After my first postpartum panic attack, I knew I needed help. In fact, I was desperate for it. I recognized that this was something that I couldn’t battle on my own, and that if I was ever going to get better, it would be through the help of others. Sometimes, we have to admit that a little help goes a long way, and that there’s nothing wrong with it.
The problem is, finding a mental healthcare professional is frustrating and difficult. I find it ironic that the search caused more mental anguish. It feels like our healthcare system actually makes it more difficult to find someone. Sure, mental healthcare is now a covered benefit for many plans, but there aren’t as many providers available as we might be led to believe. This was my experience when searching for someone who specialized in PPD/PPA treatment or women’s issues.
Finding the right therapist is important – regardless of what it is that you’re seeking help for. There has to be a right match in training and experience. Most importantly, they must have the right personality. Who wants to share such personal thoughts and feelings with someone you don’t trust or feel a connection to?
Before I get into my own personal experience, here’s a brief explanation of mental health professionals that I have encountered. Knowing the specialties and licenses are essential for an effective treatment plan. This list, details and further information can be found here.
- Psychiatrist – Someone who is essentially a medical doctor and the only one in mental healthcare that can write prescriptions.
- Psychologist – This person has a doctorate degree. They receive specific training in diagnosis, assessments, and various psychotherapy treatments.
- Clinical Social Worker – They have Masters degree in social work and can utilize the Licensed Clinical Social Worker designation if they practice psychotherapy.
- Marriage and Family Therapist – Can have a Masters degree and direct clinical experience
My first attempt was to search providers through a postpartum group, like those suggested by the Postpartum Support International. The group vets local providers who specialize in PPD / PPA. Sadly, I found that while there were a good number of providers, not very many took my insurance. There were quite a few that didn’t take any insurance whatsoever. For those that did, they were already booked and not able to take on new clients.
I resorted to calling my insurance and trying to find providers that route. It wasn’t very helpful either, since they aren’t able to search their systems by this type of specialty. The only way I was going to find someone was to search their system or take their list of covered providers and research one by one. It took what felt like a lifetime. I almost felt that I would never find someone to help.
My other issue was finding someone close to home. I was afraid to leave home post pregnancy, because I didn’t want to be too far from my “safe place”. I also couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my son.
My first encounter was with a License Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). She ran the local Postpartum Support Group. She was one of the most understanding and supportive people I met in the beginning of my journey. She provided many resources, and knew when to direct people to additional help.
My second experience was with a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). My OB-GYN’s office actually suggested that I see an MFT before anyone else, because my specific issues with PPD / PPA would be best helped through talk therapy. Because of my insurance issues, I had a really heard time finding someone nearby that was covered and that had any sort of reviews to research. The person I found was really out of convenience. She was close-by. She said she had experience with dealing with new mothers, and actually provided parenting sessions as part of her business.
Unfortunately, from the first visit, I felt as if we were on two different worlds. While she was nice, I didn’t feel any connection with her. I felt guilty, and thought it was my own bias that kept me from having productive sessions. I told her what I wanted to get out of each session, but I didn’t feel that I got that at the end of each one. I started feeling as if I was saying things out of obligation and not out of improvement. One day, I really needed her help, and for some reason, she wasn’t there. I finally gave up.
Luckily, while I gave up on my MFT, I didn’t stop looking out for myself. I went on a search for another LCSW or Psychologist. I was even willing to pay out of pocket if needed. The next LCSW I met was sweet and kind. I felt a little connected to her, but not completely comfortable. I also didn’t want to keep paying out of pocket if there were other possibilities.
A few days later, I found a psychologist who had a wide range of specialties, including women’s issues. From our first meeting, she made sure I was comfortable in knowing the sessions were all about me, and feeling comfortable with her was first priority. She mentioned that if I didn’t want to continue care, she would take no offense and would even be happy to provide me with resources and other professionals to check out. If I wanted to continue with her, she would commit a weekly appointment with me until we agreed we could change the schedule.
This psychologist ended up being a saving grace for me. She had also recently had her second child, so the feelings of a new baby were still there for her. I was able to relate to her and most importantly, trust her. I have cried in every session, but I didn’t feel ashamed. I didn’t feel obligated to share my fears and issues – I wanted to. I felt confident that she could help me. Each session felt like a small burden was being lifted and a new discovery was being made. We focused on the root causes and what I could do to cope with my PPD / PPA. I even discovered that my previous decisions to be childfree were routed in deeper feelings from my past. We’re now looking into other things that have seemingly had impact on the way I see myself and live my life.
I am also seeing a psychiatrist, who is prescribing and overseeing my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. I think it’s important for people to know that while the first session with a psychiatrist may feel like talk therapy, this is not what this type of professional does with all the sessions. They do have to keep on top of how you’re feeling in order to ensure your treatment is going the way it should. However, you don’t necessary see them for talk therapy or anything like that. Those types of treatments are given by the other professionals. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see two different types of mental health professionals to heal. In my case, that’s a psychiatrist and psychologist.
I’m often asked how I knew something was wrong, and what I did to get better. My response isn’t as difficult as they expected. I just knew that something was wrong and I didn’t want to continue feeling this way. I wanted to not only feel better for myself, but for the sake of my son. I decided it was best to be an advocate for myself. It was only because of this I was able to find the right treatment with the right people.
Of course, nothing comes easy, and treatment is very much ongoing for me. However, I trust in my ability to get better. I trust the people who I’ve selected as part of my professional support group. With this, I know I’m on my way.