Suicide is a scary word and if you work in the mental health field it is a word that conjures up panic in the hearts of dedicated professionals who are trying hard to support, enlighten, inform and protect individuals who might be tormented or tempted by the distorted lure of an end to their suffering.
An end to suffering. It was what we work for, what our clients wish for and if we are not careful, it is what they die for.
I think I can say with confidence that pregnant and postpartum women in despair do not want to die.
They might, however, believe that their baby would be better off without them. They might misinterpret their hopelessness as a permanent state, rather than a symptom that can be treated. They might pay too much attention to the intrusive thoughts screaming in their head and think they cannot possibly be a good mother. They might, through the lens of depressive thinking, believe that they have no other option.
In a recent piece written by Rich Larson, “It’s Not What You Think”, he poignantly and skillfully describes the misunderstood and unpredictable nature of depression and suicide after the death of an adored musical artist, Chris Cornell. In this piece, Larson writes:
…it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden. And then it gets to be too much. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a mom, an accountant or a rock star. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written about it your entire life as a means of keeping it at bay. It doesn’t matter if the music you made about it brought in fame, respect and millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if your entire generation has suffered from it. Depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you die alone in the bathroom.
This was a well-respected member of his community; a beloved musical hero who seemed to have it all together. This could have been any of us. And brothers and sisters, if it’s you, don’t mess around with it. Please find some help.
This scares us. As well it should.
Which is why we teach novice therapists to take any mention of suicide very seriously. While that may seem too obvious to mention, we forget, sometimes, because postpartum women are so good at looking good, because we believe they don’t really want to die, because we believe that passive thoughts are transitory and less dangerous than active thoughts or plans.
Still, some therapists wonder: When should we intervene? How bad does it have to get? What if we insult her by presuming the worst? What if we are wrong? What if we are overreacting?
I say, overreact. Protect her. Prepare for the worst scenario because, well, severe symptoms of depression are unpredictable, they are volatile and they are seductive. They can convince the most loving and precious mother that the opportunity to disappear forever is the only and the best option.
Passive thoughts of suicide should alert every therapist to the possibility that darkness is looming. She should not be expected to stay there too long without a lifeline. Get in there with her and sit with her suffering. No matter how good or healthy she looks, do not be tempted to let her sit there alone with these thoughts.
- Sharp objects, weapons removed.
- Medications should be out of reach.
- Reduce access to potential means of harm.
- Make phone calls; instruct loved ones to stay close. She should not be alone.
- Implement a safety plan.
- Be clear about your intention and ability to safeguard her.
- Let her know she is safe with you and that the option to hurt herself is NOT the only option; It just feels like it is.
- Let her know that a decision to kill herself will have permanent and tragic consequences on her children and her entire family.
- Let her know that you will do whatever you can to help her pass by this open window and not jump, today. Delay the impulse.
- Remind her that these are distorted thoughts. When the symptoms are treated, she will no longer feel this way. Tomorrow is an option.
Do not underestimate the power of depressive thinking. Do not presume she will be okay because she has convinced you that she is fine. Do not presume she does not have a weapon in the house because she doesn’t look like someone who would.
Ask the hard questions. Then, ask again. Do not let her suicide note be her first opportunity to express her suffering.
Karen Kleiman, MSW
Does your relationship need a booster shot?
Are you taking good care of your self?
Are you taking good care of your partner?
Here’s a brief primer that can help kickstart your connection.
Selfless support refers to the energy and attention we place on our partner. It’s about him. Or her. Not me.
Selfless support is easy to ignore. When our relationships feel strained, we can begin to feel self-absorbed and anxious for something in return. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to feel more connected is by paying attention to the needs of your partner. Selfless support refers to each partner’s attention to the emotional well-being of the other partner. Investing in the relationship is one of the best ways for you to reap the dividends!
Generosity, unconditional acceptance, determination, restraint and self-worth; these are the components of selfless support that make enhance connection.
Take this pledge. Remember these rules of selfless support and the underlying principle upon which they are based:
- I will act in your best interest at all times. (generosity)
- What is important to you is important to me. (unconditional acceptance)
- I will do what I say I will do. (determination )
- I will refrain from asking or wondering what I will get out of this. (restraint)
- I will let myself be loved (self-worth)
I will act in your best interest at all times. This statement is one of spirit. A generous nature is one that balances a belief in the partner with a belief in oneself. It does not imply a forgoing of self-interest. Rather, it’s a sense that if you are okay, then I am okay. And vice versa, of course.
What is important to you is important to me. This statement implies an unqualified, nonjudgmental position. These are no absolutes, as there will surely be times or circumstances when life gets in the way and positions must shift to accommodate the moment. The components of this pledge entail the heart, not the head. Sometimes the heart can override the details of the moment, and sometimes, for sure, it must not.
I will do what I say I will do. Follow up is crucial. Words don’t always hold value if they are not followed up with action to support it.
I will refrain from asking or wondering what I will get out of this. Restraint is a form of bigheartedness, especially if you are restraining from anger or contempt. Having control over negative responses is a gracious and selfless stance.
I will let myself be loved. When you allow others to support and give to you, you are at the same time, giving them the pleasure of doing something good for you and allowing yourself the pleasure of receiving it. This is not easy for everyone to do but it is a win-win situation. Our brain’s pleasure centers respond positively which turns the act of giving and receiving into a mutually gratifying experience.
Keeping the principles of selfless support in mind at all times will help you focus on the core of your relationship, rather than the emotional residue that may be contaminating the work you are doing. It will help you consolidate your individual and mutual efforts while you continue to secure your connection.
Adapted from “Tokens of Affection” by Kleiman and Wenzel (Routledge)
Photo credit: Antonio Guillem
Say them. Say them aloud. Write them on a post-it. Post reminders in places you are most likely to see them. Say these statements several times throughout the day. You don’t have to believe them. You just have to say the words. As you continue to recovery, you will start to believe what you are saying.
