perinatal mental health

Reproductive Trauma & Perinatal PTSD: Integration is possible.

For many individuals, the experience of trying to get pregnant, pregnancy itself, and/or the delivery and postpartum process may not have gone as expected. In fact, Postpartum Support International (PSI) estimates that about 1 in 7 parents experience perinatal depression and/or anxiety – this can be throughout or after pregnancy.

An added layer to perinatal mental health concerns include the experience of trauma.

Trauma is anything that is a shock to your system – physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Trauma leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and voicelessness.

Trauma is anything that is a shock to your system – physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Trauma leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and voicelessness.

What are some experiences before, during, or after pregnancy that may lead us to feel helpless, hopeless, or voiceless?

Trying to get pregnant and experiencing infertility, miscarriage, and/or early infant loss is often traumatic for families and individuals. Difficult pregnancies or birth experiences, including experiences in the NICU, can also be a shock to our mind, bodies, and spirits. Even if baby and parents are healthy and the delivery went “medically well,” not having a voice or full informed consent for procedures during one’s birth may also be traumatic. In addition, many parents report feelings of grief and loss throughout the experience of postpartum depression and anxiety itself – as their postpartum period did not go how they had anticipated.

The term “reproductive trauma” encompasses many layers of trauma that can be experienced throughout the journey of trying to become a parent. Our experiences of trauma can eventually develop into post-traumatic stress – also known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While PTSD is often associate with veterans or war zones, about 9% of parents experience perinatal PTSD.

Trauma is defined by each individual. In the end, how you felt and how your body responded to experiences is who and what defines trauma.

In the end, how you felt and how your body responded to experiences is who and what defines trauma.

My journey in helping support parents and families started when I worked in the field of domestic violence. It was through walking alongside many individual’s journeys of healing from abusive relationships and experiences of childhood abuse and trauma that I learned how our bodies often associate reproductive and birth trauma with past childhood trauma.

Our bodies remember what happened. Yet, at the same time, our bodies desire to move toward trauma integration, or feelings of wholeness and balance.

Many parents may have fears about being seen as crazy or being permanently damaged. And a myth about treatment is that medications is your only option. While medication may be part of your self-care plan, trauma therapy is often a major component of treatment.

Our bodies and minds are resilient and desire to move forward from trauma.

Our bodies and minds are resilient and desire to move forward from trauma.

Moving forward does not mean forgetting, avoiding, or denying what has happened. Instead, moving forward for many means to acknowledge what has happened – the hurt, grief, loss, difficulties – within a therapeutic space and to process through what these experiences means for us now in the present and into our futures.

This is the work we do together in therapy. We work together to integrate trauma so that you find more balance, hope, and purpose in life again.

While we will never forget what happened and we cannot reverse experiences, trauma and PTSD do not need to define the remainder of your life. And if it currently defines your life, keep in mind that trauma is not time limited. Time does not always heal trauma. No matter how long it has been since you’ve experienced trauma, trauma may show up through continued physical health problems, anxiety and ongoing feelings of hopelessness, and difficulties connecting with yourself or others.

PSI’s tagline is: “You are not alone, you are not to blame, and with help, you will be well.” Your journey to wellness no longer needs to wait and can begin today.

Navigating Therapy

Race & Culture Matters: 5 Questions to Ask Your Therapist

Trying to find a therapist that is a good fit for you in your community can be extremely challenging. You might not know where to begin and whether you can even trust the therapists in your community.

Particularly in smaller towns, like the one I am a part of, trying to find therapists whom have similar racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds to you can be virtually impossible.

This does not necessarily mean the therapist has to be a person of color. However, race and culture matters when searching for a therapist because therapists can do harm to clients when they do not understand the ways race, culture, and ethnicity impact experiences of trauma, mental illness, and family background.

When looking for a therapist, ask them the following questions to gauge where they are at in their understanding of cultures different from their own:

  1. What is your racial/ethnic and cultural background? How does that impact your work as a therapist?
  2. What is your experience when it comes to working with ________ (ex. specific racial/ethnic backgrounds, immigrant populations, LGBTQ, etc.)
  3. How do you work with clients whom have experienced racism, discrimination, or immigration-related concerns?
  4. What does it mean to you to provide culturally competent care? What training have you had on this topic?
  5. What is your comfort level when it comes to talking about topics such as white privilege, racism, discrimination, or systemic oppression?

