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Lookup NU author(s): Dr Simon Hackett
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© 2020 British Association of Art Therapists. Background: Art therapy in perinatal parent-infant work is a developing area of practice in the UK. One in five mothers experience a mental illness during the perinatal period or during the early years following birth. It is likely that more than half of perinatal illness remains untreated. Parental stress and relational adversity are known to influence infant neurodevelopment. Context: This paper describes the introduction of art therapy in an NHS perinatal parent-infant mental health outpatient facility. The department concerned authorised an art therapy service evaluation during 2017. Views and experiences of nine mothers with mental health issues, who attended the service with their babies, were collected and are included here. Approach: The approach to perinatal parent-infant art therapy described is systemic in that it is underpinned by the concept of ecosystem and psychodynamic because it is informed by transgenerational relational effects that a parent’s mind has on an infant’s developing personality. Outcomes: The mothers who attended this perinatal parent-infant art therapy service felt their views and worries were considered and they perceived art therapy as helpful. Positive changes perceived by mothers include better self-understanding, comprehension of problems, positive mood changes, and improved interrelations with their babies. Conclusions: The mothers who experienced this innovative approach perceived the sessions as helpful in relation to their perinatal parent-infant mental health. Art therapy was well supported within the interdisciplinary perinatal parent-infant service. Implications for research: Further research is now needed to test clinical effectiveness and the potential for intergenerational repair. Plain-language summary This paper describes the introduction of art therapy in an NHS perinatal parent-infant mental health outpatient service. This facility is one of only a few in the UK which provides both a perinatal and a parent-infant service for parents with mental health and bonding issues. The perinatal period lasts from around twenty-weeks before to twenty-weeks after birth. One in five mothers suffer a mental illness during this time or during the early years of their infant’s development. It is likely that more than half of perinatal illnesses remains untreated. Here we outline the underlying theoretical framework of this approach to perinatal parent-infant art therapy before describing the experiences and views of nine mothers who attended the service with their babies and agreed to take part in a service review authorised by the department. We asked one mother to talk about how difficult memories sometimes got in the way of the relationship she had with her new baby. She told us how art therapy and art making helped her express her thoughts and feelings outwardly. This gave her more ‘head space’ to think about what her baby needed to develop healthily. All mothers who attended this service felt their views and worries were considered and they perceived art therapy as helpful. Positive changes perceived by mothers include better self-understanding, comprehension of problems, positive mood changes and improved interrelations with their babies. In conclusion, the paper describes the ways in which art therapy within perinatal parent-infant work, using the approach described in this paper, may have provided a small window of opportunity for influencing change and intergenerational repair for the nine parent-infants who participated in the review. Future research is however needed to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of change and to test clinical effectiveness.
Author(s): Bruce D, Hackett SS
Publication type: Article
Publication status: Published
Journal: International Journal of Art Therapy
Online publication date: 18/08/2020
Acceptance date: 13/07/2020
ISSN (print): 1745-4832
ISSN (electronic): 1745-4840
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