Therapy from the Therapist’s Perspective

In this post, Stacy Stefaniak Luther, PsyD, LPC, answers some questions about therapy and what a new mom can expect should she decide to seek help from a trained therapist.

What are some opening thoughts you’d like to share about therapy?

Visiting a therapist can be very intimidating. It takes courage not only to schedule that first appointment but also to attend that appointment. It can be weird, or awkward, to share your personal story with a stranger. Despite these facts, therapy is an effective way to tackle a variety of mental health concerns including those experienced with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Furthermore. therapy can also serve as a means of self-care, which can be difficult to schedule with an infant but is also critically important to mom’s overall well-being.

As a therapist, I recognize the strength it takes to walk into the office each session and bare your soul; sharing intimate details of yourself and your life. But there is something so special about each individual’s story and the details of this story are worked into the therapeutic approach. Therapy is grounded in research, but treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all.

What can I expect at my first session?

Typically, the first session is a “get-to-know-you” session where the provider will ask a lot of questions and you will be encouraged to ask questions as well. Information about follow-up sessions is discussed at this time in addition to diagnosis, treatment, informed consent, confidentiality, and other more technical aspects of therapy. The first impression during this session is critically important. If you are not comfortable, (say so!) and ask about different providers. A client needs to feel comfortable sharing details that may be private and sensitive; therefore, finding a provider who is a good-fit is essential. Professionals will never be offended if the relationship spark just isn’t there. The relationship is the catalyst for healing so don’t be discouraged if finding the right partnership takes time.

How long is a typical session?

Therapy sessions are anywhere from 30-60 minutes, with 45 minutes being average. During these sessions, you are invited to sit back, relax, and share. The therapist will listen and help you reflect. You will also have the opportunity to learn and practice different skills outside of session. Most importantly, there will be validation that the emotions you are experiencing and the thoughts you are having are real and okay.

How often do I need to come to session?

There are many factors that contribute to scheduling future sessions. Typically, although each situation is unique, you will be asked to schedule 1 session a week (or every other week). During these sessions, your willingness and ability to be open and vulnerable is instrumental in determining the effectiveness of therapy.

Can I bring my baby (and/or my older children) to therapy?

If it serves as a barrier to treatment, a good therapist will encourage women to bring infants (and other children) to session if they want to (or have to). Other times, a mom who is able, might choose to find childcare so that she can enjoy her session independently. It is up the mother to determine what she is most comfortable with and what her lifestyle allows.

What is a therapy office like?

Offices are set up in a variety of different ways, yet all are designed to promote comfort and ease. These are not like your primary care provider’s office. Therapy offices are set up with a home-like atmosphere and often reflect the therapist’s personality.

What is a final message you’d like to leave our readers with?

One theme that is extremely common for the women I work with is how alone they feel. The truth is, there are others out there who have had similar experiences or who are currently experiencing the same difficulties. The women I work with have struggled with infertility, experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. I’ve seen women who did not want to be pregnant or have children who become pregnant, women who struggle to bond with their infant, women who experience intense, frightening intrusive thoughts, women who are sad, women who are scared, women who don’t feel like themselves…the list goes on. It is so important to know that you are not alone. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders exist but so does treatment. There is no shame in asking for or receiving help!

We would like to thank Stacy Stefaniak Luther, PsyD, LPC, for sharing her perspective with us. If you would like to learn more about Stacy and/or are local to central Wisconsin and would like to schedule an appointment with her, you may find more information on her website: http://www.bhcwausau.com/learn-stacy-luther-ms/ .

Somewhere Along the Way

Somewhere along the way, mothers are often forgotten. After giving ourselves entirely to the process of growing and birthing a human, it’s unfair that we don’t still share the spotlight when our tiny miracles arrive. But the second we start to feel like we should receive a portion of that love and adoration, we shame ourselves for being selfish.

Somewhere along the way, we might have experienced trauma. And at some point, we started to believe that trauma had only one definition. And that because the pregnancy, labor or birth we experienced may not fit the criteria for this definition, we are not allowed to give it such a label.

Somewhere along the way, this motherhood gig started to look entirely different than what we envisioned. Picture perfect images of a glowing and rested mama holding her peaceful, sleeping babe are replaced with sleepless nights, alarming intrusive thoughts, nursing difficulties and an anguish that makes even the simplest of tasks seem insurmountable.

Somewhere along the way, we might feel as though we lost ourselves. We might grieve the life we once had. The freedom, the friends, the finances now might seem like worlds away. We might wonder if we made a mistake. We might wonder if we have what it takes to be a good mother. We might wonder if our families would be better off without us.

