Pregnancy and Psychotherapy

Certainly, pregnancy can be the time when a woman really wonders if she's taken leave of her senses. With hormones raging through her body, there are moments when thinking clearly is a non-starter. The jokes about "pregnancy brain" take on a whole new meaning as she finds herself crying at a television commercial or staring vacantly at the stove trying desperately to remember how to turn it on. No, this woman hasn't lost her mind - she's pregnant and things sometimes do go wonky during pregnancy.

When The Gun Goes Off

All joking aside, the hormonal upset can be the very trigger that causes mental and emotional difficulties to loom and become more than a passing comment. It is known that psychotherapeutic treatment during pregnancy can help a distressed woman deal with specific issues and life in general, and can provide a safety net for her as well as preventing postnatal problems. There are many risk factors that can be reasons for pregnant women to work with psychotherapists, such as unplanned, untimely or "wrong" pregnancies (rape or incest), preexisting mental or emotional problems that cause a woman to disconnect from her unborn baby or become overly fretful for the baby's health and welfare, and complicated pregnancies such as those involving a physical condition such as illness or disability, or incurable diseases such as reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Add to the list socioeconomic challenges and life events (death, divorce, abuse) and you have ample reason for psychotherapies to help pregnant women.

The Different Types of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is defined as an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to aid a client or patient in problems of living. There are a wide variety of types of psychotherapy, or systems of using various techniques to help enhance the mental health of a person. The first practice to be call a psychotherapy was psychoanalysis. This practice encourages the verbalization of thoughts, including dreams and fantasies, and the analyst then assess and formulates the unconscious conflicts that are causing the problems. Behavior therapy focuses on changing negative behaviors in order to improve emotional responses and cognitive therapy works at identification of maladaptive beliefs and reactions in order to influence the negative emotions toward a positive outcome. Psychodynamic therapy is a shorter and less intense therapy than psychoanalysis and focuses on alleviating mental tension through revealing the unconscious workings of the psyche. There are many other forms of psychotherapy available and used in mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, occupational therapy and social work, among other fields.

The Most Common Condition

Perhaps the most common and likely scenario for a woman to seek or require the help of a trained psychotherapist is when the transition to motherhood is negatively impacted by changes in her life. A woman may find dealing with pregnancy alone is difficult to cope with and often is able to find the support she needs in friends, family, help groups, and public health nurses. However, other women may be subject to more serious emotional challenges. According to a medical study completed in 2000 and published in the British Medical Journal, depression was just as prevalent during pregnancy as after. According to researchers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, as many as 70% of pregnant women experience some symptoms of depression, while between 10% to 15% meet diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder.

The stresses of pregnancy itself can be the catalyst to depression in some women, or it may trigger a worsening of a preexisting condition. If left untreated, depression in pregnancy can interfere with a woman's ability or desire to take care of herself, impair sleep, increase the use of alcohol and drugs, it can even lead to suicide. After the birth of the baby, the risk of postpartum depression is higher and the interaction between mother and baby is impaired, leading to emotional and behavioral problems for the child.

Psychotherapy Can Help

While many women with such disorders find it difficult to talk about them, it is the very need to talk that holds the key to treatment. Psychotherapy, especially talk therapy, and the use of drugs that are not harmful to the unborn baby, can be combined to bring relief and stability to a troubled pregnant woman. Of course, the risks and benefits of drugs needs to be evaluated, but it is proven that the use of certain methods of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are very effective.

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