Perinatal mental health is a crucial area of practice that significantly impacts the lives of many individuals. Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss this area with Jenna Cohen, LCSW, PMH-C, a standout therapist known for her innovative funding strategies and my former consultee. Jenna shared her experiences and insights, offering a road map for therapists aspiring to extend their services.
Taína: Even if a clinician is passionate about perinatal mental health, they may be hesitant if they are not specifically trained in grant writing. What advice do you have?
Jenna: Start by figuring out what you want to do with the money. Who do you want to serve? Who do you want to reach? Once you know what you want to do, start Googling local grants to find a funder that is a good fit.
What I've learned is that people in the grant world want to find places to put their money to help their community. While federal grants usually have bigger dollar amounts, they also have more red tape.
The grant application doesn't have to be anything fancy; start by writing a couple paragraphs or some bullet points about what you are looking to do. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, you can always look up grant forms to make sure the formatting is correct.
Taína: Speaking of finding funders and partners, can you elaborate about the partners you chose to work with?
Jenna: Whether you're working with an agency, an individual practice, or a group practice, find where the gaps are where you might get referrals.
In Connecticut, the Department of Children and Family (DCF) has been a great supporter and funder. Their ultimate goal is providing safety and protection for children. So my pitch addressed the need for services prior to or during pregnancy or in the early postpartum phases, in order to protect children, their families, and their homes. It was not a hard stretch. A lot of people at DCF see that already and know getting in early is key.
There are also referrals from pediatricians and obstetricians (OBGYNs). If you're a therapist and you have a close relationship with an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), medical provider, or psychiatrist, you're going to get a lot of referrals, because they want to know their patient is being taken care of.
Taína: Can you reflect on the differences you've experienced working with an agency and now with smaller organizations?
Jenna: I say this with love, respect, and admiration for the agency I worked for, but each organization - whether private, public, or nonprofit - has their own mission to stick to and it may be a little different than yours. During COVID, children and mental health needs skyrocketed and that is the number one initiative the DCF had to work on. So, unfortunately, the perinatal work fell off a bit.
The agency couldn't take any more adults. I brought in tons of clients, but didn't have enough therapists or space to meet their needs because everyone was booked with kids.
It came to the point where my mission as a therapist was clear and that perinatal mental health was a big driver for me, so I started dabbling in private practice. I joined a group private practice where I get to take on all the perinatal clients my schedule can handle. I've also started my own private practice where I do intensives, which I'm interested in finding outside funding for.
When you're at a big agency, you've got to go through many different sources to get someone signed up for a training. But, at a small organization, you can be a lot more nimble and things can happen more quickly. You can focus on making clients a high priority by building partnerships with local hospitals and birthing centers so that I can meet them before they are discharged and shape the client interaction more.
Taína: Sometimes as therapists, we get lost in the weeds and want clients to be 100% better, but need to recognize that 10% better is still better than where they started. For your grant funding, how do you measure the results of an initiative?
Jenna: Yes, funders want to see results, so we administered the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL 5) on intake and discharge. If we can show a reduction in the trauma symptoms, that's significant data.
When writing your own grants, make sure you have an easy, trackable way to show your data. It might be a screener like the PCL 5 or tracking new clients from a certain income level or community.
Taína: Tell us about the impact this work has had.
Jenna: The impact has been huge. I've gotten referrals from DCF and Child Protective Services (CPS), from doctors and visiting nurse services - and realized how many people in these organizations didn't know what the "perinatal period" was or what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS) was, so they couldn't look for or explain these things to patients. Also, educating the people I collaborated with about different types of therapies. Now, there are more advocates out there administering more screeners.
Many of my clients had heard of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, but they didn't necessarily have access or education about the perinatal period. Some though that they would develop postpartum psychosis from postpartum depression. They didn't know what trauma looks like, how to get a therapist, or that there is help for knowing which medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. They've learned to see beyond the stigma and understand that therapy is an amazing thing to do for themselves.
Therapy has brought about change to the lives of people who would have never considered therapy before; some even refer their friends to try perinatal-focused EMDR. I get chills thinking about it. We have the individual work, but with the funding for this program, the beauty of this work cascades out.
Jenna ended our interview by sharing that she hopes others in this field are inspired to collaborate, seek out funding, and spread the word about their mental health services so that we as a community are better able to support families during the perinatal period and beyond.
Interested in connecting with Jenna to discuss innovative funding or EMDR consultation? Click below to get in touch!
While the above conversation is full of invaluable insights on innovative funding, there's even more to learn in the recording!