It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise parents. The hospital doesn’t give you an instruction manual when you leave with your new baby. Psychoeducation sessions provide support to the parenting couple.
We know that depression or anxiety after a delivery causes strain on relationships. When one partner is suffering, the other partner also suffers. It can be alarming and confusing for partners who are used to their wives being strong, capable and confident. Most people don’t expect a new mother to be overcome with feelings of sadness after the birth of her new baby. But we know that this does happen. That is why it is so important to involve the partner in a woman’s treatment.
With a family focus, I am in a better position to treat the mother, team up with the partner and protect the strength and unity of the couple. I invite partners to join therapy for couple’s psychoeducation sessions. Families come in many different shapes and sizes; regardless of your marital status or gender I treat everyone equally and with respect.
Couples Psychoeducation Session
Couples psychoeducation can be helpful in the treatment process. These sessions are flexible to best meet your needs. Here are ways that couples psychoeducation sessions can help:
- Lack of (or perceive lack of) support is strongly connected with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Getting partners in the door early can be protective against depression and anxiety as it increases a mother’s support system and makes her feel less alone.
- Postpartum depression is hard on a marriage; someone needs to be there for him too.
- Partners also suffer from postpartum depression. About 10% of fathers are also at risk for postpartum depression after a baby is born—an increase risk factor is maternal depression.
- Meeting together provides an opportunity for partners to ask questions about what is going on and voice concerns.
- Learn new skills for coping and build confidence in yourself. When we believe that we can handle a situation, we experience less stress and negative feelings when faced with a new challenge.
- Psychoeducation sessions provide information, education and tools to the whole family.
Couples Psychoeducation Groups in Chicago
In couples psycoeducation groups, we are each other’s teachers. Sometimes it is helpful to meet and learn from other new parents who are in the same boat as you. Here are the benefits to couples psychoeducation groups:
- Learn from others. In addition to learning skills from me, you can learn what is working (or not working) from other parents in a group setting.
- You will not feel as alone. Group can help you realize that others are going through the same thing that you are. It normalizes the experience and makes you feel less isolated and less alone.
- You get to give and receive support. Sometimes helping someone else is the best way to help ourselves. When new parents feel like nothing is going right, it can be surprising and beneficial to offer advice and knowledge to someone else. It reminds you that there are still some things going well.
- Gain a safety net and maybe some new parent-friends. There is no need to hide behind our feelings. We are all here for the same reasons so we don’t have to pretend that everything is going perfectly, when it most certainly is not. This setting is safe to talk about what is on our minds. Additionally, you can meet people who have new babies too. Maybe they become social friends because they understand why a 5 pm dinner reservation is important.
Why is couples psychoeducation important?
After a baby is born, partners go through an adjustment period too. For some couples a baby strengths the relationship. A stable relationship helps new parents adapt to competing demands of marriage and a new baby. But for other couples a baby can strain a marriage. It is noted that the arrival of a new baby is associated with declines in happiness and marital satisfaction. Reportedly 67% of couples become unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% of couples remain content with one another. New parents are adjusting to more than just a new baby—they are also experiencing loss of sleep, loss of control and freedom, less disposable income, renegotiating household responsibilities and enjoying less alone time with one another.
Given the importance of partner support and the inevitable increased conflict that many couples experience when transitioning to parenthood, it is surprising that there are limited groups that focus on perinatal mental health education and prevention.
What if my partner won't come with me?
Don't worry; I get it. Therapy is not for everyone. That’s why I practice with flexibility and believe in doing what works. Come on your own and we’ll go from there.
I can also coach you on ways to talk to your partner to get him in the office. The sooner that he is involved in the recovery process, the more you both will benefit.
Parents as Partners
For men and women, parenthood is a transformative event. No couple experiences parenthood in the same way. That is why it is important to support and appreciate one another.
Practical things partners can do
- Help around the house.
- Set limits with friends and family.
- Go with her to doctor’s appointments and come prepared with questions.
- Educate yourself about PMADs and schedule a couples psychoeducation session.
- Let her get five-hours uninterrupted sleep by doing some late-night feedings.
- Just sit with her. No TV, no phones, no distractions. Provide the space to let her just be. Even if it is only for a few minutes at a time.
How to help a mom who is suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety
- Reassure her that this is not her fault and that she is not alone. With help and support, she will get better.
- Encourage her to talk about her feelings. Remember, you do not have to fix, just listen without judgment.
- Make sure she is taking care of herself: eating balanced and nutritious meals, resting when she can and taking breaks.
