4 Ways to Engage Fathers in the Counselling Process

John Koop Harder

The following excerpt comes from our book, Counselling in Relationships: Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections. The chapter, “Engaging Fathers,” explores the importance of fathers in families and how counsellors can involve dads in the counselling process so they can get to know themselves better, improve their relationships, and feel empowered in their role.

Regardless of why a father is involved in counselling, as I get to know these men, many describe valuing their role as a parent and often note that it is a powerful motivator for change. Because of this it is critical to explore their experience of fatherhood as it can be a key factor in addressing their articulated reasons for seeking support. What follows are four guiding principles I use to shape my work with fathers.

Regardless of why a father is involved in counselling, many describe valuing their role as a parent and often note that it is a powerful motivator for change.

Check assumptions about fathers

Just as our clients come with their own stories and histories, those of us who are helpers also have our own experiences of caregivers that may include growing up with absent or active parents. We too may be parents. It is important to be aware of these experiences and assumptions as they will shape our engagement, or lack thereof, with fathers.

Actively involve fathers

Compared with mothers, many fathers are not as engaged with supports and systems such as counsellors, schools, and health-care professionals. There are many obstacles that keep men and fathers from engaging. Some of these obstacles are internal, such as the myths of masculinity that isolate and silence men from seeking help or separate parenting into gendered roles. Other obstacles are external, such as service providers who make assumptions about the level or lack of involvement of fathers and men. This is why helpers need to put in extra effort to connect, engage, and develop their relationships with fathers.

It is important to be aware of experiences and assumptions that may shape our engagement, or lack thereof, with fathers.

Reflect on the role of being a father

Problems persist when we just do what we do, whereas health and connectedness thrive when there is awareness and intentionality in our actions. This is why helping fathers to self-reflect is key. Cultivating a sense of awareness around how they are and how they want to be as fathers creates a map toward becoming the dads they want to be.

Build upon their best self

The next step focuses on investigating and highlighting examples of fathers living their best selves as dads and looking for ways to amplify these preferred stories. This may also include documenting their successes and furthering these stories by actively acknowledging them.

As counsellors we need to be aware of a father’s needs, obstacles, and contributions to the family.

Dads need support for both themselves and their families. As counsellors we need to be aware of their needs, obstacles, and contributions to the family. We need to be aware of our own assumptions around men and fathers and take steps to better include them in the counselling process. We also need fathers to reflect on and envision what being a dad means to them, given their context.


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Author: John Koop Harder (MSW, RSW)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

John is the co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling Insights: Practical Strategies for Helping Others with Anxiety, Trauma, Grief, and More. The book is available on our website.

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