When Moms Need Therapy

Dear Diary,

Shortly after having a baby, I made an appointment. No, it wasn’t for the pediatrician or the obstetrician. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist. My hormones were raging; my feelings were exploding and my life was changing. I knew in order to take care of my daughter, I had to take care of myself. I couldn’t harbor hate against my daughter’s dad, who broke up with me (over the telephone) a few months earlier. I didn’t want to be bitter. I wanted to get better and focus on what was important–my beautiful baby girl. So, I went to a few counseling sessions. I didn’t share this with my family, who is a big believer in taking problems to God not a psychologist. Crazy people go to psychologists, right? Well, we’re all considered crazy at one point in time!  In all seriousness, counseling helps all people, even those without a (diagnosed) mental illness.

My counselor helped me understand my feelings and control my temper. Through therapy and spirituality, I learned to bite my tongue, compromise and trust God. I casted my cares–well most of them–on the Lord. It took time. I wish I went to more sessions–I only met with my therapist a couple of times. But it empowered me. I took control of my situation and learned it definitely wasn’t the end of the world as I knew it! As a matter of fact, it was just the beginning.

My friend Carolyn came along my journey through motherhood. She’s a psychologist–not my doctor but a brilliant one! I asked her when moms need therapy, how do they know it’s not just stress?

Heather: What are some signs that someone should see a therapist?

Dr. Davis: Intense emotion before, during or following a pregnancy is always normal. Just as the body is changing to accommodate this new life and experience, the mind (and subsequently) one’s emotional status is shifting as well. However, when those emotions overwhelm you, are ongoing  (6 weeks or beyond) or increase in intensity, it is time to seek help.

Heather: When is moodiness more than hormones—when should someone talk to a professional?

Dr. Davis:  Once a new mom begins to feel an increase in the intensity of emotion, feelings of being overwhelmed or helpless, or just not quite right in their own assessment of what typically feels normal, it certainly warrants, at the very least, an initial appointment with a mental health professional. This is an opportunity to assess your situation and rule out any potential or serious mental health concerns. Hormones will always play a role in adjustment both before, during and and post-pregnancy, but this will feel and look different. It often won’t mimic any emotional or behavioral state that you’ve experienced previously (unless there were some previous mental health concerns), and likely someone else (either a spouse, friend, or family member) has begun to notice, and potentially comment about your behavior. If you have a history of mental health concerns, such as mood disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc., or a family history of mental health concerns, you should seek support as soon as possible, as there is often a possibility of a predisposition for concerns such as postpartum depression.

Heather: What advice would you give to a mom-to-be to stress less during pregnancy?

Dr. Davis: This is often very difficult to give, as most mom-to-be’s or new moms have so much change and activity happening during this time. And while this can be exciting, it can be stressful as well. This is when the practice of mindfulness as well as relaxation techniques can be effective. Mindfulness practices help clients focus on the here and now, increasing their awareness of their emotional and physical state and helping them to stay in the moment. This can reduce the amount of anxiety or stress new moms are experiencing. Relaxation techniques, such a guided imagery, breathing exercises and art or music can be helpful as well. Help planning for this time is often helpful to reduce feeling overwhelmed and stressed, as well as establishing a healthy and accessible support network. Of course a nice massage, nap or good night’s sleep is always helpful, as this is the ultimate stress reducer!

Heather: How can pregnant women/new moms manage mood swings?

Dr. Davis: It would be important to have a client history regarding what the person is experiencing, as it not be mood swings in terms of a mental health concern, but an appropriate response to pregnancy or post-pregnancy hormones. If indeed, their behavioral patterns constitute more than this, then it would be important for the mom to note when these shifts are happening. For example, what environment is she in, what is her emotional state at the time of the swing, how often do they happen, what are potential triggers, etc. Then, a mental health professional can better assess the level of intensity or challenge the person is experiencing, and if indeed it may be related to something more serious than a hormonal shift.


Heather: How can therapy lead to becoming a happier mom?

