Perinatal Therapy: Its Application and Aims

What is perinatal therapy? What are the most frequent current problems that it addresses? Find out here.
Perinatal Therapy: Its Application and Aims

Last update: 30 August, 2022

In recent years, perinatal mental health has been reinforced in maternal and neonatal psychiatric units. This was motivated by the high incidence of disorders that are dealt with in these environments.

The early postnatal period is also a time of risk for the onset of mental illness. In fact, one study found that women are more likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization one month after giving birth than before pregnancy.

Postnatal admission of women is high both in those with and without an existing psychiatric condition. However, this incidence is higher in those with a mood disorder (Munk-Olsen, et al., 2016).

Mental problems during and after pregnancy have exposed the need for the development of perinatal interventions, both for parents and babies. In this context, perinatal psychology has played an important role.

It’s a new branch of psychology dedicated to investigating and intervening (perinatal therapy) in the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and looking after the baby in the first months after birth.

Pregnant at the psychologist
Perinatal therapy is a branch of psychology that intervenes during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

Perinatal therapy

Framed within perinatal psychology, perinatal therapy is responsible for attending to the needs and psychological problems of parents from conception to childbirth. It also performs interventions after the baby is born.

Perinatal interventions are focused on both the emotional and cognitive dimensions as well as the behavioral one. In addition, they have the function of ensuring the well-being of parents and helping them in the event of any occurrence that may affect their mental health.

Although perinatal therapy is intended for both parents, in general, the mother is the central axis of the interventions. That’s because she’s the one most affected by the pregnancy process, due to the psychological, physical, and hormonal changes she experiences.

According to the Spanish Association of Perinatal Psychotherapy, some specific issues that perinatal therapy focuses on are:

  • Fertility problems.
  • Depression and anxiety during pregnancy.
  • Fear of childbirth.
  • Traumatic pregnancies.
  • Loss of the baby.
  • Breastfeeding problems.
  • Adaptation to maternity/paternity.
  • Postpartum depression.
  • Bonding with the baby or establishing a secure attachment.

Main intervention areas of perinatal therapy

Next, we’ll review some intervention areas of this therapy.

1. Support before conception

Perinatal therapy can intervene before pregnancy when a woman wants to conceive. The emotions associated with wanting to have a baby can lead to some problems, especially if there are fertility problems.

2. Miscarriage

The emotional consequences of a miscarriage can affect the daily functioning of a couple, especially the mother. The emotional impact is usually extremely strong when they have a real desire to have a child and grief over the death of their baby may require therapy.

3. Psychological accompaniment during pregnancy

Pregnancy causes hormonal alterations that generate a considerable effect on the woman’s life. This is reflected in changes in the way they feel and regulate their emotions. For this reason, the psychologists in charge of perinatal therapy provide support in processing these changes and help promote emotional balance.

3. Preparation for childbirth

The fear of giving birth or the anxiety of not knowing what to do next are some of the aspects seen in a perinatal therapist’s consultation. In fact, this stage is a key period with profound consequences for many women.

4. Postpartum support

Women may have a traumatic birth. In these cases, psychological support may be necessary to prevent the experience from triggering postpartum depression. It’s also often essential for strengthening the bond between mother and baby.

Sad woman looking at her baby
Most women affected by postpartum depression can have symptoms for six months. They may even last longer if left untreated.

5. Family support

Childbirth, in most cases, is also a family experience. Perinatal therapy helps prepare the family for the arrival of a new baby.

How to perform perinatal therapy

Perinatal therapy can be applied from different therapeutic approaches. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy helps parents rethink their thought patterns and the way they experience and behave in the face of pregnancy.

On the other hand, in solution-focused brief therapy, the therapist helps the patient find solutions to an adverse situation. The idea is to use rational thinking for solving the problem. To apply this brief therapy, it’s necessary to define therapeutic goals, study previous attempts at solutions, and seek information on the occasions when the problem should, in theory, have appeared, but didn’t. The patient should also be encouraged to seek and apply alternative solutions.

Regardless of the approach used to deliver perinatal therapy, the important thing is to design a personalized treatment plan centered on the experience and needs of the parents. Finally, perinatal therapy offers actions that allow mothers and fathers to experience pregnancy in a healthy way. Its aim is that the experience of bringing another human being into the world is a truly unforgettable one.

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  • Bjelica, A. L., & Kapor-Stanulović, P. (2004). Pregnancy as a psychological event. Medicinski pregled57(3-4), 144-148.
  • Howard, L. M., & Khalifeh, H. (2020). Perinatal mental health: a review of progress and challenges. World Psychiatry19(3), 313-327.
  • Kendell, R. E., Chalmers, J. C., & Platz, C. (1987). Epidemiology of puerperal psychoses. The British Journal of Psychiatry150(5), 662-673.
  • Lemos, R. (2017, 13 de diciembre). Psicología perinatal: la importancia de construir un vínculo saludable con el bebé. La mente es maravillosa. https://lamenteesmaravillosa.com/psicologia-perinatal-la-importancia-construir-buen-vinculo-bebe/
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