While not everyone is looking to find a therapist that look likes or has similar cultural backgrounds as them, these factors can be a make or break for many when it comes to choosing a therapist.

When looking for a therapist, you want to find someone you feel connected to. Rather than having to continually explain yourself, your background, or who you are in therapy, you want to find a therapist who can relate to (or has experience working with) the concerns you are wanting to address.

And if race, ethnicity, and/or culture factor into the concerns you are wanting to address in therapy, my hope for you is that the five questions above, can be a good starting point when it comes to navigating your search for a therapist.

Navigating Therapy

What is a Certified EMDR Therapist

If you’re looking into trauma therapy and counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or trauma reactions, you may have heard about Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, also known as EMDR Therapy. In this post, I won’t be going into the technicalities about what EMDR is. However note that the World Health Organization has recommended EMDR as a treatment of choice for PTSD and other trauma or stress-related concerns.  Researchers continue to study EMDR and have compared EMDR with other trauma therapies. As research continues to grow in the field of neuroscience and mind-body medicine, more people are looking into EMDR as a therapy to try for themselves.

As you begin your search for an EMDR Therapist, the best place to start is the EMDR Therapy directory. As you continue your search, you may come across different credentials. Therapists may post that they are: Level 1, Level 2 Trained, EMDR Trained, EMDRIA Certified, or Certified EMDR Therapists. For example, my credential is “Certified EMDR Therapist.”

Navigating through different terminology can be so confusing! I know that it was quite confusing for me, personally, when I was looking for an EMDR Therapist in my area and not sure what the difference was between Level 1 and 2, Trained, and Certified.

Here’s the main differences:

  • Level 1 and Level 2 – Level 1 and Level 2 are older labels that therapists would use after being trained in the first and second portions of the basic EMDR training prior to 2007. Level 1 and Level 2 are no longer terms used in current basic EMDR trainings. So if you see clinicians saying that they are Level 1 or 2 EMDR Trained, know that they went to EMDR trainings earlier on.
  • EMDR Trained – Therapists at this level have received basic EMDR training. The basic training is traditionally broken up into two separate weekends. In between those weekends, therapists will receive at least 10 consultation hours to discuss cases and use EMDR therapy with clients. EMDR Trained indicates that the therapist has completed the basic EMDR training and at least 10 consultation hours.
  • Certified EMDR Therapist/EMDRIA Certified – Therapists that are Certified in EMDR have not only completed the basic EMDR training, but have also went on to complete at least 20 additional hours of consultation and a minimum of 50 clinical sessions using EMDR. Therapists must be licensed for at least two years in their field as an independent practice mental health professional (meaning they are not an intern or still under supervision). In addition, EMDRIA – also know as the EMDR International Association – requires therapists to complete at least twelve hours of EMDR continuing education credits every 2 years to maintain certification. Being Certified in EMDR Therapy requires documentation to EMDRIA and recommendation from other professionals in the field for all of the above.

Alongside these credentials, you may also come across therapists that are EMDRIA Approved Consultants or Facilitators. These are the professionals that train others in EMDR.

As you can see there are many terms to sort through when navigating the EMDR world. In the end, the best way to see if an EMDR therapist is a good fit for you is by simply asking them a few key questions.

Ask the EMDR therapist how often they utilize EMDR in sessions. Ask if the EMDR therapist is Certified in EMDR and if so, what types of EMDR trainings (if any) they’ve had beyond the basic EMDR training. For example, beyond the basic training, I’ve went on to get trained in leading group EMDR, EMDR for recent or ongoing traumatic incidents, and EMDR for chronic pain and health issues. Continued education can make a major difference in the experience level that an EMDR therapist has.

And last but not least, find out if the EMDR therapist has experience using EMDR therapy for the concerns you are seeking help for.

In the end, therapists are never able to become specialists in ALL concerns. I specialize in burnout, secondary trauma, maternal mental health, medical-based trauma, and race-based trauma. For the majority of children, I will refer them out to fellow EMDR therapists that specialize with kiddos.

Asking about what areas the therapist specializes in will help you better determine if the therapist is a good fit for you. If the areas of concern you are looking to work on are not specialties of the therapist, they should refer you to fellow EMDR therapists that do specialize in those areas.