1. I’m doing the best I can.
2. This is going to take a long time, whether or not I try to speed it up. I must take one day at a time.
3. I cannot expect too much from myself right now.
4. It is okay to make mistakes.
5. There will be good days and bad days.
6. It is okay for me to have negative feelings. If I fight having these feelings, it might take longer to feel better.
7. Even though I feel so bad, just getting through the day is proof of my strength. I can be proud of how much I have accomplished when I get through the day feeling this bad.
8. I know that some of the pain I am feeling right now is part of the recovery process.
9. Today, when I am feeling bad, I know that I will not feel bad all of the time. This is just a bad day. I will get through this day the best I can. I will try to rest. I will pamper myself a bit. I will treat myself well because I deserve it. And I will wait this out.
10. Some of what I am feeling is just like what other mothers feel. Not all of my bad feelings are symptoms of PPD. All mothers of new babies feel tired, irritable, or stressed at times.
11. It’s okay that not everyone understands what I am going through. I still have a real illness that is treatable, even if other people don’t know anything about PPD.
12. I will feel like myself again.
Adapted from “This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression” (De Capo Press) by Kleiman & Raskin
You do not feel like yourself. You wonder if this is what being a new mother feels like. You are worried all the time and find it’s hard to take a deep breath. You believe that if you tell anyone how you are feeling they will either dismiss it as normal or tell you that you should be happy because your baby is healthy and everything is fine. You are concerned that if they knew some of the thoughts you were having they would deem you an unfit mother.
So you don’t do anything.
Your symptoms are making you doubt yourself right now. Symptoms of depression and anxiety have a way of making you believe this is about who you are. It is not about who you are. It’s about having symptoms that are treatable. Find a safe place where you can talk about how you are feeling so you can find relief. Research has shown that the earlier you seek help for any postpartum-related anxiety or mood disorder, the sooner you will feel better and the smoother your recovery will be.
Therefore, if you have recently had a baby and do not like the way you are feeling, you should:
1) Believe yourself. No one is in a better position to assess how you are doing than you are. Trust your instincts. You do not need validation from anyone else. What you need is clarity, support, and possible treatment, depending on the symptoms you have.
2) Stop comparing yourself to others or to your own expectations of perfection. Right now. It does not matter how others are doing or what things look like from the outside. Everyone has her own struggle. Listen to your heart.
3) Talk to your partner. Even if you are worried that you will be misunderstood. Sit your partner down and find your bravest voice to express why you are worried about the way you feel right now. Your symptoms are real.
4) Quiet your inner critical voice. Rush to find some self-compassion exercises and listen carefully to the words. You are suffering right now. Be kind to yourself. Believe that help is available. Believe you are worthy of getting that help. Believe you will feel better.
5) Do not accept indifference. Do not stop until you are comfortable with the responses and the support you receive. There are many well-intentioned but misinformed friends, family members and healthcare providers. Be your own best advocate.
Most of us married folk think we are right, much of the time, and we believe we know what is best for us and our marriage. This is especially true for women, who generally take the plunge when it comes to initiating marital repair tactics. However, what is true all of the time, without fail, is that each and every interaction between two people is just that, an interaction between two people. While it might feel like one event (we went to the park) and may be perceived by both as the sharing of one experience (we had a wonderful time), it is actually the convergence of two people and two experiences. Neither of which, is more right than the other. Still, we each think we are right.
I learned this early in my marriage. Back when my husband and I were just discovering the fine points of how to arbitrate terms of a young marriage, something caused me to storm out the front door with a harrumph and a half. Off I went, with self-righteous fury, and plunked myself on the street curb. Like a four-year-old tantruming in protest while simultaneously checking back to make sure Mommy is there, I repeatedly glanced behind me, expecting to see my husband, dutifully chasing after me. Surely, he knows how upset I am, I know he will come get me and apologize or at least make sure I’m okay! But the trail from the house to the curb was silent with only the exasperated sigh of my unmet needs. I can’t believe I have to sit here and feel bad by myself. This is not okay. I sat and sulked a bit more, all the while peering back at the doorway in disbelief. He was not coming out to look for me. Unbelievable. Who had I married? Was he really this selfish? Was he heartless? Did he not care? Did he not even know?
Grudgingly, I sucked back the tears, took a deep breath and went back to the house. There, I found my husband sitting on the couch watching TV, as if nothing had happened. “Hi Babe,” he quipped, “Where were you?”
Really? Wow. Is this A.D.D.? Is this Men-Are-from-Mars stuff? Is he kidding?
“I was outside. Crying. By myself. Waiting for you.”
“You were? Why were you crying? Why were you waiting for me?” He looked at me as if he had no idea what I was talking about – his eyes and mouth wide open like a toddler being punished for doing something he didn’t know was wrong. Almost immediately it was obvious that he, really, honestly, and most assuredly, had no idea what I was talking about.
“Did you know I was upset?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes.” He replied proudly, positive that he had the right answer for me.
“Well if you knew I was upset, why didn’t you come out after me? I mean, helllloooooo?? I went out, upset. WHY DIDN”T YOU COME AFTER ME??!!”
“Because… I… I thought you went out because… you wanted to be alone?”
Now, it was my turn to look at him as if I had no idea what he was saying.
“Why would you think I wanted to be alone?”
“Because you went outside, and I was inside?”
Omg, I thought, do I have to teach him, coach him, tell him every single thing I need? I would find out later that yes, of course I would.
“Okay, so let’s be clear about this,” I began slowly, “When I’m upset, and you know I’m upset, and I bail out, leaving a dust trail behind me, I do.not.want.to.be.alone.”
