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Six approaches for your practice toolbox
With these six approaches and some key knowledge, you can make a life-changing difference.
You can adapt our practice and language tips to suit your own style and practice context, and your clients’ needs.
These practices help build trust and rapport needed to support disclosure, even in a brief interaction.
Be mindful of potential barriers to trust and disclosure, including mental health literacy, previous negative experiences with healthcare providers, trauma and minority stress – the mental health impact of discrimination.
Hold and express compassion and positive regard for clients.
Acknowledge the changes that come with new parenthood.
Let clients know they can be open and honest with you.
Listen and look for clues that your client is struggling.
Support and advocate for continuity of care: read notes, ensure handover.
If someone is brave enough to let you know they’re struggling, empathy and non-judgement are critical. Avoid providing solutions or reassurance at this stage.
Active listening: nodding, eye contact, open body language.
Validate distress and disclosures of concern, but avoid reacting too quickly.
Pause, give gentle non- verbal feedback and allow some silence.
Don’t jump to solutions. Focus on letting your client know you have heard what they shared, and that further sharing is welcome.
Reflect back your client’s words: ‘I can hear ...’
Avoid reassurance before validating distress and exploring risk. Reassurance alone can shut a conversation down.
Address mental and physical health. Clients often won’t talk upfront about feeling anxious or sad, but instead share worries about birth, their baby’s health, or struggles with feeding or settling.
Pause before giving practical advice. Seek permission to explore first how these concerns are affecting their emotional wellbeing.
Curiosity helps you explore disclosures, and gather the information you need to assess risk. Set assumptions aside and explore: what does this experience mean, for this client, at this time?
Openly ask about risk and clearly explore next steps. You never need to manage risk alone. PANDA and other specialist services can help.
Ask open-ended questions using clear, non- judgmental language.
Practice active listening, slow down and allow pauses in the conversation.
Be curious about your client’s journey to parenthood, including challenges like infertility, reproductive loss, relationship difficulties, family violence and trauma.
When asking about risk, avoid euphemisms and de-stigmatise symptoms like anger, suicidality and drug use.
Take care not to ‘get ahead’ of what your client has disclosed.
Summarise what you are hearing at different points, and ask if you have it right. Return to points if needed to clarify or expand your understanding. Check that it’s okay with them to continue the conversation.
Avoid colluding with client minimization, e.g. ‘But I’m fine’, or ‘I’d never actually do anything’.
Mental health screening and supportive conversations are effective if they lead to clients getting the right support.
However, research shows that referrals aren’t always successful. Empower and support your clients to access the supports they need.
Encourage clients to persist if they can’t or don’t connect with the service to whom they are referred.
A ‘double dose’ of mental health stigma and shame for not enjoying parenthood stops many people from seeking help.
Providing clear mental ‘health education’ reduces the impact of stigma, supports help-seeking, and increases mental health literacy across our diverse community. PANDA’s website contains a wealth of mental health community education resources.
Share information about perinatal mental health issues, and effectiveness of early intervention.
Give written/digital health information (including PANDA’s tools and resources) alongside a supportive conversation.
Speak about the ‘unspeakable’: make it safer to disclose by appropriately sharing what you know other clients commonly experience.
Remember that many people mask their distress. Share information about perinatal mental health with every client.
Perinatal mental distress affects dads and non- birth parents in LGBTIQ parent families: offer information and appropriate support options.
As a provider of healthcare to vulnerable families, you are at risk of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. This affects your wellbeing and ability to support clients.
Prevention is ideal. Know your warning signs, make use of available supports and seek more as needed.
Thinking about work after hours.
Difficulties connecting and listening to clients.
Difficulty focussing, thinking clearly or being creative. Feeling helpless or unskilled.
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