Subproject 1 – Effectiveness of an extended intervention program (early help plus) for children in the first two years of life
Subproject TP1 wants to examine mothers and their children in infancy who are cared for by early help. Early help itself is a support system with the aim of improving the development opportunities of parents and children and, above all, of supporting families in problematic situations. Pregnancy counseling, early intervention, child and youth welfare and other social services are among the classic areas of activity of early help. This is usually done through home visits to the families on site. Previous studies have shown that particularly stressed parents sometimes need even more support. In the present study, we would therefore like to examine whether additional advice to early help employees can be improved even further with the help of regular advice from employees of the university hospital. In this way, stressed parents should benefit even more from the support offered by early help. The employees of the early help team are trained in what is known as the “mentalization-based team approach” (MB-TA). This approach tries to train the empathy in the helpers. “Mentalizing” (“being able to read what is going on in the minds of others”) describes the ability to empathize with oneself and others with curiosity and empathy. We all have this ability; however, we sometimes lose them, especially in stressful situations. Maintaining and quickly regaining “mentalizing” can be trained. This facilitates mutual understanding even in difficult situations. The early help training is intended to convey the ability to mentalize in teamwork and in dealing with the families to be looked after. This should further improve the cooperation between the families and the caregivers.
Subproject 2 – Mentalization-based parenting training for mentally ill parents
According to scientific and clinical reports, parents with mental illness or who were exposed to severe stress during childhood often find it more difficult to adequately address their child’s emotional needs compared to parents without such stress. The aim of the subproject TP2 is therefore to examine the effectiveness of two programs to strengthen parental care behavior. Both programs are offered in addition to psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment at the Charité Psychiatric University Clinic in St. Hedwig Hospital in Berlin and the Clinic for General Psychiatry at Heidelberg University Clinic. One program includes a 12-hour mentalization-based parenting training in individual and group format (Mentalization Based Parenting Counseling, MB-PC), which extends over a period of 5-6 weeks. Mentalization describes the ability to understand the desires, motives, feelings and intentions behind the behavior of others and of oneself. The MB-PC program therefore aims to strengthen the parental mentalization with regard to the interaction with their child, e.g. to receive tips on how to better classify possible feelings and motives of the child in difficult behavior and to be able to react to them. The second program that we would like to investigate is an intensive course on the subject of parenting skills, which is offered as part of a 90-minute psychoeducational workshop in a group format. The focus is on receiving information about beneficial parenting behavior that can strengthen the parent-child relationship and how to deal with parental stress. The participants are also given the opportunity to exchange ideas with one another.
Subproject 3.1 – Mechanisms of action of mentalization-based parent training
Subproject 3.1 accompanies subproject 2 with the aim of examining the effects of parent training. Using specific behavioral tests and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain, various aspects of the parent-child relationship are examined, such as the ability of parents to understand the thoughts and feelings of their children and the motives behind the behavior . Mental disorders can affect the parent-child relationship. Mentalization-based parenting training can help improve the parent-child relationship. For this reason, we are investigating possible changes in the parent-child relationship in both healthy people and people with mental disorders. An understanding of the mechanisms of action of mentalization-based parenting training can help to successfully develop this form of training and to develop new parenting programs.
Subproject 3.2 – Bio-behavioral parent-child synchrony and child outcome in the context of intervention effects
Subproject 3.2 also accompanies subproject 2. The focus of subproject 3.2 will be aspects of psychological and biological synchronicity between parents and child. This synchronicity or “coordination” of parent and child is recorded in a joint interaction between parent and child, which is recorded on video. Cardiovascular parameters and hormonal parameters to determine biological synchrony are also recorded before, during and after the interaction. Mental health problems can affect the synchrony in the interaction between parents and children. Mentalization-based parenting training can help improve this synchronicity in interaction. For this reason, we are investigating possible changes in healthy people, but also in people with mental disorders. An understanding of the psychological and biological mechanisms of action of mentalization-based parent training can help to successfully develop this form of intervention and to develop new interventions.
Subproject 4 – How do children of adolescent mothers develop after starting school?
The aim of SP 4 is to examine the developmental course of children aged 6 to 7 years of teenage mothers in comparison to children of adult mothers. These mother-child dyads were examined from the age of 3 months up to kindergarten age at four measurement times within the framework of UBICA-I. From the age of 6 to 7 years it is now possible to record the development of the child from different perspectives (teacher judgment, self-judgment of the child) and to show the neural correlates of the social-cognitive abilities of the children within the framework of fMRI examinations. In particular, we now want to see differences between children of teenage and adult mothers in terms of long-term childhood (i) emotional and cognitive development, (ii) health-related quality of life and psychopathology, and (iii) social-cognitive abilities (empathy, theory-of-mind (ToM )) investigate. Furthermore, risk and protective factors for favorable versus unfavorable development trajectories of the children of teenage mothers are to be identified.