ubica II

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The UBICA II Project
Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Germany

Mentalisation-based Parental Training for Mentally Ill Parents – Supporting Families with Access to the Psychiatric Support System not to Pass on Their Own Burdens to the Next Generation

The goal of UBICA II is to support burdened parents in their relationship with their children and to better understand the effects of parental stress on the parent-child relationship. The burden can be their own mental illness, their own difficult childhood experiences or a current difficult life situation.
read more... At the Aachen site, specialists from the Early Aid (“Frühe Hilfen”) System (an institution of the German welfare system that supports burdened families in coping with everyday life and caring for very young children) are trained to better understand and change parental psychological conditions that put a strain on the relationship with their own children and can lead to difficult interactions in order to support these families.

In addition, we investigate whether support through social networks has a positive effect on parents. At the Berlin and Heidelberg sites, mentally ill parents who are currently in psychiatric and/or psychotherapeutic treatment are offered mentalization-based parental training. The focus of the program is to gain a better understanding of what the child is emotionally preoccupied with, e.g. what emotional states and needs can be hidden behind difficult behavior and how parents can understand and regulate their own difficult emotional states in their relationship with their children.

This parent training is scientifically investigated in a randomized controlled study in which parents are randomly assigned to the new or a conventional intervention. The conventional intervention follows a psychoeducational approach by informing about favorable parenting behavior and providing knowledge about how parents can reduce their stress. The development of our prevention program was based on previous results of our research group (UBICA I - 1st funding period ). We found in UBICA I that the ability to understand the child's needs is a key characteristic of a positive parental relationship. If the effectiveness of the program can now be demonstrated in UBICA II, we aim to introduce it soon into the routine care of psychiatric hospitals.

The parent training is accompanied by several experimental studies. We want to understand how the program unfolds its effectiveness on parental behavior. In Berlin and Heidelberg we want to find out how the parenting program affects the concrete behavior between parents and child in different situations (e.g. when playing together or during stress), but also how biological processes such as hormone release, brain activity or vegetative activity have an impact on the behavior of parents and children. We also focus on the question of whether parent training has an effect on the fine-tuning (so-called synchrony) in the exchange between parents and child.

Finally, at our site in Aachen, we examine mothers from UBICA I who were still in their teenage years at the time their child was born. We look at how the relationship with the child succeeds and how the child develops in comparison to children of adult mothers. Again, the synchrony between mother and child and the biological measures involved will be a focus of the study.

Prof. Dr. Sabine Herpertz, Ubica-II coordinator

Summary of UBICA-I Project's  Findings
Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Germany

Early abuse in life can have serious and long-lasting consequences for both the directly affected individual and the next generation.
read more... Data from UBICA-I, including mother-child dyads from Heidelberg and Berlin, show that early-life abuse is associated with behavioral and neural changes, including personality traits and care styles of affected mothers that negatively affect the relationship with their child. The children of these mothers, who are affected by early-life abuse, have an increased risk of being abused and developing mental disorders.

They also show increased cortisol concentration in the serum and reduced inhibition control. Functional imaging showed that traumatized mothers, unlike non-traumatized mothers, pay more attention to negative than positive interactions with their child. It seems important whether the mother experienced abuse in the early life, but is resilient, which means that she has not developed a mental disorder (until the time of the examination) or whether she has developed a mental disorder in addition to the early abuse in later life.

Children of mothers with early-life abuse and lifelong mental disorder seem to be particularly stressed, showing the greatest impairments and risks.

Romuald Brunner, UBICA-I coordinator

Forschungsverbuende gegen Gewalt und Missbrauch in Kindheit und Jugend