What is CBT?

There are many different therapeutic modalities that therapists can subscribe to and use to guide their treatment planning, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts and our perceptions can influence our behavior. CBT has been shown to be effective at treating a wide range of conditions, including postpartum depression and anxiety. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered equally effectively in person or via telehealth. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify problematic thoughts that may be causing us distress (e.g., anxiety), learn to assess whether these thoughts are realistic and accurate, and if not – employ strategies to overcome them/reframe them to be more balanced assessments. Let’s break it down:

Something happens: You go back to work after maternity leave.

We have an automatic thought(s) that interpret that event: My baby’s development is going to be stunted and our bond is going to be negatively impacted now that I am not baby’s primary caregiver.

Based on those thoughts, we formulate our reaction: You feel guilt and frustration with your return to work.

When we use CBT, our goal is to change those negative automatic thoughts so that we can change our reaction, and in turn, the way that we feel. After all, if you’re thinking negative thoughts, your reaction to a situation is more likely to be negative and you in turn are more likely to feel negative. That’s exhausting and can be very disruptive of your life in many ways.

So how do we work on making those automatic thoughts less negative, and more balanced? I have my clients use the following checklist when it comes to evaluating their thoughts;

  1. Is this thought realistic? While it’s realistic to be worried about the quality of care your baby will receive when with others, it’s probably not as realistic to assume that your baby’s IQ is going to tank and you’ll have an estranged relationship for the rest of eternity because you put baby in daycare.

  2. Is this thought true? No. Research has shown that children who attend daycare have the same outcomes as children who are cared for exclusively by their mothers, and a child’s trust in and bond with their mother is not impacted by using babysitters or day care.

  3. Is this thought helpful? NO! Chances are high that this thought makes you feel guilty and anxious. Not fun.

The goal is to determine if your thoughts are realistic and accurate and if they’re not, we work to replace them with more realistic and balanced thoughts.

How Can CBT Help Treat Postpartum Depression & Postpartum Anxiety?

CBT can be a very useful tool when it comes to addressing the negative thought patterns that lead moms to experience depression and anxiety postpartum. For many new moms, expectations to be a perfect parent can be a driving force when it comes to experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. With CBT, moms learn to examine these expectations and the thoughts that accompany them and work toward making them more realistic. In the process, moms are learning to shift their self-talk to be more positive while also learning strategies for coping with all of the stressors and responsibilities of motherhood while still taking care of themselves (like mindfulness and relaxation techniques). After all, happy mom = happy baby.

It sounds very simplistic, but it’s a process and it takes time. I often tell my clients that when it comes to changing our negative thinking patterns, it’s initially a lot of “fake it ‘til you make it.” But with lots of practice, you’ll start to notice that this process becomes second-nature and instead of letting negative thoughts influence your feelings and behavior, you employ a healthier and more balanced approach to interpreting and interacting with the world around you, leading you to feel better overall.

Have questions about CBT or if this therapeutic approach is right for you? Let’s chat!

Amanda McClellan is a licensed clinical social worker based in Ann Arbor, Michigan specializing in maternal mental health. Amanda works with a wide range of issues including perinatal mood disorders like postpartum depression; perinatal anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and OCD; and perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder. Amanda also helps both new moms and more experienced pros make time and space for emotional healing, develop healthy boundaries, increase self-care & master coping strategies for mom guilt, burn out, and fatigue.

If you’re looking for a therapist in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, you can contact Amanda here to learn more about her current openings and scheduling a consultation.