Male Postnatal Depression – intervention with psychotherapy
by Tina Juhl
January 17th 2007
last updated January 17th 2007
Psychotherapy with Men Suffering from Mood Disorders arising in Relation to Parenthood
Quite a few of the men who suffer from postnatal depression will improve by themselves with time. However, many men will need treatment.
Usually a father with postnatal depression will have been suffering from his symptoms for a long time before obtaining or requesting help. Often his condition will deteriorate during this period.
It is essential that men in need receive treatment for postnatal depression as the condition - if left untreated - can have serious consequences for the child and the whole family:
- Paternal postnatal depression often leads to problems in the parental relationship, which in a worst-case scenario may lead to the breakdown of the relationship
- Lack of energy, joy and initiative can make it difficult to form a strong attachment to the infant
- Postnatal depression can result in a vicious circle in a man’s perception of himself as a father, of the infant and his attachment to it
- Lack of initial contact to the infant can make it difficult to build a close relationship later in the child’s life
- Paternal postnatal depression may have adverse effects on subsequent childhood development
The men who wait the longest before obtaining or seeking help often express grief over wasting time in the early days of their fatherhood. They are aware that they have been unable to be close to their child and that they do not find any joy in the early relationship.
Psychotherapy is an important tool when trying to help a man with postnatal depression. The focus should be on eliminating the unpleasant symptoms and supporting the development of good fatherhood with close father/child relations.
Effective therapy should have a double focus on:
• Men’s relationship to their own parents and their experiences of growing up
• The current relationship to their child
This double focus appears to develop positive emotions and foster empathy with their children, improving both paternal wellbeing and - views of their own childhoods.
But it is important to remember that all fathers and men are different.
Generally, frequently recurring topics in psychotherapy with fathers suffering from postnatal depression include:
- How to handle aggressive reactions
- Own upbringing: Relationships with own mother and father – both now and in childhood
- Fear of becoming a father
- Expectations of own father role
- Lifestyle changes caused by parenthood
- Fear of losing/becoming attached to the child
- Ways of being with the child
- Sharing duties and responsibilities with partners
While often focusing on the same topics, the psychotherapy involved in the Danish study on men and mood disorders was given from different psychological approaches - either psychodynamic or systemic – both with the additional integration of some cognitive methods where relevant. Studies have shown that all three approaches are helpful when treating people with depression this including, specifically, postnatal depression.
Unfortunately there are not many places offering psychotherapy to men with mood disorders related to parenthood. Fathers will mostly have to seek help from a private psychotherapist. In these cases it may be an advantage to inform him or her of suspicions that symptoms may be related to fatherhood.
The following statement from a father in psychotherapy for mood disorders related to parenthood underlines the importance of establishing more options for these men: “Without this offer [of psychotherapy] I would have left my wife. I am sure that she couldn’t stand to be with an angry man like me in the long run…” He had detailed plans on leaving his family. Throughout the sessions we were focusing – amongst other things – on exceptions: Exceptions showing in some respects he was already a good father; doing a lot of good things for his daughter in spite of his anger, irritability and other negative reactions. So we discussed how he could do more of the things he enjoyed doing with his child, more of what seemed to work and lead to a good and close relationship with his daughter –a relationship filled with joy that made him want to go home to his family and stay there!
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