“Okay.” He responded gently. Probably thinking something like, that doesn’t make sense to me at all, but I’ll buy it.
“So,” he calculated, “when you crash out the front door in disgust and say something like, I can’t stand this, and you slam the door behind you, that means you want me to come after you, is that what you’re saying?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Well, for the record,” he continued, “I thought that meant you wanted to be alone. Because when I’m upset and I walk out to be alone, I actually want to be alone. I assumed that what you wanted, too.”
“Okay, so when you’re upset,” I tried to make sense out of this, “You do NOT want me to follow you and talk to you about how you are feeling?”
“Really? I thought the best thing for me to do, if you are upset, is to help you express it so we can talk about it together.”
“Nope. The best thing for you to do is let me be alone. At least for a while. Then we can talk about it later.”
I concluded, “So when I walk out by myself, I want you to come be with me. But since you want to be alone, you presume (mistakenly) that that is what I want. Therefore, by leaving me alone, you think you were doing what I want, but I feel abandoned and unloved. On the other hand, if you walk out and want to be alone, I presume (mistakenly) that you need to me to come help you express yourself (major misperception) so by following you, chasing you, stalking you, I am making things worse, instead of better?
Oh, yeah. Definitely.
This is an example of the good sense that two people can actually make, when they are not quite making sense to each other. Couples often take two divergent paths to reach a common goal. This is true for couples in conflict and couples in harmony. Thus, while the common goal may be marital satisfaction, each partner may maneuver the pathway with opposing tactics and without understanding of what is happening, feelings can get hurt and resentments can mount. The revelation that opened my eyes that day was as simple as this:
I will feel better if I better understand what he needs.
Overshadowed by our tender marriage of cluelessness, prior to that instant of divine enlightenment, we had strolled along with naïve confidence. Until that moment, I wasn’t ready to think in terms of how he was thinking. I really believed much of that would just take care of itself when two people love each other. Isn’t that how it works in the movies? Truthfully, as an insanely sensitive person who is empathetic by nature, it didn’t always dawn on me that I would have to do more than that sometimes! I just presumed my husband would have the same instincts I did. Rule number one that I learned early on: Never presume.
That’s the moment I realized I was ready. Ready to dig in and figure out what I needed to know to help him help me and by doing so, enable me to be a better partner to him. When we think about that seemingly simple statement, I will feel better if I better understand what he needs, we elucidate the underlying motivation for the use of Tokens and the paradox it presents.
Do you feel ready to give?
You will know when you are ready to use the Tokens because it won’t feel like work. It will just feel like the right thing to do.
Excerpted from “Tokens of Affection” by Karen Kleiman
image credit: 123rf.com/Victor Kuznetsov
The following post is directly from the WPA position statement as presented in pdf format on their website.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WPA calls for greater global focus on improving quality of mental health care for women in the perinatal phase
Geneva, 8th March 2017.
To coincide with International Women’s Day, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) has issued a statement which calls for an improved worldwide focus on perinatal mental healthcare. In today’s statement, the WPA outlines 12 recommendations for healthcare professionals and policy makers around perinatal mental healthcare which are designed to improve pregnancy outcomes, reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, improve care of the infant and enhance the mother infant relationship.
Mental disorders are among the most common health problems of pregnancy and the year after birth (the perinatal period), with more than 10% of women in high income settings experiencing a disorder, and more than 25% in many low and middle income countries (LMICs).1,2
The perinatal period is a time when there is an increased risk of psychiatric episodes.3 Mental health disorders can impact on pregnancy outcomes (e.g. low birthweight, prematurity); mother-baby interactions which are associated with an increased risk of child behavioural, cognitive and emotional problems internationally; impaired growth in children from LMICs; infant mortality; and maternal mortality resulting from suicide, substance misuse, domestic violence homicides and comorbid physical health problems (including HIV).3,4,5
The ‘WPA Perinatal mental health position statement’ was developed by 12 experts from 8 countries and calls for:
1. mental health data to include information on whether women are pregnant, have recently experienced any obstetric issues or have recently given birth.
2. all care providers in contact with women in the perinatal period to be trained to be equipped with knowledge and skills to identify and treat, or refer for treatment, women with perinatal mental disorders.
3. integration of psychosocial assessments and core packages of mental health services into routine antenatal and postnatal care and establishing of effective referral mechanisms.
4. all health professionals and other care providers to look beyond depression and focus on other symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, somatic symptoms
5. all care providers to provide, or refer appropriately for, pre-pregnancy consultation including contraceptive services for childbearing aged women with a past, current or new mental illness.
6. maternity and primary care services to provide universal accurate and accessible information about emotional and physical health, to de-stigmatise mental illnesses, in addition to providing a range of specific information related to the perinatal period.
7. all health professionals caring for women with, or at risk of, perinatal mental illnesses to develop an integrated care plan in collaboration with women, their partners and their families.
8. policy makers to develop evidence-based policy for prevention, early intervention and treatment for women in the perinatal period
9. policy makers to work with National associations to ensure that there are relevant and affordable medication options available on the essential drug list suitable for women of reproductive age in LMICs.
10. research funders to provide support for research on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of pharmacological and psychosocial interventions.
11. all relevant stakeholders to address stigma related to mental illness and to recognize the ‘embedding opportunities’ in the maternal mental health field
12. the development, evaluation and implementation of interventions for health promotion and enhancement of maternal well-being
Dinesh Bhugra, President of the World Psychiatric Association said: “It is important that the prevalence of mental disorders in women in the perinatal phase be recognised. There is an opportunity to integrate mental health into maternity and child programmes within local cultural contexts. Healthcare providers, policy makers, national associations and research funders alike must come together to acknowledge the need to improve the care and support provided to mothers and infants and implement interventions to diminish mental health stigmatization.”
