Supporting Mums Through Difficult Times - Maternal Mental Health Week

As the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), many of our members work with parents and infants from age 0 and even supporting mothers in pregnancy. Specialist parent infant psychotherapy teams offer targeted interventions to mothers, fathers and their infants who are in need of specialist psychotherapeutic help for many reasons at this crucial point in their lives. Reasons can include parental depression, (past) birth trauma, anxiety and attachment difficulties. ACP Child Psychotherapists work collaboratively to support both the father and particularly the mother and the mother’s developing relationship with her infant in close collaboration within specialist multidisciplinary teams, including midwives, psychiatrists, social workers and health visitors.   

You may encounter support from child psychotherapists through baby clinics when they are working alongside colleagues such as health visitors, social workers or family support workers.  Child psychotherapists in this capacity may offer brief consultations with mothers, fathers and their infants or offer supervision to help staff working directly with these families.  In some hospitals, neonatal units have some input from a child psychotherapist to offer emotional support to parents and their newborns, at what can be for many a very difficult time. Additionally, in some neonatal services, child psychotherapists offer supervision and support to the professionals. One of our members, Katherine Mifsud describes her work:     

“Working with neonatal care, in Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, a strong element of the work is to bear with the pain of the unknown and to help others to express and tolerate this.  A large amount of the work is helping parents process a great amount of grief, trauma, loss and guilt. Another key task is supporting parents to come to terms with the tiny baby they now have in front of them, who may feel too fragile to touch, and in such an alien setting, with all the machines, plastic incubators and input from different medical professionals. Many parents feel robbed of their pregnancy, their baby and all they imagined having a baby would be like. Having someone neutral to express all this to and try and put some words to what they are experiencing can be a great relief. Some parents benefit just from being listened to beside their baby’s cot for a short period of time, some go on to continue being supported even after discharge as they adjust and adapt to the needs of their baby and their new roles as parents, with the background of the trauma of their hospital stay, feeling very present. It can be helpful to support the parental couple together if they would like this; and support at this time can make a difference to maternal and paternal mental health, as well as the child.”  

If you would like to seek further help from a child psychotherapist, in the first instance please contact your GP, midwife, or health visitor, who will be aware of how you can be referred to local services. It is also possible to search our directory of child psychotherapists who work privately on our website under Find a Therapist

Despite the current COVID-19 restrictions affecting many clinics, many child psychotherapists are able to offer online consultations where it is safe to do so.

Some of our members who have specialised in working psychoanalytically with parents and infants have written for parents, as well as professionals working in the infant, parent and maternal health space.For Maternal Mental Health Week, we share a brief selection of these publications. Some of these publications will be more suited to parents wanting to read something to explore their own emotional states, and others may be more appropriate for professionals working with families. Most of the books have been written by members of the ACP, but some are texts written by other psychotherapists that our members have found informative.

Publications aimed at parents:

Understanding your baby

Boswell, Sophie (2004)

This brief book is written for parents and explores the baby’s first year in terms of his/her emotional development, as well as parental feelings during this time.

Understanding your one year old

Gustavus Jones, Sarah (2004)

Again, a brief book aimed at parents, exploring the emotional life of one year olds and their parents.

Finding Your Way with Your Baby: The emotional life of parents and babies

Daws, Dilys, and Rementeria, Alexandra (2015)

This is a book written for parents who are interested in exploring the emotions around pregnancy, childbirth and infancy. It draws on some psychoanalytic theory, as well as including recent findings from neuroscience, and has many everyday anecdotes from parents to illustrate the wider themes.

Parent-Infant Psychotherapy for Sleep Problems: Through the Night

Daws, Dilys and Sutton, Sarah (2020)

This is an updated and rewritten edition of Dilys Daws’ book – ‘Through the Night’, but rewritten with Dr. Sarah Sutton. It is aimed at parents and professionals who are interested in the links between sleep difficulties in infants and other emotional factors within families.

Psychological Processes of Child Bearing

Raphael-Leff, Joan (2003)

This book is written for professionals and parents to be, exploring the psychological processes that occur during conception, pregnancy and birth from a psychodynamic perspective. It explores the relationships between parents and the healthcare professionals and considers some of the difficulties that can occur postnatally, as well as during pregnancy.

Pregnancy: The Inside Story

Raphael- Leff, Joan, (2001)

This book is also written for professionals and parents to be. It explores in some detail the ambivalence about pregnancy and parenthood that inevitably arises, and locates this within a psychoanalytic framework.

Publications aimed more at professionals working with parents and infants:

The Practice of Psychoanalytic Parent-Infant Psychotherapy 

Baradon, Tessa; Biseo, Michaela; Broughton, Carol; James, Jessica and Joyce, Angela (2015)

This book has been compiled by therapists at the Anna Freud National Centre for Families and is a handbook for parent-infant psychotherapy. It looks at the psychoanalytic theory relating to parent infant psychotherapy, as well as the clinical context that this work takes place in. It describes the therapeutic processes, including group work.

‘A radical synthesis. Child Psychotherapy in the community and community in child psychotherapy’ in Urban Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. A responsive Approach to Communities

Bargawi, Leila and O’Dwyer, Louise. (2016)  Eds. Taiwo Afuape and Inga Britt Krause

This is a short chapter exploring brief work with parents and their under twos that happened in an inner-city baby clinic alongside health visitors.

Sent before my time. A Child Psychotherapists view of Life on a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Cohen, Maggie (2003)

This book explores the relationships between parents, infants and staff on neonatal units, using a psychoanalytic framework.

What can the matter be? Therapeutic Interventions with Parents, Infants and Young Children.  

Emanuel, Louise, and Bradley, Elizabeth (eds) (2008)

This book is a collection of papers that explains the theory and practice of psychoanalytic work with parents and their under fives, as well as exploring some common themes that arise in this work.

‘A psychoanalytic perspective on hospital midwifery and birth’ Journal of Infant Observation

O’Higgins, Louise (2011)

This paper explores the role of the midwife in containing some of the ordinary anxieties aroused during birth, drawing on a psychoanalytic framework.

Innovations in parent-infant psychotherapy

Pozzi Monzo, Maria Emilia and Tydeman, Beverley (2007)

This book details different types of parent-infant psychotherapy from around the world and particularly draws upon a cross cultural context. 

Psychoanalytic work with children under 5 and their families

Pozzi Monzo, Maria Emilia (2003) Psychic Hooks and Bolts

This books explores psychoanalytic theory relating to psychoanalytic work with parents and their under fives. It then gives clinical case studies organised around common problems that families may seek help for, including postnatal depression, eating, sleeping and separation difficulties.