Postpartum Realness: How to Find the Right Therapist
There is an old adage: Any therapy is better than no therapy. (Ok well, at least I know many people who think this way.) At any rate, I am here to bring light to the contrary. While it may be true that in a time of crisis, it is better to have the assistance of a trained professional than none at all, that it not always the case with ongoing care to address specific therapeutic issues. Case in point: Would you call your gynecologist to discuss shooting pains in your chest? Or go see your dentist to solve your earache or skin rash? While many providers in the medical field have a vast amount of knowledge, it is typically limited by their scope of practice. Moreover, specialties exist for a reason- they offer professionals advanced training, knowledge and specificity in their preferred, narrowed area of work. For that reason, it's a good idea to seek out a professional who can assist you in your area of difficulty and therapy is no exception.
Most licensed therapists are educated with vast knowledge on a variety of mental health issues, populations and even therapeutic modalities to use with clients. From there, we are to accrue training hours in whichever agency or professional setting we seek out or is available until we sit for a comprehensive licensure exam. Typically it is up to the professional themselves to seek out further advanced training or even licensure for more specific areas of practice. For me, perinatal mental health is a perfect example. I began my work in the mental health field at the age of 19, at the front desk of a mental health office on a college campus. I immersed myself in learning from case management, clinical supervision, training and half a dozen different mental health agency settings until I became licensed a decade later. This also included four years of undergraduate studies followed by three years of full-time graduate level education and training. In ALL of this time, not one word was mentioned about maternal or perinatal mental health. NONE! This was simply too specific of a field of study to be closely examined in an agency or educational setting (or at least that's what I have come to tell myself...and I hope that changes!). For myself and many other mental health professionals, it takes a good amount of passion and drive to seek out further training in areas of interest.
For the reasons mentioned above, it is critical that those experiencing a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, etc.) to seek out a specialist on this issue. This goes for any other clinical area of concern as well: If you are experiencing trauma, it is a good idea to find a trauma specialist, etc. This is especially true for issues with clinical indications or risks. For example, a woman who is surviving a domestic violence relationship may need someone well-versed in clinical best practices to help her create a safety plan for herself and her children. The professional would also need to know that, often, it may not be safe for a woman to leave the relationship due to the expansive research on femicide occurring most often at the time a woman leaves an abusive relationship. A well-meaning therapist NOT trained in DV might give encouragement to an abused partner to "just leave" without knowing the risks involved and how to safely create a plan of care. Similarly, a perinatal mental health specialist knows the difference between the normal range of hormonal changes and mood symptoms after giving birth versus when advanced care is necessary.
So how do you find these unicorn therapists who know exactly what you need and how to treat? There are a number of ways and most of them involve a good, old-fashioned internet search. The fact of the matter is, many niched therapists are out there, trying their best to find YOU through their websites, internet SEO keywords, blogs like these ;) and so forth. They also probably belong to a prominent association that treats your particular condition and more likely than not, it includes a directory of said therapists who are trained and ready to see you. In the perinatal mental health field, Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) is that place. Finding the professional association that exists to offer resources and support can often be your best bet. It can also be helpful to search your geographic area and a few keywords of what you're looking for and Google will do its thing to find you that person/people. For example, if you're in Las Vegas seeking a gambling addictions specialist, google that (Las+Vegas+gambling+addiction+therapist) and a (probably very long) list will show up for you. Similarly, if you're looking for a provider in California who treats pregnant or postpartum moms through telehealth, google that (California+telehealth+postpartum+therapist) (and hopefully my name shows up!). Lastly, call a therapist (yes, any therapist) and ask! Our ethical duty is to serve you, even if it means not providing the service ourselves. So give a local therapist or therapy agency a call and ask "I'm looking for help for X, Y and Z issues. Are you someone that can help me with that, or point me in the direction of someone who can?"
Therapy is an emotional investment, not to mention an investment in time, money and energy as well. It is important that you seek someone who holds these interests in mind and respects your time and energy. While it may take a bit of searching, knowing how and where to start is the first step to gaining a provider who truly understands your pain points and can help you on your way to feeling better. Also, if your gut tells you the person you choose is not the right fit, seek someone else! As tough as it can be, finding the right therapist for you is a very important step of the process. Once you do, you can feel confident that you will be in good hands as you journey along together in the path toward healing.