The full position statement can be read at http://www.wpanet.org/uploads/Position_Statement/WPA%20perinatal%20position%20statement %20FINAL.pdf.
For further information or to arrange an interview with Dinesh Bhugra or another member of the WPA Executive Committee, please contact:
Direct: +44 20 7089 6104
Mobile: +44 7817 864 815
NOTES TO EDITORS: About the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)
The WPA is the world’s leading psychiatry organization. It is an association of national psychiatric societies, which aims to enhance the knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively in the field of mental health and in the care of people with mental illness. It has 139 member societies from 117 countries representing over 225,000 psychiatrists.
The WPA has more than 72 individual scientific sections that cover almost every aspect of psychiatry. The purpose of the sections is to collect, analyse and disseminate information on research, training and services in the specific areas of psychiatry and mental health that they represent.
The WPA works to achieve the objectives through meetings, research, education, publications and collaboration with other health/ mental health and government organizations.
Visit http://www.wpanet.org/ for further information.
1 Fisher J et al. Prevalence and determinants of common perinatal mental disorders in women in low- and lowermiddle-income countries: a systematic review. Bull World Health Organ. 2012;90:139-149
2 Howard LM et al. Non-psychotic mental disorders in the perinatal period. Lancet. 2014;384:1775-788
3 Stein A et al. Effects of perinatal mental disorders on the fetus and child. Lancet. 2014;384:1800-19
4 Weobong B et al. Association between probable postnatal depression and increased infant mortality and morbidity: findings from the DON population-based cohort study in rural Ghana. BMJ Open. 2015 Aug 27; 5(8):e006509. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006509.
5 Langer A et al. Women and Health: the key for sustainable development. Lancet. 2015. doi: 10.1016/S01406736(15)60497-4.
For more information World Psychiatric Association
You’ve recently had a baby.
You are more than 3 weeks postpartum.
You do not like the way you are feeling. You wonder if you are too anxious or too depressed.
Your family, friends and healthcare provider have tried to reassure you, but you wonder if they really understand how bad you feel.
You worry that this is what being a mother feels like and you might never feel better.
Here’s what you should do.
1. Ask for help. Any feelings of depression and anxiety that interfere with your abilty to function are not okay right now. Tell those closest to you that you are worried about the way you are feeling. If you know what they can do to help, ask them. If you are not sure, tell them you are not sure, but you need their help, regardless. Then, let them help you. No one is asking that you diagnose yourself. If you are not sure what is going on, you should err on the side of be cautious and healthy by letting someone you trust know how you feel.
2. Contact your doctor/healthcare provider. Be specific and clear about how you are feeling so you can discuss options. If you feel dismissed or misunderstood, make the effort to clarify and reiterate.
3. Do your best to locate a therapist who specializes in the treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety. You can find one here. Or, here. Or, here. Call one or two or three therapists and talk to them directly. See how that feels. Do not let feelings of guilt or anxiety get in the way of reaching out for the support that you need right now. Therapists who are trained to treat postpartum depression and anxiety understand how difficult this first phone contact can be. Take the risk and let someone help you. You do not have to go through this alone. If you cannot find specialist in your area, call one of the perinatal specialists listed and talk to them about finding someone closer to you. They will help you do this.
4. When you make your first appointment, ask your partner to accompany if that feels better for you. Most therapists will welcome that and it is highly probable that you can bring your baby to that session, also. Your family is an vital part of your healing process.
5. Stay off of the Internet until you get some relief from your symptoms. While there may be numerous outlets for support available online, you will inadvertently be exposing yourself to random and unpredictable anxiety-provoking, shame-inducing triggers. It is best for you to protect yourself from that for a while.
6. Accept the fact that you are not feeling good right now and that it will not always feel this way.
7. Avoid all triggers that make you feel worse. That includes people who are unsupportive, events or obligations that increase your anxiety. Self-compassion is essential. Pay attention to what you need and do your best to express this to your partner and helping professionals.
8. Do not stop until you find the right help. This means you should feel comfortable with the support you are getting. This means your healthcare provider, your therapist, your support group, your medication, your adjunctive recovery team, must all be appropriately responsive to your needs and it is important that you continue to communicate with those caring for you. If the level of caring you receive feels insufficient or inauthentic, you can decide to either let someone know how this feels, or find another/additional professional/treatment alternative.
9. You do not need to suffer. Not even a little bit. There are more and more healthcare professionals who understand that new mothers are at risk for serious depression and anxiety disorders. Help is out there. Do what you need to do to help yourself get the help you need and deserve.
You will feel like yourself again.
Pic Source: 123rf.com/Viktoria Lukonina 59952060
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Book Reviews 1 2010, Vol. 6, No. 1
Copyright 2010 by the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy
Therapy and the Postpartum Woman: Notes on Healing Postpartum Depression for Clinicians and the Women Who Seek Their Help
While there are many books available for mothers and families on postpartum depression, this book is the first comprehensive work for the clinician. Postpartum depression is the most common issue facing new mothers. One out of every seven mothers will experience postpartum depression. Given this high prevalence rate, clinicians must become familiar with how to treat this potentially devastating illness.
In Part One, Kleiman describes the clinical picture of postpartum women citing many case examples as well as models of postpartum depression. She aptly describes why there is so much resistance to getting treatment in this population and how to help women overcome their resistance. She gives the reader concrete suggestions on how clinicians can respond to women struggling with postpartum depression drawing on the Winnicottian ideas of “the holding environment” and “the good mother”.
In Part Two, Kleiman devotes several chapters to intake, screening, assessment, collaboration, medication issues and alternative therapies. Initially, it was surprising that she spends so much time on the initial phone call. However, she makes a good case for the need to be thoughtful when initiating contact with postpartum women, given their tenuous emotional and physical state. She makes explicit the questions and responses that are effective in engaging this population in treatment. The many and very helpful assessment tools, symptom lists, and some other interventions mentioned in this part and the next are contained in the Appendix. Finally, the chapters on medication and alternative therapies for postpartum depression are thorough, highly informative, and condense a large body of research which will be useful to clinicians.
