What does infant mental health look like?
When therapeutically supporting infant mental health, the ‘patient’ is the parent-infant relationship. Whilst it is important to have specialist training for psychotherapeutic work with parents and infants, psychotherapists have specific skills to bring to this field of work: offering containment for parents in extreme distress when the newness of birth juxtaposes with the grief of previous losses; helping parents understand and banish the ‘ghosts in the nursery’ – the ghosts of the parent’s past traumatic experiences that can manifest in the parents behaviour to their own baby; helping parents understand projections (such as fear) they may have onto their baby, that can prevent them from feeling close and connected; holding the anxiety that surfaces for many parents and may make a parent keep a baby too close or, conversely, lose sight of their baby; holding the utter hopelessness (and the hope in the midst of it all) of post-natal depression.
The reason for including babies in parent-infant work is that they are part of the parent-infant relationship. Including babies gives a ‘voice’ to their needs and experiences in relation to their carer, which may get lost in the midst of parental distress. Babies, particularly those whose parents feel no connection to them or feel no joy in the relationship at all, need an advocate – someone who can help their parent understand and respond to their communications. It can be in this glimmer of response in a parent – that initial activation of a parent’s ‘lifeforce’ – that dormant love finds agency and a seed for connection is sown.
Infant mental health has well documented benefits over the life course. There is no other life stage more vulnerable, yet more responsive to a change and perhaps no other life stage at which therapeutic input can be more facilitative of long-term well-being and more preventative of future mental health difficulties.
Psychotherapy can offer a safe space to explore your feelings, YOU CAN LOOK FOR AN ACCREDITED THERAPIST ON THE UKCP WEBSITE
You can also find support by contacting:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47
The Samaritans 24 hour helpline, call: 116 123
For information on infant mental health visit The Association for Infant Mental Health website