It’s estimated that 1 in 9 American mothers experience peripartum depression.
Because maternal mental health issues are so prevalent, many counselors’ caseloads include clients who are struggling during the first weeks and months of motherhood. However, few practitioners are well-trained enough to fully understand the unique needs and risks this population presents, says Birdie Meyer, the director of certification for Postpartum Support International (PSI), a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit established to raise awareness of and connect people to resources for maternal mental health issues.
“There are a lot of nuances to this stage of life,” says Meyer, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in counseling. “You can really do damage if you send someone to a therapist who doesn’t know perinatal mental health … [And] There aren’t enough providers out there.”
Worse yet, a practitioner who treats perinatal clients but hasn’t completed comprehensive coursework or trainings in this area can risk doing harm to mothers at a vulnerable time of life. In her decades working in perinatal mental health, Meyer says she’s witnessed horror stories of women being reported to their local department of social services by a practitioner who mis-read the symptoms of peripartum distress – which can include feeling ambivalent toward a new baby or, in severe cases, thoughts of harming the baby or themselves.
“The despair that comes with [peripartum depression] feels like life will never be better, never be the same again. Many times, women seek help but don’t get someone [a practitioner] who understood, or the woman didn’t know where to turn,” says Meyer, who recently retired as coordinator of the perinatal mood disorders program at Indiana University Health, a large hospital system based in Indianapolis.
For this very reason, PSI has begun to offer a certification for helping professionals in perinatal mental health. It’s a project that has been three years in coming, and Meyer was closely involved in the certification’s development and launch.
PSI’s new Certification in Perinatal Mental Health became available in August to counselors, social workers and other mental health practitioners, as well as prescribers (medical doctors, psychiatrists), doulas, midwifes, lactation consultants and other affiliated professions. So far, 130 practitioners have become certified but hundreds more have begun collecting the hours of coursework required to qualify to take the certification exam, Meyer says.
Before a practitioner can list PMH-C after their name, they must pass a rigorous exam and have at least two years of experience in their field. They must also show proof of completion for 14 hours of continuing education in a subject related to maternal mental health. Finally, applicants must participate in an intensive, six-hour training that PSI offers in locations across the U.S., or a pre-approved course equivalent.
PSI has partnered with Pearson VUE, a company with testing centers across the U.S., to proctor the certification exam. The cost to sit for the exam, a test of 125 multiple choice questions, is $500.
PSI developed and refined the certification exam with several teams of subject-matter experts, including professional counselors, Meyer says.
“The test is rigorous,” says Meyer, “but if you’ve had the training that is required you should be able to pass.”
In order to keep up the PMH-C certification, a practitioner will have to complete at least six hours of continuing education each year, she adds.
Meyer believes that the PMH certification will ensure that more and more practitioners are qualified and available to give parents get the help they need in a most critical and vulnerable time of life.
The certification came to fruition after the family of Robyn Cohen, a woman who passed away as a result of a maternal mental health issues, donated to PSI to fund the project in her memory.
Find out more about PSI and the Certification in Perinatal Mental Health at postpartum.net
Email questions about the PMH-C to firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen to an extended interview with Birdie Meyer on the Mom & Mind podcast (episode 104): drkaeni.com/podcast/
Related reading: For more on the unique mental health needs of peripartum clients, see the feature article “Bundle of joy?” in the April issue of Counseling Today.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at email@example.com.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.