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Christina Hibbert, Ph.D. – Postpartum Support Int 2013 Conference

Originally posted May 6, 2013.

Behind the Scenes

Spotlight: Christina Hibbert, Ph.D.

Intro: You have been involved in different areas of Maternal Mental Health for many years. You founded the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition, you produced a DVD about Postpartum Couples, and your daily psychotherapy practice is centered on the woman & family experience.

Q: Do you have a personal story as a foundational element to your particular niche, Maternal Mental Health?

I had postpartum depression with my first son, 16 ½ years ago. At the time, I had a degree in psychology, so I knew something wasn’t right, but I had a heck of a time finding resources and support. When I turned to my doctor, he just mailed me a brochure about the “Baby Blues.”

What I was feeling seemed so much stronger than that, so it just made me feel even more alone.

My husband and I actually moved in with my mom and dad and slept on the floor of their living room for almost 2 months because he was in school and working full time and I was a mess.

I eventually got well on my own, but two years later, I had PPD again when my second son was born. I started graduate school when he was only 5 months old, began researching Postpartum Depression.

I eventually found Jane Honikman (the founder of Postpartum Support International). She was the first one to tell me what PPD really was, to normalize it, and to affirm the things I’d already learned—that it was real, that I should have had help, and that resources were definitely not adequate. I started volunteering with PSI in 2000. I then did my dissertation (and produced a DVD) on Postpartum Couples, and the rest is history!

Q: I’d love to know more about how the idea came about for your upcoming book, This is How We Grow. You say you learned how you, as a mental health “expert” became a “patient.” Is this book about perinatal mental illness? Or have you expanded your vision?

There’s definitely a story behind the book. It’s actually a memoir of the 4 years after the time when my sister and brother-in-law died, we inherited our two nephews, and I gave birth to our 4th baby, bringing us from 3 to 6 kids pretty much overnight. There is some perinatal mental health in the story, since I had a baby at the time and I’m prone to PPD. But the book is really the story of how I, the mental health “expert” become the “patient,” how I struggle through my life trials, and the lessons I learn as I work to build a new family and build myself too.

Q: You are such an innovator when it comes to training as well. Your DVD, Postpartum Couples has sold internationally. How did it come about that you developed this project?

It was actually part of my dissertation. I had a big interest in PPD at the time, and my friend and colleague, Cynthia Lermond, had an interest in couples work. We combined and produced the DVD together.

Remember, this was before iMovie and all the tools we have now, so it was a ton of work and a lot to learn. We ended up pairing up with a filmmaker from USC Film School, since my husband was in USC Dental School at the time, and he showed us what to do. We searched so long for couples willing to talk about PPD on film, and it was especially tough getting fathers who were willing to open up on camera.

But, oh, how wonderful once they did! Those dads are what make the video so special. We spent hours editing into the early morning at his little apartment, while he and his family slept. It was a lot of fun, though, and it’s been very rewarding to actually “use” my dissertation to help so many people!

Q: Tell us more about your panel presentation at the upcoming PSI conference: Maternal Mental Health Legislation and Advocacy Workshop: How to create policy and implement Change. It sounds wonderful.

It’s an excellent group of women, brought together by the fabulous Wendy Davis, PSI Program Director. We’ve each had our own experiences trying to advocate for change and policy in our various states, so it will be a unique combination of years of hard work and wisdom on what has been successful and what hasn’t.

For my part, I founded the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition in 2005. After moving back from California after graduate school, I was determined to “change Arizona!” I was fortunate to get connected with some excellent friends and colleagues who shared that vision. We’ve had successes and failures, but the biggest success is that we keep going.

Q: Do you find your non-profit advocacy fulfilling? It sounds wonderful and I’d love some tips about creating a non-profit in New Jersey.

I was a PSI coordinator for Arizona at the time I founded the Coalition (still am!) and as part of my role, I called everyone I could think of to talk about PPD.