Somewhere along the way, we might feel hopeless. We may feel overcome by darkness and unable to see a way out. We might feel anxiety so intense that we are afraid to leave the house, afraid to sleep when baby sleeps or we might even be too afraid to be alone with the very being we once longed so strongly for. We might have flashbacks, or terrifying nightmares, of birth trauma that bring us instantly back to that wretched place. We might have thoughts that make us question our sanity, our baby’s safety or if we are truly a monster at our core.

But somewhere along the way, we realized that we are not alone. We realized that we are front and center in the spotlight of our baby’s eyes. We realized that baby doesn’t need perfection, just love and just a healthy, happy mama. We realized that trauma is subjective, that our feelings are valid and that we deserve to allow our wounds to heal. We realized that nothing about motherhood will likely be the way we envisioned and we realized that freedom from these expectations lies in acceptance of this fact. We realized that it’s okay to grieve the life we had while also exploring new facets of our identity. And, perhaps, most importantly, we realized that the darkness was not forever. We realized that help is available. We realized that it was in our struggle that we found our strength.

Written by Alexis Bruce

Happy Birthday, Leo

*Trigger Warning: preterm labor, birth trauma

Today marks one year. One year since I laid on the floor in a pool of blood wondering if my baby boy’s heart was still beating. One year since my life was forever changed. Changed by this beautiful miracle of a human and changed by the way my brain morphed into some unknown enemy. Some anniversaries are good. This one is not…

Because one year ago marks the most terrifying day of my life. Stranded, alone, not knowing if either of us would make it. But somehow we did. My sweet Leo, you came into this world at 33 weeks fighting like a lion and that same ferocity shines through in the way you play and the way you love. You have conquered so much in your tiny life and I’d like to think that I have too.

I’ve been anticipating this day. Holding space and bracing myself for what might come. It has been a nightmarish year. One where I couldn’t trust myself to be alone with you much less enjoy you as the gift you truly are. I’m told this day won’t always have so much sting…that time will erase some of the intensity. I pray that is true because the only thing worse than revisiting this trauma is thinking that the day of your birth might be overshadowed by my pain.

To tell you the truth, I am angry. I’m enraged that I didn’t get to hold you on my chest after they ripped you out of me. I feel robbed that the first time I saw your face it was covered in tubes and medical tape. I’m horrified that the first time I heard your cry, it was followed by sounds of them trying to revive you. In fact, I am still grieving all the moments we should have been able to share together. I wanted to breathe in your newness…to inspect every inch of your perfection. I wanted to touch your skin without having to reach through the portholes of your isolette. I wanted to nurse you. I wanted to rock you, on those first few days, in the silence and stillness of the early morning. I wanted your dad and I to bring you home to your brother and sister in the lion outfit I’d so carefully chosen for you. But, instead, I came home with empty hands and a piece of my heart left behind.

I spent those early days balancing home and hospital-life while living in complete survival mode. And when you did finally come home, my anxiety prevented me from enjoying anything at all. How could I relax when there were no monitors to tell me that you were getting enough oxygen or that your heart was still beating? And it got worse. As you got better, postpartum OCD crept in and swallowed me whole. My disease ripped away every shred of  the mom I thought I was and left me debilitated, fearful and empty. My brain worked hard to convince me that I was an evil monster and that I didn’t deserve you. I feared just about everything but worst of all was the fear that I couldn’t protect you from myself.

This has been the hardest year of my life and I’ve learned that I will likely always be vulnerable to triggers that bring me back to that dark place. I understand that I will always need to be cautious and gentle with myself because what I experienced was terrifying and real. But instead of viewing life through the lens of fear and bitterness, I choose to take my trauma and use it fuel my drive for advocacy. I am willing to risk being vulnerable if it means that I can be the voice of comfort and support that makes even one other mom feel less alone. And if, through my story, I am able to bring awareness to the need for better maternal mental health care…then, I will absolutely keep telling it.  

And you. You handsome, incredible, marvel of a boy. The lessons you’ve taught me in your short time here on Earth have been nothing short of astonishing. As your mother, I can tell you that you will do great things. I hope you are encouraged by the way you’ve fought through every obstacle in your path and are comforted by my fierce and undying love for you. I hope that someday you are as proud of me as I am of you. And even after all this, I’d live it again. I’d go through the trauma, the pain, the fear and the healing all over if it means that I get to share this life with you. It has all been worth it to see your dimples when you smile, to get to run my fingers through your dark, curly hair and to feel your buttery soft skin against mine. This is our story, my love…and it’s only just beginning.     –Love, Mama 

Written by Alexis Bruce