Mental health care services for reproductive and fertility issues are sadly lacking in the United States. In some alarming statistics shared by Erin Blache of Forward Wellness Counseling and Consulting Services, the US has been ranked the worst developed country for maternal health. According to Blache, the Clinical Director for the Reproductive Counseling Center at Forward, anxiety and mood disorders are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, with very few pregnant women receiving treatment and nearly half of pregnant women describe their labor and childbirth experience as traumatic. Additionally, suicide is a leading cause of death of women who have given birth across the childbearing years, Blache explained.
In her role with Forward Wellness, Blache supervises therapists that specialize in treating reproductive mental health needs; develops training methods so that more therapists and community health providers can provide competent, specialized, trauma and mental-health informed care; and works on clinical and community outreach projects and programs to increase visibility and access to mental health care in our region.
To learn more about Forward Wellness, North Hills Monthly reached out to Blache to explain their services.
North Hills Monthly (NHM): Can you give us a bit of history about Forward Wellness Counseling and Consulting?
Erin Blache (Blache): Jodie Hnatkovich was a vocational rehabilitation counselor in 2012 when she survived the unexpected full term stillborn death of her first child, her daughter, Mae, and stunning lack of perinatal mental health care. She was compelled to develop more and better support for parents and families experiencing commonly suffered, but often invisible, reproductive trauma and grief like hers.
The practice was incorporated in 2015 and grew from an individual proprietorship to a handful of part-time contract therapists. Forward Wellness now has two offices, 29 clinicians, five operations support folks, several interns, and a myriad of community-based outreach initiatives.
Forward Wellness was founded based on specialized, trauma-informed, evidence-based mental and behavioral health care that serves as a touchstone for the region’s reproductive mental health care needs; it has expanded to additionally specialize in trans/gender non- conforming/LGBTQIA2S+ affirming mental health care, as well as acceptance-based neurodivergent affirming mental health care.
NHM: What exactly is the mission of Forward Wellness Counseling and Consulting Center?
Blache: Forward Wellness aims to support all people and their families to live authentic and abundant lives. We strive to reduce barriers to accessing mental health care through specialized support, provider education and care coordination. We believe that our pain and growth are bound up with one another’s; that reflection, candor, and authenticity are vital practices; that our identities must be framed in trauma-informed historical and cultural contexts; that we are responsible for learning and anti-oppressive action; and that we can commit to doing what matters together, alongside the suffering, via compassionate care and connection.
We don’t think it’s radical to support all kinds of families, to celebrate folks unconditionally, to share authentically in our human suffering, and to call capitalism and colonized culture unhealthy for our minds and communities.
Forward Wellness has a values-based approach—Care plus connection are vital: Belonging, support, and interdependence are hardwired in us—we thrive when we feel loved.
We know that our suffering results from patriarchal, capitalistic, colonizing systems. We also know that these systems impact intersecting, oppressed identities the most. At Forward Wellness, when we meet with clients, we must understand their and their families’ identities, contexts, and histories to understand their experience better.
Forward Wellness also knows we can do it differently, centering humanity plus healing. We want to center good work, healing, progress, and collaboration, not profit, the bottom line, and the status quo. And we also know that we can do what matters alongside pain. Expecting the absence of hard stuff is not a reality. Our ability to choose growth, connection, and healing despite suffering, is psychological health.
NHM: Who does Forward Wellness serve?
Blache: We serve folks who are seeking specialty, competent, trauma-informed, supportive care regarding reproductive mental health including fertility issues; miscarriage; stillbirth; infant loss; termination for medical reasons; abortion; traumatic pregnancy and/or birth; LGBTQIA2S+ family building; early parenting and identity challenges, common symptoms across perinatal period including anxiety, depression, OCD, irritability, guilt, scary intrusive thoughts and adjustment difficulty; neurodivergent-affirming care that is acceptance-based, not executive functioning coaching; and trans/gender diverse/LGBTQIA2S+ support.
We can do therapy via telemedicine for folks across Pennsylvania and have two Pittsburgh offices where we can do “in real life” therapy—downtown and Squirrel Hill.
NHM: What makes Forward Wellness different than other mental health care providers?
Blache: Our organizational culture—led by our values as providers, community members, and humans—differentiates us from other mental health agencies and organizations. Our aim is to build and support these values at a structural, organizational level—towards employees—and for clinicians and staff to feel empowered and fulfilled to deliver care to clients in a parallel process.
NHM: How does someone begin the process of seeking services from you?
Blache: If someone is thinking about initiating therapy, they can fill out a quick form on our website about interest in meeting. Our intake coordinator will follow up within 24 hours and match them with a therapist based on their interest/needs, schedule availability, insurance coverage, and any other social location/identity preferences. We encourage folks to explore our therapists via our website—finding the right fit matters a lot.
NHM: How can the public support Forward Wellness?
Blache: We should all talk about mental health—a lot. Specialized care in reproductive mental health is scarce yet lifesaving. If available, accessing care requires financial resources, destigmatization, and support.
By talking about how common mental health symptoms and struggles are, as well as how important good mental health treatment is, we can contribute to more and better care. Destigmatizing mental health struggles and symptoms normalizes our shared humanity, contextualizes the additional burdens of oppressive systems, builds community care and connection, and signals for more and more integrated support.
NHM: Do you have any special events or outreach programming coming up?
Blache: In addition to our usual counseling, consulting, and community outreach work, we have a number of cool projects coming up. We’re releasing a new series of asynchronous, CEU-bearing trainings for therapists on trauma, loss, and reproductive mental health care, and we’re building a guidebook and training for navigating client crises with compassionate, collaborative, effective care.
We also have some great groups coming up: including LGBTQIA2+ Belonging which will be virtual and Primary Infertility Support in our Squirrel Hill Office. We are also excited to support some partner organizations in upcoming projects and conferences.
NHM: Any closing thoughts?
Blache: We want you to know that mental health is for everyone. And that finding the right therapist for you is possible and awesome. We want our clients and communities to know that so many of their struggles are not their fault, are shared (with us), and that being in connection with each other helps. We’re here.
For more information on Forward Wellness, visit https://www.forwardwellnesscounseling.com or contact 412-660-6100.