Therapy for Perinatal Mental Health

Therapy is a psychological approach to treating mental health disorders. If you are pregnant or postpartum and experiencing distress, you may be wondering how therapy can help you. 

What is therapy?

Psychotherapy, or therapy for short, is an approach to mental health treatment that involves sitting down with a licensed mental health professional to talk through whatever issues you are facing. The specific way in which a therapist helps a client work through their problems depends upon their approach. There are several different ways that mental health professionals can approach treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Therapy for perinatal mental health issues can be carried out by mental health professionals, like psychologists, social workers, or counselors. These are therapists that have undergone several years of education and training in the field of psychotherapy. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners typically prescribe medication, but in some cases may also provide therapy.

If you are struggling with perinatal mental health issues, like pre- or postnatal anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then you can benefit from therapy. For some people, therapy alone may be enough to reduce their symptoms and recover. However, other women may need to take a multi-disciplinary approach that combines other types of treatment with psychotherapy. This may involve taking medication, receiving medical treatment from a physician, and/or attending a support group. 

How can therapy help me?

Psychotherapy provides you with a safe and private space to talk about whatever you are feeling with a trained professional. Therapy can help you recover from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders by:

  • Developing a supportive relationship with a therapist
  • Helping you develop insight into your feelings
  • Changing the way you think about specific situations
  • Learning new ways to cope with your feelings
  • Identifying solutions to problems

Unlike talking to friends or family, a therapist is bound by laws and ethics to keep your discussions confidential. This means that a therapist cannot reveal what you have shared in session without your permission, except in cases where you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else or in some cases of abuse. 

The relationship between a client and therapist is important for having a successful therapeutic experience. To benefit from therapy, you must feel comfortable opening up to your therapist. A good therapist will challenge you, but also convey warmth, empathy, and understanding. 

Over the past several decades, many studies have found that therapy is effective for treating mental health disorders. In fact, 75% of people who go to therapy find it to be beneficial. Psychotherapy is therefore an effective treatment if you are dealing with emotional issues, including prenatal and postpartum mental health disorders, as well as struggles with fertility and grief and loss

man in black suit jacket using smartphone
Several studies have proven that therapy is effective for treating mental health symptoms.

Types of therapy for perinatal mental health

There are several different ways to approach treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Therapists may utilize one or more of these approaches together to treat mental health conditions.

Cognitive behavioral

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a practical and goal-oriented therapy that focuses on helping you change unhealthy thoughts and beliefs. CBT assumes that your thoughts affect your emotions, which in turn also affect your behaviors. By changing your thoughts, you are then able to change how you feel and respond to life’s stressors. CBT also teaches you tools for dealing with negative feelings and stress so that you can cope more effectively. 

Interpersonal

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a brief form of treatment for depression that typically lasts 12 to 16 sessions. IPT assumes that depression is caused by relationship problems, like complicated grief, difficulty coping with role transitions (such as the adjustment to parenthood), conflict with one’s self or others, and isolation. An IPT therapist helps you identify one or two specific problem areas and work on ways to improve them. IPT clients often find that improving their relationships also helps improve their depression.

Behavioral

Behavior therapy is based on the premise that unhealthy behaviors can be learned and therefore changed. This approach helps people change their negative behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. There are several different types of behavior therapy. Exposure therapy is one type that is effective for treating anxiety disorders. It involves exposing clients to something that makes them feel anxious, while teaching them ways to cope so they don’t avoid these things in the future. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another type of behavior therapy that helps clients learn ways to deal with stress and other negative emotions, develop mindfulness skills, and improve their relationships. 

Psychodynamic

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how a person’s unconscious thoughts and feelings influence their present behaviors. It helps you better understand how your past is affecting you in the present. This greater understanding and awareness leads to symptom relief. Psychodynamic therapy can be short or long-term depending upon what the client needs. 

Humanistic

Humanistic therapy is an approach that focuses on the here-and-now, rather than the past. The goal of humanistic approaches is to help clients reach their maximum potential. Humanistic therapists use empathy and support to create a safe therapeutic relationship. Most therapists utilize humanistic approaches in their work with clients and combine it with other approaches.

Therapeutic modalities

In addition to different approaches to therapy, there are also different modalities to consider. Each modality provides its own unique benefits. You can choose to participate in one or more of these modalities at the same time. 

Individual therapy

Individual therapy is the most common modality and the one that most people prefer to take at first. It involves sitting one-on-one with a therapist. The focus of sessions is on your specific thoughts, feelings, experiences, and symptoms. In individual, the therapist is able to focus on you and does not have to share their attention with other people like in group or family therapy. Many people find this approach to be the least stressful, as they only have to worry about revealing themselves to one person, the therapist. 

Group therapy

During group therapy, a trained mental health professional leads a group for several clients at the same time. Some groups focus on a specific topic, like past trauma or stress management. Process groups are another type of therapy group that allow clients the freedom to discuss and work through whatever issues arise. There are several benefits of group therapy, including:

  • Giving and receiving support and advice
  • Developing connections with other people
  • Seeing people at various points in the change process, which can provide hope
  • An opportunity to practice social skills in a safe and supportive environment

Group therapy can be helpful either on its own or in conjunction with individual. 

Family and couples therapy

Family or couples therapy can be helpful if your issues or symptoms are related to problems in your relationships. In this modality, you and your partner and/or other family members sit down with a therapist to talk about your particular issues. Common problems that are discussed in family and couples treatment include poor communication, parenting differences, misunderstandings, intimacy issues, and infidelity. A good family or couples therapist will try to understand the particular issue(s) and help you address them in a more effective way that is satisfying to all parties involved. 

woman in white dress shirt and black skirt sitting on gray couch
Individual, group, and couples or family therapy can all be helpful for people suffering from perinatal mental health disorders.

How can I find help?

If you’re interested in trying therapy there are a few ways that you can approach getting help. You can:

  • Conduct an online search of local mental health providers in your area
  • Search a directory or listing of specialists (for example, if you’re looking for a provider that specializes in perinatal mental health, you can refer to Postpartum Support International’s directory)
  • Contact your health insurance company for a list of mental health specialists
  • Ask your physician or healthcare provider for a referral

A good therapeutic relationship between client and therapist is essential for treatment to be effective. Finding a therapist that you feel comfortable and safe with is important. Don’t get discouraged if you have a hard time connecting with a therapist at first. If that is the case, you may choose to bring up your feelings to the therapist and/or try out another provider.

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Suffering from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder can be distressing. Fortunately, therapy is an effective form of treatment for treating these conditions. If you are considering therapy, you will want to think about what modality and type of approach you would like to try. Getting treatment can not only help you recover, but also feel more positive about your pregnancy or postpartum experience.

therapy

The Mindful Mommy

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