K. couples to complete the Parents as Partners programme are showing similar positive benefits. The first publication of those results for families in the U.K. is in press as we write this blog.

Over the past four years, the Parents as Partners couples group programme, funded by the British government, and offered by Tavistock Relationships paired with Family Action, has provided a unique opportunity for parents of young children. It combines aspects of couple relationship support for mothers and fathers together, help with effective parenting strategies, encouragement for fathers to become and stay active in their children's lives, and a way of helping both parents reflect on their own family histories in order to think more consciously about how they want to conduct their relationships as parents and partners in their families now. Parents are finding that this kind of support for reflecting on their own histories is helpful to their becoming more collaborative and less combative in their key family relationships. After participating in the 16-week, 32-hour programme with other couples, both mothers and fathers report that they feel less stressed, less combative, and more collaborative - and that their children are showing benefits as well by being less stressed and easier to manage. 

Part 2 will appear soon