Maternal Mental Health
An Interview with Natalie Brunswick, MScOT
Occupational Therapist & Psychotherapist
Natalie Brunswick, MScOT, is an occupational therapist and psychotherapist based in Toronto, Canada, who believes strongly in the need for a holistic, relational, and systemic approach to maternal mental health and wellness.
She is a trauma-informed therapist, meaning that she is mindful of the various ways that adverse or traumatic events from our past inform the person we are today and shape the way we experience the world. She believes that in healing the emotional wounds we carry with us, as well as gaining practical skills and resources, we can not only better cope with the very real challenges of motherhood, but thrive in our relationships with ourselves and others.
Her work aims to help clients who are experiencing anxiety and depression, as well as those feeling overwhelmed, isolated, struggling with feelings of unworthiness, shame, fear, perfectionism, identity loss, chronic pain, insomnia, and more. In her practice, she draws upon a variety of psychotherapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), emotion-focused therapy (EFT), acceptance and commitment therapy, mindful self-compassion, and somatic therapies.
In this interview, Natalie shares some personal insight into how she found her inspiration, motivation, and confidence in pursuing her path as a maternal mental health specialist.
What inspired you to begin your specialized work in maternal mental health?
I became a mother myself! I started to notice all the mothers around me feeling completely overwhelmed and disconnected from their identities, their intuition, from what they thought motherhood would look and feel like, feeling incredibly unsupported, anxious, exhausted, and really struggling in many areas of their lives. I heard stories of mothers going to see their general practitioners, and even going to psychiatrists, and being told that they were fine, when in fact they were very far from fine. As well, I experienced first-hand just how hard that transition can be. I had an exceptionally difficult time perinatally, with very little support – my son had a hard time latching, was colicky, had reflux, was highly sensitive and wanted to be held at all times. I also had an abdominal diastasis, pain, and struggled with feelings of failure and overwhelm. So I knew pretty quickly after I began my sojourn into motherhood that this was a population I wanted to help support.
I had already been working in a psychotherapeutic role before I became a mother, working with adults who were struggling with traumatic childhood histories, having not felt seen, heard, and accepted as children, or even just having inherited a dysregulated nervous system. At the same time, I was also witnessing and experiencing the collective anxiety that predominates modern motherhood and it became hard for me to ignore the impact that this stress was potentially having on our children. So I became a fierce advocate of supporting mothers, which I really do believe is the most important type of early intervention I can think of.
I also couldn’t stop thinking about how inherently well suited this population was to working with occupational therapists. If we consider the Person-Environment-Occupation (PEO) Model, as it relates to maternal mental health, it becomes very easy to see this goodness of fit. Of course, we have the person factors – trauma history, thoughts and core beliefs, discomfort with emotions, lack of skills and experience, hormones, etc. But we also have a new occupational role that we’ve never had to perform before – one that is unique and different with each child. And we have to figure it all out while incredibly sleep-deprived and mostly on our own (with the help of Google, which at times is more harm than help). At no other point in our lives are we expected to learn so many new skills, new ways of being and relating to ourselves and the world, in such a chaotic and unsupported environment. While I love being able to use my psychotherapy training to support mothers in making changes to their emotional landscape, it’s also so nice to be able to recommend a product or tool that can help them modify the occupation or the environment, which is no less impactful or important than the former.
How did you begin to take those first steps to differentiate yourself as an emerging professional in this area?
The first thing I started to do was to get on social media and follow some maternal mental health accounts. This provided an incredible opportunity to not only learn from people who have been doing this longer than me but to network with professionals from all over the world. I also started looking into the literature, reading books, and eventually signed up for Postpartum Support International’s perinatal mental health educational program. I also completed training on infant and toddler sleep – which is an enormous factor contributing to maternal mental health and wellbeing. I had already completed training in CBT, DBT, MBCT and mindfulness-based self-compassion, and more before making this transition, all of which apply to my work with this population.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with these women in need of your specialty services?
I think just knowing how important this work is, how much of a difference it makes in people's lives. Because this doesn't only affect mothers. It affects their children. Their partners. Their communities. It’s a ripple effect. And that makes it so incredibly meaningful.
How would you encourage other occupational therapists to pursue a similar career in maternal mental health?
Just get out there! Get on social media. Start following accounts that interest you. Start networking. Start doing some research. Talk to professionals doing similar work. Just start. As an OT you already have so many of the skills you need to work with this population. The thing that I see most with OTs is the feeling that they need more training, need more courses, need more practice. And it’s simply not necessary. That might be a symptom of us being in a female-dominated profession – we’re all plagued by imposter syndrome. So, yes, just get out there and start.
Natalie Brunswick, MScOT
Master of Science in Occupational Therapy: University of Toronto (2017)
Natalie currently resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she provides holistic occupational therapy services and psychotherapy services to the women in her community. If you want to learn more about her practice style, approach, and method, or have questions specifically about pursuing this area of practice, you can connect with her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her professional website www.nataliebrunswick.com