n South African Medical Journal - Infant-parent psychotherapy at primary care level : establishment of a service : research




Access to infant and child psychiatric care in South Africa is limited. With focus on maternal and infant mental health, early identification and management of developmental, behavioural and psychosocial parent-child problems can be initiated.

To establish a mental health service for children aged 0 - 3 years, for delivery of infant-parent psychotherapy in a community setting.
The DC: 0-3R Classification for Mental Health and Development Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood was used for diagnosis and standard multi-modal parent-infant psychotherapy methods for short-term interventions.
A total of 179 infants and their maternal caregivers were seen. The primary referral symptom was faltering weight. The most frequent psychiatric diagnosis made was 'feeding disorder of caregiver-infant reciprocity'. Seventy two per cent of caregivers were exposed to more than 4 stress factors; 75% proved compliant with treatment with resultant improvement in the relationship between caregiver and child (78%) and in the age-appropriated functioning of the infant (76%).
This study confirms that a psychotherapeutic service for infants and mothers can be established at a primary healthcare level. Infant-parent psychotherapy was effective and readily accepted by the community. This service offers a training model for mental health providers enabling early recognition of mental health problems in children and psychotherapeutic intervention.


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