- Manage your expectations, just because she is home all day or on maternity leave don’t expect her to be super-housewife.
- Be realistic about what time you will be home and make sure to be home at that time.
- Help her find professional support and treatment, especially if things get worse.
Dealing with her irritability
- Make sure that she is eating throughout the day, low blood sugar results in low distress tolerance and frustration. Buy healthy and easy snacks to keep around the house.
- Do your best to hear her underlying frustrations when you are listening to her. Avoid conflict by telling her that you are listening to her and that you know that you can work through this together.
- Try not to take it personally when she is irritable, but also do not allow yourself to become a verbal punching bag. It is not good for either of you. You feel bad and she feels guilty after saying hurtful things to you.
- Communicate what you are feeling calmly and respectfully.
Keep in mind
- You did not cause her illness and you can’t take it away. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders impacts one in every seven women. It is a biochemical disorder, it is no one’s fault. No one ever asks to be depressed.
- She just needs you to listen. She probably feels alone and scared right now. Listening to what she is going through and being supportive can be very powerful.
- Take care of yourself too. Often partners can get depressed during or after a partner’s maternal depression.
- Lower your expectations. Even postpartum women, who are not depressed, shouldn’t be expected to cook dinner or clean the house. Remind her that parenting your child and taking care of household responsibilities is your job too, not just hers.
- Let her rest. Often it is harder to deal with things when we have not gotten sleep. Allow her to get at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep.
What to say, what not to say
Here is what you are up against
- If you tell her that you love her… she won’t believe you
- If you tell her that she’s a good mother… she will think you are just saying that to make her feel better
- If you tell her that she is beautiful… she will assume you are lying
- If you tell her not to worry… she’ll think that you have no idea how bad she really feels
- If you tell her that you will come home early to help… she’ll feel guilty
- If you tell her that you need to work late… she will think you don’t care
What Not to Say:
- “Think about everything you have to feel happy about.” She knows this already. One of the reasons that guilt is a symptom of depression is that she knows she should be feeling happy, but she doesn’t.
- “Just relax.” I wouldn’t say this ever! This usually has the opposite effect. Anxiety produces hormones that cause physical reactions, such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath and muscle tension, this is not something that you can just relax away.
- “Snap out of it.” If she could, would have. No one chooses to be depressed or anxious.
- “Just be positive.” Unfortunately, recovery is not that simple. Depression prevents her from thinking positively. Depression can feel like a dark cloud over your head, making it very difficult to see the light, humor and joy in things.
What to Say:
- "We will get through this."
- "I am here for you."
- "We are in this together."
- "I am sorry you are suffering, that must feel awful."
- "This is not your fault."
- "You will get better."
- "I love you."
- "The baby loves you."
- "This is temporary."
- "You’re doing a good job" (give specific examples)
- "It’s okay to make mistakes, I don’t want you to be perfect."
- "This is not your fault. If I were ill, you wouldn’t blame me."
- "I am not going anywhere."
- "Let's get you professional help. If you are open to it, I will come with you to an initial therapy session."
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Impacts Fathers Too
Maternal mental illness has a negative impact on partners, including higher likelihood of personal mental illness. An estimated 10% of new dads experience paternal postpartum depression. One of the risk factors for fathers developing depression is to have a partner who experiences a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. Additionally, there is a stigma for men suffering in early parenthood because we see fathers as stoic and self-sacrificing or disconnected from their emotions. But according to research, men’s hormones, such as testosterone levels, can change during a partner’s pregnancy and after the birth of a new baby making fathers also vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
Tips to help support dads:
- Check-in with dad too. After a baby is born we tend to ask how the mother and baby are doing, but don’t forget about dad. Ask dad how he is coping with the new baby and listen to what he has to say.
- Provide the space for fathers to acknowledge their feelings. A safe space can allow fathers to talk about their new responsibilities and fears. Just providing the space to talk can alleviate anxiety and stress.
- Allow fathers to take an active role in child caring. Sometimes a mother’s own anxieties about the baby can get in the way of the father taking an active part in child care. Who cares if the diaper is on wrong? Let dad figure this out! He wants to help, so let him.
- Know the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Often we miss the signs of depression and anxiety in our loved ones and ourselves. Be aware of what is normal adjustment to parenthood and what might be more serious signs of mental illness.
- Encourage dad to get help when needed. Reduce the stigma associated with mental health and mental health treatment by normalizing and encouraging fathers to get support. Seek out counseling or support from other new fathers.