Written by Stacey Koller of New Haven Residential Treatment Center
Each June, New Haven sends several father-daughter pairs to Alaska. These attendees escape Utah’s early summer heat to enjoy the lush greenery and expansive nature of Alaska. Their return from the 2017 trip last week brought up reflection on the role that fathers play in their daughter’s life.
Numerous research studies have shown the positive impact an engaged father has on his children. At New Haven, it comes as no surprise that the health of an overall family system positively correlates with the mental health of each parent and child. Our own internal outcome measuring tools have confirmed this fact. We regularly assess and test the closeness our students have with each parent. As families progress through treatment towards transition, these relationships become stronger and healthier.
The father-daughter relationship directly impacts how a daughter perceives herself. Her identity, appearance and overall positive perception are impacted by how close she is to her father. This dynamic is particularly stark for our New Haven students who have struggled with eating disorders or body dysmorphia. For these students, the father-daughter relationship can play a large role in her recovery and long-term health. Research has shown that a daughter who has a distant father is more likely to struggle with food and weight.
Many fathers take a step back when their daughters hit the teenage years. Several years ago New Haven started watching these relationships more closely. We were able to confirm that this was in fact true, but found that during treatment the father-daughter bond grew immensely. However, upon returning home, we found that dads tended to fall back into old patterns—at the expense of the now close and connected relationship. So, New Haven took this data to design elements into our program to strengthen the father-daughter bond and to better prepare the family for their transition.
In addition to added preparation and candid discussions around keeping fathers highly engaged following transition from New Haven, we implemented new elements into our program to strengthen the father-daughter bond, including our Father-Daughter Alaska Trip. This trip is designed to draw fathers and daughters close through focused therapy and recreational activities including fishing, trail hiking, and exploring the wilderness. In Alaska, amid the breathtaking scenery, fathers are able to spend time in reflective conversation with their daughters. Away from the normal distractions of home, work, and even New Haven’s normal routine, our fathers and their daughters share an experience and deepen the bonds that will connect them for life.
For more information on New Haven Residential Treatment Center, visit their website.