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Introducing Dr Alice Dwyer

11 November 2019 Blog
Perinatal mental health Mental health
Dr Alice Dwyer is the Clinical Lead Psychiatrist at St John of God Raphael Services NSW. Alice shares why she is interested in perinatal and infant mental health care and what she hopes for the future.

Where did you start your training?

I started training in perinatal and infant mental health with Professor Marie-Paule Austin at the St John of God Burwood Hospital Mother and Baby Unit in 2013.

At the same time, I was working as a registrar at St John of God Raphael Services so I was able to get experience in both settings – inpatient and community care.

Why were you interested in perinatal and infant mental health?

What really resonates with me personally and professionally is that the care we provide for the woman can make a big difference not only to her but to the child’s outcomes for the rest of their life.

Perinatal and infant mental health focuses on the family, not just the individual in front of you. Being part of that larger story for a parent, their infant and their family is one of the most interesting and exciting parts of my work. 

What is your particular interest in perinatal and infant mental health?

My main interest is in the impact of developmental trauma and how that affects parenting and the attachment relationship for the infant. 

This means really looking at the background and history of the parents and how that might increase their own risk with having impaired parenting practices, and then arresting that and reversing it so it doesn’t impact negatively on the child.

What do you hope for the future of perinatal and infant mental health care?

Research into the outcomes of mental health care during the perinatal period is the key.

We currently use a number of self-reported measures to understand what is happening for a patient and how effective care has been.

I am keen to see more qualitative data and a variety of information sources used – such as information from partners, families and caregivers – to accurately capture how effective treatment has been.

Ultimately following up the infant as they develop would really put the ‘meat on the bones’ of what we do – one would expect that infants who had come through a PIMHS would have better physical, social and emotional outcomes than those whose parents did not have access to care during this critical period. This is what current research shows. 

Interestingly though only treating the parent’s mental illness isn’t usually enough – the parent-infant relationship needs care and focus. That is where the outcomes for the infant start to multiply.

I like to use the metaphor of a plane’s trajectory – if you change its navigation by a few degrees, it ends up in a completely different place. At St John of God Raphael Services we aim to do this for the parents, but most importantly for the infants – shifting their trajectory to a better destination.

Being part of research into this, and translating this into clinical practice would be fascinating and extremely rewarding.

Dr Alice Dwyer - Psychiatrist

Dr Alice Dwyer is the Clinical Lead Psychiatrist at St John of God Raphael Services NSW. She is a consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist who offers a comprehensive, holistic and patient centred approach to optimise the mental health of patients. Dr Dwyer is available to assess and manage diverse patient presentations from ages 16 to 70. She has a special interest in mood disorders, anxiety disorders and personality disorders with particular experience in perinatal psychiatric disorders.

Dr Alice Dwyer Psychiatrist