Mothers' representations of their child in a maternal mental health setting in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
Attachment theory and research indicates that early close relationships impact on later socio-emotional functioning, and mothers' mental representations of their infants are thought to play an important mediating factor. Severe and long standing maternal mental health problems have been found to interfere with sensitive caregiving. The present study examined the use of the Working Model of the Child Interview (WMCI) in the clinical setting of the Maternal Mental Health (MMH) system in New Zealand. Eight mothers, all of whom had either severe post-partum depression and/or other mental health issues, were interviewed. Qualitative differences in their narratives pointed to clinically relevant maternal distortions. Less than half of the transcripts were classified as balanced (balanced 37.5%, distorted 25%, disengaged 37.5%). Results supported previous research findings that maternal mental health issues interfered with the mothers' insight into how the child experienced the caregiving environment, placing children at greater risk for developing insecure attachments. Findings indicated that certain excerpts from the WMCI could be used by MMH workers to assess risk and protective factors to the infant-mother dyad and their implications for clinical interventions. The current research offers support for an integrated approach to maternal and infant mental health in a MMH setting.