In Part Three, Kleiman tackles different aspects of postpartum depression ranging from obsessive thoughts, distorted beliefs, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, marital issues, suicidality, mother-infant attachment and psychosis. She interweaves clinical observations with vignettes, research and theory to illustrate how these issues play out in the postpartum woman. She makes an excellent case for the importance of careful screening for suicidality and psychosis by urging clinicians to ask the difficult questions, and by specifically spelling out what these questions are and how to ask them.
Part Four addresses other theoretical and conceptual aspects of treatment for postpartum depression. Kleiman muses over the roles of meaning, recovery, resilience and parent-child attachment in the treatment of postpartum depression, showing her more psychodynamically oriented side. While providing case examples, this section is the least filled with research citations and practical tools. However, it is undoubtedly interesting from an intellectual standpoint and in terms of case conceptualization with this population.
Therapy and The Postpartum Woman provides tremendous breadth and depth of information, resources, theory, and interventions for treating this population. The book’s strengths are its infusion with research findings, its practical and explicit suggestions for how to treat postpartum women, and the interweaving of interventions from cognitive-behavioral therapy, Interpersonal Therapy and psychodynamic therapy. As a cognitive-behavioral therapist who works with women with postpartum issues, I find her illustration of the types of distorted thoughts and beliefs of depressed mothers to be extensive and her focus on workable solutions right in line with my own experience with this population. The book is not, however, a treatment manual or a comprehensive guide, and would not be appropriate for use by a novice clinician. Kleiman assumes that the reader already has knowledge of how to conduct therapy for depression and anxiety and, therefore, does not provide basic information on treatment of these conditions. It is up to the clinician to use her book as an adjunct to her own particular treatment protocol rather than as a guide. Given the high incidence of depression and anxiety in postpartum women, and the potentially lethal consequences of these illnesses, this book is a must-read for any clinician working with mothers and mothers-to-be.
Antonia M. Pieracci, Ph.D.
Senior Instructor University of Colorado Depression Center
Perinatal mental illness is a significant complication of pregnancy and the postpartum period. Depression and anxiety are common manifestations, with prevalence rates for major and minor depression up to almost 20% during pregnancy and the first 3 months postpartum. As research and public awareness gains momentum, more attention is being placed on medical protocols, interventions and better access to treatment.
For many years now, Karen Kleiman has changed the face of maternal mental health (MMH) for both clinicians and families. As a speaker reaching many through outlets such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and as an author, through her many books for families and clinicians, Karen was a pioneer in this field providing the mainstream community with an understanding of this devastating illness, validating the women who suffered and helping clinicians gain insight into the experience postpartum depression.
Karen and I first spoke several years ago when I called her out of the blue to brainstorm solutions. I, as an advocate in maternal metal health policy and systems change was combing the landscape to learn why women weren’t being screened, diagnosed and treated routinely by their physicians. I knew that Karen had developed one of the only training programs for clinicians in the U.S. at the time.
After speaking, Karen and I knew that more providers needed to be expertly trained so we could reach more women, augment recovery and improve outcomes. Since then my organization, 2020 Mom along with Postpartum Support International has launched web-based training to easily reach clinicians all over the U.S. and meet a growing demand to learn about this field. Though we have a long way to go, training is now available to more people than ever and Karen’s intensive postgraduate training program at The Postpartum Stress Center continues to produce expert clinicians and is recognized as a best-in-class training.
Recently the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care, joined in this mission and have highlighted the importance of screening and proper treatment of maternal depression. It is now more important than ever that we train providers.
Therapists in this highly specialized field have often turned to Karen’s books for guidance when working with the perinatal population. The Art of Holding in Therapy: An Essential Intervention for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety introduces a novel strategy for treating women with postpartum depression and anxiety. At a time when we are finally paying attention to this widespread crisis in maternal mental health, this book provides a hands-on resource for therapists who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of women seeking their help.
Clinicians, we need you now more than ever; moms and families are counting on you. Karen Kleiman, thank you for your extraordinary contributions to the field – without your work we’d be several steps behind.
Joy Burkhard, MBA
Founder and Director;2020 Mom
Chair;The National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health
My clients have gotten so much younger.
Not so long ago we were all the same age. We were comrades in parallel worlds, raising our babies together, in a manner of speaking, navigating the ebbs and flows of new motherhood. I would observe through a therapeutic lens, and later reflect on the relevance to my own naïve mothering experience. In the blink of an eye, my children turned into adults while my clients all seemed to stay the same age. One after the other, pregnant and postpartum women greeted me with tender tales of pain and loss. As years passed, young women continued to share stories of private anguish as I quietly aged in the background.
Today, clients tell me they worry that I will retire soon and abandon them. Or, not return from a vacation. Or, get sick and frail, or die. My clients never fail to remind me how old I am getting, how long I have been doing this work and the pièce de résistance – how much older I am than their own mothers. I take it all in stride, because, well, I am a resilient, thick-skinned professional.
Most of the time.
I am, at the very least, my best grown-up self when I sit with my clients.
Truth be told, I have been doing this a long time. I am reaching the age where my peers and colleagues are retiring. Often a client mentions that her mother-in-law is way too old to help with the baby, though she is younger than I am. Or, she says her boss doesn’t understand her because he’s old so doesn’t have any perspective. Turns out he is a decade younger than I.
The honored cliché is true, with age comes wisdom, and for many reasons, I feel more at ease with my work at this point in time than ever. I can sit with a postpartum woman in distress and know, for certain, that she will leave my office feeling better than she did when she came in. There is nothing mysterious about that. It comes with study, practice, the passage of time, and countless missteps.
