Tell us a little about yourself outside of your work.
We are an international family since I am Portuguese, lived in England for 10 years where I met my British husband, had my first child (Matilda) and then we all moved to Singapore 7 years ago. I then had another child (Arthur) and added 2 dogs to the family for extra liveliness in our house.
I love living here as it’s sunny every day and we get to easily travel around the region — like “popping-over” for a weekend in Bali. Living in different countries has opened up our views of the world and I love the fact my 4-year son can communicate in four different languages.
What sparked your interest in maternal mental health? Is there anything you’d like to share about your path?
I started counseling in London where I focused on bereavement counseling with people from all ages and backgrounds. Once I fell pregnant though, I felt drawn to supporting other mothers. I found motherhood so challenging and was appalled to discover there was hardly any psychological or emotional support available. There was no safe space to talk about the unpleasant emotions that go along with motherhood such as anger, boredom, anxiety. I also experienced a traumatic birth with my youngest son, which made me more interested in exploring this under-researched and undertreated population.
I decided I would specialize in Perinatal Mental Health through counseling, support groups and public education around this topic. It has been my passion ever since and the more I work with new parents, the more I want to find ways to best support them.
Tell us about your work.
Up until recently, I was working in a private Obstetric medical clinic as I believe integrative care is the best healthcare model for the future. However, my clinical director was made Head of O&G at a public hospital, so I have now set up a private practice with a team of 4 counselors. Aside from Singaporean mothers, we work with women from all over the world, which makes this job extremely interesting. It would be impossible to be truly culturally competent with such diversity, so I aim for cultural humility to best serve and work with our clients.
I run a free support group for mothers called Mindful Mums which has been running successfully for over 6 years. I have also run many public talks and professional workshops to increase awareness and improve treatment of PMADs.
My experience is that there is considerably more stigma in Asia when it comes to seeking mental health support, as compared to the UK, US or Australia. This barrier to treatment means that many women and men are not getting the crucial support they should be receiving in order to recover. The support group acts as a safe bridge to demystify some of the perceptions around counseling and many women have been successfully referred to various hospitals and private clinics for treatment.
How has PSI membership been beneficial to you and your career?
PSI allowed me to pursue educational opportunities to advance my knowledge and skills as a counselor since opportunities to train in this area are rare in Asia. PSI has anchored me professionally and also gave me the confidence and motivation to start the free support group for mothers. I don’t feel so alone in my work, I can keep up with latest developments in diagnostics and treatment and the listserv groups are always full of great information.
I was delighted to find out I was the first to achieve PMH-C certification outside of North America – I was so proud!
What do you think the PSI world community might like to know about your work?
I am now in my second year of a PhD in Applied Psychophysiology with Saybrook University, looking at cutting edge interventions for supporting women struggling with mood or anxiety issues perinatally. This includes biofeedback, neurofeedback and stimulation technologies. My plan is to conduct research focused on birth trauma, analyzing Quantitative ElectroEncephalograph pre- and post-treatment. I am an EMDR practitioner so will likely use this intervention for the study.
I am hoping to start presenting some of my case studies in the conference circuits soon enough. I would urge our clinicians who are not familiar with applied psychophysiology techniques to look into biofeedback / neurofeedback as an effective intervention for anxiety and depression. There is increasing evidence in support of these very safe interventions. This is a great website to find out more if you’re interested: AAPB
Anything else you’d like to share?
One day I hope to return to Portugal and become a PSI Coordinator there. There is currently no PSI representation and there is a great need for extra psychological support for Portuguese mothers and fathers. So watch this space!
Special thanks to volunteer Dina Drankus Pekelnicky for interviewing Sylvia!