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Modern fatherhood: Balancing traditional expectations with changing gender norms: Video Course

Modern fatherhood: Balancing traditional expectations with changing gender norms: Video Course

Traditionally, the template for a stable family has comprised of two neat compartments: fathers take care of physical needs (finance, safety of family) while mothers provide the nurturing and emotional anchor. This compartmentalisation has meant that parenting as a domain of therapeutic study has tended to focus on mothers and mothering while focus on the role of fathers has been negligible. Fatherhood has practically been relegated to the background as a peripheral component of family life. This relative absence of attention is also present in the literature on parent-child attachment which centres on the mother as the primary caregiver.

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Course Credits

CPD: 3 / CE: 3


Dr Gwen Adshead, Tom Higgins

Course length in hours

3 hrs of video content

Full course information

However, a lot of contemporary research has now focused on the role of fathers in creating secure attachment in children. Our understanding of the crucial role of fathers has evolved tremendously since Bowlby’s research, which focused on the mother as the bond of attachment that nurtures and keeps children safe from danger while the attachment bond with the father promotes exploration and gives confidence to venture forth into the world. In today’s families though, the father is not a distant figure but an equal partner who provides both financial security and emotional anchor, just like the mother, and shares the responsibility of raising a family equally. In many blended and non-heterosexual families especially, fathers are not just the breadwinners but also the nurturers and primary caregivers.

In this seminar, we explore more recent studies of fathers and fathering from the perspective of Attachment theory; but also in the context of debates about sex role stereotyping, gender norms in different cultures, and changing ideas about the binary nature of sex and gender in terms of family structures and divisions of labour, both physical and emotional.

At this intellectually stimulating webinar, which will be of interest to psychotherapists, psychologists and counsellors across modalities, Dr Gwen Adshead will:

  • Review the origins of Attachment theory in terms of ethology and psychanalysis and discuss the gender exclusive nature of early work on the topic
  • Review later and more recent studies of attachment between fathers and their children; and the intersection with gender role stereotypes and cultural expectations of different sexes
  • Discuss the importance of the fathering role in terms of attachment security

In addition, in recent decades there have been enormous changes in gender roles with men no longer seen as the career-focused breadwinner and women confined to a role of homemaker and caregiver. Alongside, there have been significant legislative and societal changes in the lives of people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Fertility treatment and gay couples adopting children have changed what a family traditionally looks like.

Using this as the starting point, in the second part of the webinar, Tom Higgins will use three case vignettes and examples to discuss how modern conceptions of parental role manifest in the context of therapy seeking and childhood trauma. The three vignettes will examine some of these societal changes and explore what this means for fatherhood. We will explore:

  • The impact on both parents in a heterosexual relationship of parenting roles that differ significantly from traditional gender norms
  • What fatherhood means in a family for a gay male couple and their children
  • Parenting roles in a family for a lesbian couple and their children 

Some of the pertinent themes in contemporary family settings explored in the three vignettes will include:

  • An examination of attachment relationships in the family
  • Inter-generational and cultural expectations about parenting roles
  • The impact of societal pressure on families
  • The impact of childhood trauma and other difficulties that lead members of each family to seek therapy
  • Reflection on changes that came about for the three families (in these vignettes) during therapy

Specifically, the webinar will:

  • Examine the various factors that influence the construction of fatherhood, such as cultural context and understanding of gender roles
  • Explore the changes that took place during therapy, the impact on attachment relationships and approaches to therapy
  • Discuss early understanding of the role of fathers in families
  • Review of more recent research in attachment theory that addresses the role of fathers
  • Reflect on the implications for therapists

© nscience 2022 / 2023

What's included in this course

What you’ll learn

In this seminar, we explore more recent studies of fathers and fathering from the perspective of Attachment theory; but also in the context of debates about sex role stereotyping, gender norms in different cultures, and changing ideas about the binary nature of sex and gender in terms of family structures and divisions of labour, both physical and emotional.

Learning objectives

  • Explain the construct of fatherhood in three different family contexts/ constellations, using case examples
  • Discuss questions about attachment security and sex role stereotypes
  • Discuss the difficulties in attachment, parenting and perception of gender roles that lead members of the three families in the case vignettes to seek psychotherapeutic support

About the speaker(s)

Dr Gwen Adshead is a Forensic Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. She trained at St George’s Hospital, the Institute of Psychiatry and the Institute of Group Analysis.  She is trained as a group therapist and a Mindfulness-based cognitive therapist and has also trained in Mentalisation-based therapy. She worked for nearly twenty years as a Consultant Forensic Psychotherapist at Broadmoor Hospital, running psychotherapeutic groups for offenders and working with staff around relational security and organisational dynamics. Gwen also has a Masters’ Degree in Medical Law and Ethics; and has a research interest in moral reasoning, and how this links with ‘bad’ behaviour.

Gwen has published a number of books and over 100 papers, book chapters and commissioned articles on forensic psychotherapy, ethics in psychiatry, and attachment theory as applied to medicine and forensic psychiatry.  She is the co-editor of Clinical topics in Personality Disorder (with Dr Jay Sarkar) which was awarded first prize in the psychiatry Section of the BMA book awards 2013; and she also co-edited Personality Disorder: the Definitive Collection with Dr Caroline Jacob. She is the co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Forensic Psychiatry (2013) and the Oxford Handbook of Medical Psychotherapy (2016). She is also the co-editor of Munchausens’s Syndrome by Proxy: Current issues in Assessment, Treatment and Research. Her latest book, The Deluded Self: Narcissism and its Disorders (2020) is out now with nscience publishing house.

Tom Higgins is an attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist. He is a teacher, training therapist and training supervisor at the Bowlby Centre. He has trained in multiple modalities including group analysis, EMDR, Compassion-focused therapy and Mentalisation-based therapy.

He has worked for 25 years in NHS mental health services including Child and Adolescent mental health services and in Peri-natal mental health. For the past 15 years, much of his work has been with clients with complex trauma many of whom are struggling to look after themselves and struggling to parent their children.

He is passionate about supporting parents to understand the impact of their own childhood trauma and breaking inter-generational cycles, so as to enable them to better attune to the psychological needs of their children.

He now works in private practice as an individual, couple and group psychotherapist.

nscience UK is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. nscience UK maintains responsibility for this program and its content.

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