The art of holding a postpartum woman in distress comes naturally to me. I suspect the same can be said by many therapists who specialize in the treatment of perinatal distress. As treatment for postpartum women has progressed, what originally felt like an instinctive and obvious response, holding has developed into something more substantial. Those who practice holding techniques understand this intervention as a fundamental therapeutic gesture, perhaps, a prerequisite for optimal healing. The act of holding a client in distress does not merely represent our intuitive supportive response, as it might with a friend who is suffering. We know what it means to hold a friend who is hurting, both figuratively and literally. When we hold a postpartum woman, however, it is an intervention with a purpose and expected outcome.
Over the course of many years, our team at The Postpartum Stress Center has witnessed tired postpartum women meander from one inadequate therapy experience to another, only to reinforce their feelings of helplessness and perhaps their greatest fear – that they will feel like this forever. The development of the holding points was a natural and necessary product of this widespread pursuit of a reasonable and reliable response to the frantic cry for help. The holding approach tells the postpartum woman that we are listening. We are taking her seriously. We are skilled, determined, and able to help her find relief.
That has always been my number one professional priority and my greatest passion. Now, there is more.
As my clinical practice, interests, and ambitions evolve in predictable ways, I find my focus shifting. While The Postpartum Stress Center continues to provide services and support for treatment and professional training, I find my personal attention turning toward the succeeding generation of therapists. Passing on what I have learned simply feels like the next best thing to do. It feels indispensable and essential. Particularly in light of the recent surge of public awareness and positive momentum in field of maternal mental health. Healthcare practitioners, mental health advocates and consumers are desperately looking for excellent clinical resources.
The outpouring of awareness points to the harsh reality that topnotch resources are scarce.
We must buckle down and make premium training a top priority. The community of perinatal therapists is a growing body of dedicated, exemplary clinicians. I have been honored to teach hundreds who present as a collective force of enthusiastic, warm, intelligent therapists with common goals and tons of heart. Training therapists who wish to focus their clinical practice in line with my decades of experience and commitment is infinitely gratifying and humbling. Offering guidance and inspiration to psychotherapists who seek clinical enrichment is nothing short of the peak of my career.
The transformation which has taken place is a parallel holding process, which will make more sense as you continue to read this book. While writing, it occurred to me that I am in the midst of a major professional pivot. As the development of holding practices and my desire to introduce this concept to other therapists gathered force, I realized that the tone of the book reflects my effort to hold you, the reader, the clinician determined to provide postpartum clients with the best possible options for relief and recovery.
We hold all the time. At work, at home, with loved ones, with people we meet for the first time. If you are a caring and sympathetic person, you probably hold someone or something, much of the time and may wonder how holding a postpartum woman in distress is decidedly different. You may wonder what gives it more therapeutic value than simply being kind and attentive. You will learn that holding in the context of postpartum women is a supportive psychotherapy technique which, based on anecdotal and subjective observation, has shown to augment the therapeutic connection. This connection, subsequently, becomes the entry point to treatment options and recovery. You will learn that while your good instincts are paramount and instrumental to this process, your skills and aptitude for specific techniques bring credibility to your response. Caring about her is not enough. Assessing her symptoms and identifying her pain is not enough. Knowing what to say, why you are saying it, how to say it, and when not to say something, can make the difference between her coming back and getting help or her leaving and surrendering to her suffering.
Holding is the gateway to healing.
This book is divided into three parts, a) The theory behind the holding approach, b) The practice of holding and c) On becoming a postpartum specialist. Each section presumes preliminary knowledge of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders as a prerequisite for holding.
Some of the concepts introduced in Therapy and the Postpartum Woman (Kleiman, 2009) have been reworked and expanded in this book. Readers who are familiar with that book will note recognizable topics which may appear, at first glance, to be redundant. This book was originally conceptualized as a complementary resource, offering in-depth inspection of constructs introduced in Therapy and the Postpartum Woman. While you may initially feel your level of expertise surpasses the review material in the early chapters, I urge you to dig in so you can grasp a fuller explanation of the subject matter.
Terminology within the postpartum community is a constant source of debate and confusion. Among experts and the general public, maternal mental health terms are forever interchanged and overlapped with varying degrees of clarity. Those that are germane to this book will be defined in Chapter 1. The decision to use the phrase postpartum women did not come without ample consideration. My initial preference was to use a term more inclusive to the entirety of maternally-related experiences. After all, women who are pregnant, or hope to get pregnancy, or experience a pregnancy or infant loss, or adoption, infertility, and termination issues, also seek our help. The term perinatal was considered first, because it is more all-encompassing. Ironically, it also felt too limiting. I realized that opening the discussion to the wide-range of perinatal experiences distracted from the objective to underscore the needs that are unique to postpartum women, when a baby is involved. This is not to say the needs of pregnant women or women who desire to get pregnant, or women who have lost a pregnancy are any less significant. It’s just that they are different, thus, rerouting the content ever so slightly. It was decided that postpartum was most in sync with the message of this book, although its entirety is applicable to any perinatal woman.
Additionally, the word depression, like postpartum, doesn’t come close to saying it all. The term postpartum depression, as an umbrella term which covers the spectrum of disorders, is understood to include anxiety disorders such as excessive worry, PTSD, OCD, and panic. We must also be careful not to exclude postpartum bipolar illness and postpartum psychosis, as they are serious concerns that are very much a part of larger perinatal picture.
