The cornerstone of a child’s well-being, growth, and development is often rooted in their caregivers' mental and emotional health. Parental figures influence how children process information, behave, and interact with the world around them.
However, parents are human — and many parents struggle with maintaining their mental stability. Any parent can grapple with anxiety symptoms, attachment issues, and executive dysfunction, all of which can affect their parenting.
In these situations, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) can be a key source of help. Recognizing the profound connection between parental well-being and children's mental health, MST focuses on holistic therapeutic interventions for at-risk youth. MST treatment looks at the whole family, including the parents, who may need extra support both as a parent and as a human being.
The Impact of Parental Well-being on Children's Mental Health
Caregivers largely define our earliest bonds, attachments, and learning experiences, and research shows that children usually mirror their parents’ behaviors, moods, and coping mechanisms. This isn't just limited to traits like manners or speech patterns but also psychological attributes such as stress responses, emotional regulation, and interpersonal interactions.
Various studies reveal that children of parents who manage their mental well-being demonstrate better emotional regulation, social skills, and cognitive development. Conversely, children exposed to parental stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges can often exhibit mental health difficulties. Simply put, healthier parents often lead to healthier children.
Mental health concerns often have tangible consequences that can directly affect children. For example:
- A parent with substance use issues may struggle to give their children stability, routine, and attention.
- A parent who can’t self-regulate their emotions may often lose their temper with their children, causing their children to fear them and struggle with their feelings.
- A caregiver who struggles with executive functioning may find it hard to balance working with running a household, leaving responsibilities to fall to the eldest child.
- A parent with little-to-no support or social relationships may lean on their children for emotional care, which may overwhelm their children.
These mental health difficulties are not personal failings, nor do they make these people “bad parents.” But getting adequate mental health support can improve the parents’ quality of life and their children.
Studies — like this 2022 review published by the American Academy of Pediatrics — emphasize that therapy for children is often really about treating the entire family. MST therapists and MST treatment interventions aren’t just available to support the child but are extended to support the entire family.
When children see parents looking after their mental health, it normalizes acts of self-care, therapy, and positive coping techniques.
The Role of Therapists in Supporting Parental Well-being
Therapists are pivotal in bridging the gap between parental challenges and potential solutions. By creating a safe space for parents to address their challenges, therapists catalyze a positive ripple effect that inevitably benefits the child.
Through therapy, parents can:
- Express and process their emotions
- Address challenges in the present related topast traumas
- Explore ways to problem-solve the issues they’re currently facing
- Learn stress-reduction techniques
- Improve their emotional regulation skills
- Learn communication skills
Therapy can also help parents learn positive parenting skills, such as boundary-setting, communicating rules with their children, and coping with the day-to-day demands of caring for children.
When transferred to the household environment, these skills promote a more nurturing, understanding, and stable atmosphere. In turn, this can benefit the children and other family members.
Implementing Multisystemic Therapy (MST) for Holistic Family Support
Multisystemic Therapy, or MST, is an evidence-based, holistic approach to supporting at-risk youth.
Recognizing the interconnectedness of family dynamics, societal influences, and individual challenges, MST considers the client not just to be the child but the systems that surround them, including their family, school, neighborhood, and the greater community.
Unlike other therapeutic approaches, MST doesn't just focus on the individual but evaluates the broader environment in which they are embedded. It's grounded in the belief that for a child to thrive, the systems around them — including their caregivers — must be supported and strengthened.
Research has demonstrated that MST is highly effective at improving the behavior, mental health outcomes, and life trajectory of the children it treats.
Specifically, MST reduces:
- general behavioral problems
- substance abuse
- family problems
- involvement with deviant peers
- mental health crises
- psychiatric hospitalization
A key reason why MST is so effective, according to research, is that MST improves family relations. This includes relationships between caregivers and parent-child relationships.
Employing MST to Fortify Parental Well-being
MST offers a unique approach to its therapeutic interventions. Recognizing the myriad challenges parents face, from societal pressures to personal traumas, MST tailors its programs to fit each family's individual needs and strengths.
Through their interventions, MST provides:
- Individualized Therapy: Customized sessions that address specific parental concerns, ensuring that therapy is as effective as possible.
- Family Therapy: A qualified mental health practitioner will assess and address any negative family interactional patterns to improve communication and relationships amongst family members.
- Skill Development: Training for parents in areas like communication, stress management, and emotional regulation.
- Drug and Alcohol Treatment: Compassionate treatment for parents, teens, and family members with substance use disorders when use impacts functioning.
- Collaborative Support: Working in tandem with schools, community services, and other stakeholders to create a supportive environment for both parents and children.
- 24/7 Crisis Support: Because challenges can appear at any time, MST ensures that families have support whenever needed.
- Educational or Vocational Support: By addressing school and work issues (including unemployment), MST aims to support the family’s future and day-to-day quality of life.
By concentrating on parental mental health, MST not only aids parents in navigating their personal challenges but also ensures that children grow in a nurturing, supportive environment.
The relationship between parental well-being and children's mental health is deeply intertwined. As society becomes more aware of this profound connection, programs like Multisystemic Therapy offer a unique and holistic way of supporting children and their caregivers.
MST is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of interventions within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs, which could include but is not limited to the following types of therapies: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.