Dr. Davis: While nothing is guaranteed to make anyone happier, it is important to note, that anytime someone seeks support or treatment for any ailment or inability to function effectively, they are taking a good step toward healing! Therapy is about healing. It is meant to address one’s inner strengths and help someone develop in the way that helps her operate at her best in this world. What we know according to research is that at some point, more than 80 percent of the population will navigate a mental health concern, such as trauma, loss, grief, stress, etc. and/or struggle with feelings of depression, anxiety, difficulty coping, inadequacy or shifting emotions. Not all concerns will lend themselves to mental health concerns or illness, however, if experienced often and left untreated, many can. Not everyone received, or learned the best ways to cope with difficult circumstances, establish healthy relationships, manage their emotions or even connect well with others. At its core, therapy is meant to be a tool to improve one’s quality of life by potentially addressing these areas of concern and processing through ways of healing, finding meaning in the experiences and continuing life’s journey in a healthy way. Often, this alone encourages happiness, or at the very least helps one define what their happiness should look like.

Heather: How should you choose a therapist?

Dr. Davis: Choosing a therapist should be a pleasant, but purposeful process, just as it would be in choosing a family doctor. For example, you certainly wouldn’t choose a podiatrist, if you have a heart condition! Therefore, you want to do your research. And unlike most other relationships with health professionals, your relationship with your therapist will be quite personal. Therefore, you want to establish a good rapport with the therapist and be mindful of their background, credentials and mode of practice. For example, some clients will want to work with a person of color, a female therapist or someone with a particular specialization. Some may prefer a doctoral level therapist or someone who practices a particular type of therapy (i.e. a more direct form of therapy such as Behavioral therapy).

You can always schedule an initial appointment to see if the therapist is a good fit and look elsewhere if he/she is not. I typically discuss my background, as well as my approach to therapy, when client’s make the initial appointment. That way, clients are clear regarding my background, my approach to therapy, and the type of work that we will do together, and they are able to be clear regarding their own therapy needs and whether or not I am appropriate to service them. Most of my colleagues do the same. Also, a direct referral or word of mouth is always helpful when looking for a good therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask your family practitioner for a referral, or a friend who possibly has been to therapy, or even look at the reviews of the therapist in your area to see if someone stands out in terms of meeting your needs.

Heather: Last question–and you know I left the juicy one to end the interview. Why do Black folks look down on therapy? I am generalizing of course, because there are many African-Americans who are advocates, but in general, we tend to take our issues to God–the ultimate counselor. Why should women do both?

Dr. Davis: This is an excellent question, and one I answer with my clients of color all the time! I often will ask my clients struggling with pursuing therapy, “If you received a cancer diagnosis, would you simply pray, and not consult a doctor, or would you follow a physician’s regimen to save your life?” While we know that God is the ultimate healer, we also know he has placed individuals on this earth who are educated and trained in addressing your type of cancer, ultimately to put a plan in place for your healing. Now, if you know this to be true, why would you not believe the same regarding your mind? Your brain is an organ, and your emotions a component of it’s functioning, the same as the nerves, muscles or ligaments would be to a broken leg or arm, etc. If there is damage or an injury to your brain’s ability to function correctly, or your emotions are unstable and you are unable to function effectively on a daily basis, why would you not seek the proper professional to help you put a plan in place for your healing?

There is no mental health professional who is charged with asking folks to negate their religious beliefs in lieu of therapy, that would indeed be unethical and inappropriate. As a matter of fact, what I see happening most recently, is many pastoral leaders encouraging members of their congregation to presenting with issues beyond their scope of expertise, to seek mental health support. I have received direct referrals from pastors. Additionally, many churches are developing outreach and health ministries staffed by mental health professionals, because they understand the importance and necessity of having those who can identify and treat potential mental health disorders or illness, and the significance of having these individuals working in conjunction with their ministry, to support the overall health and wellness of their congregation. Often women serve as the caretakers of their homes, as well as in the primary roles of service to their churches, which can become overwhelming and difficult to manage, as well as cause increased stress. In doing this, they often will neglect themselves, and their mental health needs, so it is important for them to be mindful of feeding not only their spiritual selves, but themselves holistically (mind, body, and spirit/soul), as this is the best way to honor the temple.

Heather: Thank you Dr. Davis! I definitely believe God equipped you with the talent to help people navigate through trials and tribulations and turn their burdens into blessings!

Hey DFTM Fam–How do you cope with stress? How did you manage your moods throughout your pregnancy?


About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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