All holding principles in this book can and should be applied to any woman at any stage of any prenatal, postpartum or reproductively-related experience. Regardless of which diagnosis, symptom set, or psychological influences, if a woman in pain finds herself in a therapist’s office, she should expect and deserves to be held in the precise manner described throughout these pages. For brevity, terms in this book were pared down to the use of postpartum depression and anxiety, sometimes, postpartum depression, and sometimes, postpartum. Please do your best to generalize these references as applicable to the range of diagnoses or classifications. Thank you for understanding that these references should not be construed as exclusive to other perinatal experiences.
Postpartum depression is increasingly being recognized as a serious and treatable condition. There is every reason to be optimistic about the recent government recommendations and pending legislation. The tide is definitely turning.
Therapists wishing to specialize in the treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders have never been in a better position to do so. Access to information along with the recent surge of public awareness makes this the perfect time for dedicated professionals to zero in on this passion. Holding is an intervention that bridges the passion you have for this work with treatment options that have been shown to reduce suffering and augment recovery.
Perhaps if we were to embody the words of poet Mia Hollow below, our message and meaning of holding would prevail. My hope is that you learn to use your goodness and your strength as you guide each postpartum woman through the shadows that obscure her path.
Bring me your suffering.
The rattle roar of broken bones.
Bring me the riot in your heart.
Angry, wild and raw.
Bring it all.
I am not afraid of the dark.
~Mia hollow, poet
“I know what I’m ‘supposed to do’ to feel better. Everyone keeps telling me the same thing. I should exercise. I should sleep more. I should eat well. I should take the medicine. I know, I know, I KNOW. But something inside my head keeps telling me to push through this. I can get better. I don’t want to take the medicine while I’m breastfeeding. I can’t possibly keep feeling this bad, so I’ll just wait. But then I start feeling desperate, like I’ll never feel better again….This isn’t working. Nothing I’m doing is helping. It doesn’t matter if I exercise or not, everything is dark and heavy around me. Inside and out. Nothing looks the same. I wish someone would just tell me what to do. Or do it for me. My head keeps spinning with all the reasons I shouldn’t take the medicine. I know I’m getting in my own way, like my therapist keeps telling me. I know that. But I can’t help it.”
Women with postpartum depression know only too well how the symptoms of depression interfere with help-seeking and solution-oriented behaviors. Therapists, doctors, partners, friends and family members can tell them over and over and over again, how they should be taking care of themselves, but many women find themselves swirling around the vortex of distorted thoughts and misperceptions. Anxiety driven ambivalence becomes a fierce enemy, what if…? Why can’t I just…? How do I…? Maybe I could just…
Postpartum depression and anxiety do not discriminate. Symptoms impede the functioning of devoted stay-at-home moms and Harvard-educated attorneys. Intrusive thoughts can puncture the most perfect plan. When this occurs, rational thought seems to evaporate. Any previous accomplishment or personal triumph takes a back seat to the all-consuming and interminable anxiety. Soon, that is all that is felt. Women describe this by proclaiming “this isn’t me” or “I just don’t feel like myself” or “I’m usually so easy-going, I don’t know who I am now.”
As thoughts and feelings alternate between despair and rapid-fire obsessiveness, women with PPD begin to lose focus, along with the ability to successfully advocate for themselves.
If your baby were sick right now, would you know what to do to get him help? The answer is usually yes.
If your husband needed to get to the emergency room right now, while you’re feeling this bad, would you know what to do? The answer is usually yes.
But women have difficulty fighting for themselves when they are entrenched in this battle of their lives. Their energy, motivation, inspiration and zest for life has been eclipsed by the cruel paralysis imposed upon them. They also have difficulty responding appropriately to the loving guidance from those around them. They simply cannot see through the shame, the guilt, the incredible disbelief that they feel so ineffective in their own life. And so they sit, rocking back and forth between their opposing thoughts.
If symptoms are bad enough, if hopelessness sets in, functioning is severely impaired, and clarity has vanished – others must make some decisions for her. When it reaches the point when her wellbeing is at stake, we become less concerned about hurting her feelings or saying things to protect her. At this point of personal crisis, we no longer defer to her sadness or her longing to do this “her way.” If doing it her way means postponing treatment or prolonging suffering, it is not okay. This is when it becomes necessary to intervene on her behalf, tell her exactly what she needs to do next and how we will help her do that.
This commanding posture is not always a comfortable one for therapists who are working hard to empower their clients. But remember: Our objective is to lead her to symptom relief, before any other work can be done. One of the ways we do this is by demonstrating a sense of expertise, confidence and composure. After all, it is our composure, our self-control, our trust in the process, that will convey our expectations of a positive outcome. And that, indeed, is empowering for her.
And so, we say:
1. You will not always feel this way.
2. You must take care of yourself and you need to follow through, whether you feel like it or not.
3. If medication is part of your treatment plan, you need to take the medication – whether you are breastfeeding or not. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and then decide whether you will continue breastfeeding or whether you will wean. Either way, take your medicine if it has been prescribed for you.
4. Do not let the noise in your head sway you from doing what you need to do. It may feel like you have no energy but you do. It may feel as if you have no power left, but you do. It may feel like no one knows how bad you feel, but some do.
5. Pick a person you trust and listen to them. Do not question the veracity of their words. Let yourself believe that this person can help guide you through the darkness and then, stop fighting against them.
6. You need to keep moving forward through this, even if you don’t feel like it. Get up when you don’t feel like getting out of bed. Go outside even if the sunshine is too bright for your weary eyes. Eat even though you may not be hungry. Rest even when you are not tired. Try to turn off the chatter in your brain. Distract yourself. Count backwards from 300. Take a walk. Call a friend. Avoid caffeine. Avoid alcohol. Avoid people and things that make you feel bad. Come to therapy. Talk to your partner.
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7. Your depression is not your friend. It is an illness that confuses you and distorts your thinking. Do not forget this. Challenge the illness, not those who are there to help you. Take your pills, no matter how you feel about having to take them. Remember that your fight is against the illness, not against yourself or those who support you.