I gave free presentations, and eventually set up a statewide “Forum on Postpartum Depression,” which had 30 key participants. Everyone wanted to do something after the forum, and that’s what made me want to start a coalition. So, I partnered with some excellent people, we set up a corporation and eventually filed for non-profit status. We kept saying, “I hope no one figures out we have no idea what we’re doing!”

It’s been 8 years that we’ve been up and running, and it’s been a roller coaster. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to meet others who are passionate about creating a healthier postpartum atmosphere for our Arizona Families, to be able to provide support for countless families through our warmline, to train over 700 Arizona providers with our 10 “2-Days,” and to use those resources to create a fairly extensive list of “trained providers” to whom we can refer families.

It’s also a lot of work. We’ve lost momentum along the way as volunteers and members have moved or moved on. We’ve had to scale back our focus in order to maintain the great resources we provide, and it’s tough to keep things going without financial and manpower support from a larger, established entity. But we don’t quit! We adapt. We’re still making a difference, and that feels terrific!

Q: I see that you are presenting about family therapy and maternal mental health. Strengthening Perinatal Families: Using Couple’s & Family Therapy to Heal Relationships: This seems to me to be a wonderful fit. I do a lot of family therapy and incorporate those concepts into my work as well. Tell us more about you came to this approach and about the work itself.

One of the best things I’ve ever learned about doing therapy is this: Always assume you’re working with a family.

Whether it’s one person, two, or five sitting in my office, I always try to remember the impact my work will have on their family too. I’m very family-focused, especially since I’ve had to put my own family together these past years.

Family matters most, and when you’re counseling someone through postpartum depression, it’s even more important. I hope to share, in my PSI talk, some of the tools and strategies I use to help mothers, fathers, children, and families heal. That’s what we really want anyway, isn’t it? Not just healthy mothers, but healthy families.

Q: What are some of your other projects going on now?

I got a call, out of the blue, from a well-known publisher last month, asking if I’d be willing to write a book on self-esteem for them! They actually found me through my blog posts on self-esteem and I was shocked! I just submitted a proposal for my “self-esteem” book concept and also a proposal for my memoir. I’ll know in a few weeks if we’re proceeding with either one of them. In the meantime, I’m doing the final edits on This is How We Grow. If this publisher decides not to publish it, then I’m self-publishing, and I plan to have it out later this year.

I also continue to build my website and blog, “The Psychologist, The Mom, & Me”. I’ve added some great articles in my areas of expertise, such as Postpartum Depression, Parenting and Grief/Loss, Women’s Mental Health and Personal Growth.

I also love speaking on these topics whenever the opportunities arise. (And singing a song or two. You know me—I love writing songs and sharing them when I speak!)

Of course, my family is my main “project”. I work in my practice one day a week, but really I’m a work-at-home mom, trying to keep up with a fun-loving husband and 6 kids, 16½ -5 (including three teenagers!!)!

Q: Do you have some professional mentoring-type advice to those clinicians who are working tirelessly in the perinatal mood disorders world?

Take care of yourself. We are such a passionate bunch, and I love that! But, we need to be the examples of self-care and self-love. We need to save ourselves before we attempt to help others save themselves.

I love this quote by Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

We are the lighthouses. All you really need to do is stand there, be who you are, and shine. Your light will guide others safely home.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

I wouldn’t be who I am today without my hard times, including PPD.

I say a prayer of gratitude each day that I’ve been given opportunities to grow and that I’ve taken them.

My “tagline” on my website says, “Overcome. Become. Flourish.”

I want anyone out there who’s feeling overwhelmed by life to know this: You can not only overcome what’s facing you, you can become who you are meant to be, and even flourish! Trust me. I’m living proof.

To connect with me, please follow me on Twitter: @DrCHibbert

or “Like” my FB Page:

Thanks so much for all your work, Kathy, and for this opportunity.

Thank you for your valuable time & input!

Your light makes the world a brighter place! Let your shining light shine on!

See you in Minneapolis!

Namaste, Kathy


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