News Release

February 25, 2005

Contact: Kristina Goodnough, 860-679-3700

Free Counseling Eases Stress for Mothers

UConn Health Center offers educational program

FARMINGTON, Conn. – Free 12-week counseling programs for mothers of children under the age of five are available through the Psychiatry Department at UConn Health Center.

“We call the programs ‘Mothers Overcoming and Managing Stress (MOMS)” because our goal is to help mothers build on their personal strengths by learning new approaches to dealing with stress,” says Julian Ford, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry. “Often, the hardest part about being a parent is knowing what to do when other life experiences cause stress that gets in the way of being with and enjoying your child. If mothers have some effective tools to manage stress, most are incredibly good at providing healthy parenting to their children during the really important period of development between birth and kindergarten,” says Ford.

The programs are open to mothers who have experienced significant stress or trauma, including a serious accident, disaster, legal or substance use problems, or violence or abuse in the home or community. “If a person has experienced significant stress or trauma, it doesn’t necessarily make them mentally ill and it certainly doesn’t make them a bad person. It may, however, make them more reactive in ways that can interfere with the patience and focused attention that are needed by every parent of a young child,” says Ford, who has done extensive research on post traumatic stress in mothers and young children. “We think of stress reactions as a healthy, natural attempt by the body to protect you from further danger or harm, and we explain how the body’s ‘alarm system’ can become out of balance due to surviving extreme stress. Then we teach several practical ways to get this bodily alarm system back on track again,” says Ford.

Two different kinds of counseling classes will be available to mothers. Both provide 12 private, weekly hour-long sessions with a trained counselor and both have proven effective in helping people manage stress. The counseling teaches real life coping skills to handle “alarm reactions” such as anger, worry, nervousness, depression, impatience, boredom, over-eating, acting without thinking and withdrawal from relationships, among other things.

Each participant will be interviewed and complete questionnaires before, during and after the counseling sessions, and complete a brief phone screening every day for a month at the beginning and conclusion of the counseling. “Our goal is to rigorously test the two approaches and learn how each one is effective,” says Ford. “Ultimately, our goal is to test the efficacy of the programs to determine which is most effective,” says Ford. Finally, the goal is to develop a program that can be taught to mothers in similar programs throughout the country and internationally.

“We know that parents troubled by violence or stress are likely to have a hard time providing for the security and healthy development of their children. This is not the parent’s fault. In turn, their children run the risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems that often persist into adulthood − again, not because either the parent or child is failing, but because stress takes a toll on them,” says Ford. “We think we can begin to break this vicious cycle by reaching out to stressed parents and offering them real skills and encouragement at a crucial time in their child’s development.”

The counseling programs are part of a behavioral health study funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Justice. Assessment and counseling services are available at UConn Health Center in Farmington and Burgdorf Fleet Health Center in Hartford. For more information, call 860-547-1426, ext. 7045.

IRB No. 05-051

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