8. Believe that you will feel better again.
Originally appeared on PsychologyToday.com Posted Jul 11, 2012 Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW postpartumstress.com
image credit: 123rf.com/aleksander1
Effective 2017, our premier 10hr training program will be 12 hours, adding two (2) hours of advanced clinical practice, focusing on Karen Kleiman’s Holding techniques. We have incorporated additional time for intensive clinical study by infusing role-play and break-out sessions for the clinical and practical application of assessment and therapeutic skill-building.
Special attention will be placed on the clinical challenges inherent in this work, based on the upcoming publication of The Art of Holding in Therapy: An Essential Intervention for the Treatment of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (Jan, 2017).
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Because classes are small, space is limited, and the demand for participation in this course is high, we recommend clinicians sign up as soon as possible to secure a spot. There are extensive waiting lists for this course with only limited opportunities for cancellations or last minute openings.
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It’s hard for most women to imagine anything worse than experiencing an unsuccessful pregnancy. But 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and the loss associated with this crisis can be devastating.
Pregnancy, even at its best, can be a time of uneasiness and worry. Research tells us that a woman is most at risk for emotional illness during and after pregnancy than at any other time in her life.
It follows, then, that when a woman experiences a miscarriage, the risk for depression is great. This risk is increased if: a) she has experienced a previous clinical depression b) there is depression in her family c) her support system is weakened or threatened by current circumstances d) external factors add additional stress.
Women who suffer through the loss of a pregnancy know better than anyone how well-meaning friends and family can unintentionally say all the wrong things: “It was meant to be.” “It was God’s will.” “It’s better that it happened early.” “You can always get pregnant again.” “Thank goodness you have your health.” And so on. Needless to say, this doesn’t help.
Unfortunately, women are often left to suffer alone, because although we expect there to be some stage of “normal grief”, most friends and family are eager for her rapid return to a previous level of functioning, perhaps dismissing the depth of her pain. This, in turn, can leave her feeling misunderstood and drive her further into isolation. Understandably, this set of circumstances can create the opportunity for depression to emerge.
A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 1997) concluded that major depressive disorders are more common in women who suffer a miscarriage than in those who have not been pregnant. Furthermore, they suggest that women who suffer miscarriages should be monitored in the first weeks after reproductive loss, particularly those who are childless or who have history of major depressive disorder. Among miscarrying women with a history of prior major depression, half experience a recurrence. It is also interesting to note that this risk did not vary significantly by maternal age, by time of gestation, or attitude toward pregnancy.
Another study determined that during the first year after loss a) supportive counseling was effective in reducing overall emotional disturbance, anger, and depression; and b) time passing led to increased self-esteem and decreased anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and personal significance of loss. The conclusion was that the caring attention from counselors as well as the passage of time had positive and significant effects on the integration of loss and improvement of self-esteem in the first year subsequent to miscarrying. This is important because many women feel they need to suffer in silence and may not feel it’s appropriate to ask for help or may resist reaching out.
So how do you know if what you are feeling is “normal” grief or depression?
Although no one can put forth rigid parameters, most would agree that there is an “expected” period of normal grief after any loss. This grief reaction would certainly include feelings of depression. If, however, the feelings of depression persist beyond several weeks and being to interfere with your ability to function at home and or at work (sleep disturbance, appetite changes, lingering irritability/anger, chronic hopelessness, persistent anxiety/panic), it would be time for some professional support.
After a miscarriage, some professionals would call the emergence of depressive symptoms PPD (postpartum depression), loosely fitting in to the understanding that PPD is recognized as the presence of clinical depression following childbirth. Others would call it, Depression. It doesn’t really matter what we call it. What we need to understand is that the childbearing years are a time of increased risk for onset of depression in women.
After a pregnancy loss, depression is not only understandable, it is also treatable. Women who experience symptoms of depression that do not remit after a couple of weeks, should seek the help of a healthcare professional, either their doctor or a good therapist who specializes in the treatment of women and depression. Depending on the symptoms, depression responds well to psychotherapy and medication, if indicated. In addition to whatever professional or medical support they might need or want, some families find a great deal of support through social media, where they can connect with other families with similar losses. Some women may choose to plant a flower garden, or create a personal memorial or engage in some ritual or service to mark the passing of their child.
Pregnancy, miscarriage or pregnancy loss, infertility, and the postpartum period can tremendously challenge a woman’s mental health. We need to be alert to it, attentive to it, and responsive to it when whether we are healthcare practitioners treating these women or whether we are their family and friends who are embracing them during this difficult time.
A woman who has endured the unbearable loss of a pregnancy is suddenly cast into a world of unknowns. This isn’t what she expected. Everything has turned upside down. If a clinical depression descends upon her weary soul, her loss and her pain become deeper and darker. Family members, friends, and the medical community should be aware of this potential impact and respond appropriately.
Giving a woman permission to grieve sufficiently can ease the pain of her loss and promote healing.
Fathers are at risk for depression and anxiety after the birth of their baby. If their wife has PPD, husbands are most at risk as she begins to recover. As noted in THIS ISN’T WHAT I EXPECTED:
“As you continue to recover and resume normal activities, an interesting phenomenon may occur. You may find that your husband begins to decompensate. As you get stronger, the equilibrium of the relationship often shifts, and your husband may relax his hold on whatever psychological resources helped get him through this crisis. Though he, too, was overwhelmed, he may have suppressed these feelings. It’s as if when you needed oxygen, he held his breath, but now he needs extra air. As you get stronger, he may begin to let some of these feelings surface and may become disillusioned, exhausted, irritable, or depressed. When this occurs, women often respond with confusion and anger: ‘I’m finally feeling better, and now you fall apart?'”
Postpartum depression is hard on both of you. Pay attention to your marriage.
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