Mother’s fear of seeking Mental Health Support
One of the most common fears that prevent new mothers from seeking mental health support is the fear that their child (or children) will be taken away from them if they reveal that they have “dark” or intrusive thoughts. As a woman and a mother who sits in a position of privilege -white, educated, and middle class- it is very easy for me to say that it is never the intention of a therapist or a social worker to urge a client to receive help with the intent of taking away their child. But the fear is very real. I remember years ago when working with a teenage mom, I did a bit of oversharing, and let her know that there were times even I didn’t like being a mom. I remember her shock at my admission and said that if she ever said the same thing that they would come take her baby away. My attempt at creating space for her to vent her feelings of frustration about the late nights, endless laundry, and diapers did not succeed in the way that I had hope but it did create insight into how she felt endlessly observed and judged.
For parents who would benefit from counseling (and I sincerely believe that most of us fall into this category), it is important to understand what are the issues that mental health professionals are required to report.
Thoughts of harming oneself or others: When thoughts of suicide are disclosed in a counseling intake or therapy session, professionals are trained on assessing the safety of the individual. They will assess if the person has a plan or if they are generalized thoughts. These conversations are difficult but are extremely important to get the individual the help that they need.
Child abuse or neglect: At times the line between discipline and child abuse can be very fine. The purpose of having open conversations about disciplining children is not to create a “gotcha” moment between the client and professional but to create awareness and education on the forms of discipline that lead a child to learn “better” or healthier behavior in contrast to discipline that causes a child to experience negative stress, shame or further rebellion. It is never okay for an adult or authority figure to hit a child with an object or withhold essential care items such as food, clothing, or medicine. Child sexual abuse also falls under this category. Therapists, social workers, medical professionals, clergy, coaches, and school workers are all required to report instances of child abuse or neglect.
Domestic violence: Domestic violence is a very difficult subject because it can take on many forms. In general, social workers and therapists are trained to create safety plans with victims and understand the victims are experts in keeping themselves safe. However, when abuse occurs in front of a child or involves a child or the victim is in extreme dangers, a professional may have to intervene and report the situation.
Therapy can only be successful if the person receiving the therapy feels safe. Creating clear boundaries of what information will remain confidential and what information will need to be reported helps social workers and therapists create this safe space. If you ever have questions about these topics or feel you could benefit from talking to someone, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Hopeful Beginnings.