Psychology, Professional



Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)

Type of Paper/Work

Doctoral Project


Consuelo Cavalieri

Second Advisor

Genace Edwall

Third Advisor

Elizabeth A. Carlson


Research has consistently demonstrated that maternal mental illness negatively impacts a mother’s ability to provide the sensitive care a young child needs for healthy brain development (Campbell et al., 2004; Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (CDCHU), 2009; Conroy et al., 2012; Wan, Warren, Salmon, & Abel, 2008). The factors that contribute to the sensitive caregiving by mothers with mental illness are not well understood. However, research has shown that parental reflective functioning, parental adverse childhood experiences, and parental social support affect a parent’s caregiving quality (Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). The current study investigated the relationships between maternal reflective functioning, maternal adverse childhood experiences, social support satisfaction, and sensitive caregiving in mothers with diagnosed severe mental illness who were parenting preschool-aged children (N = 37). A comparison of parental reflective functioning of this sample and a non-clinical sample in the literature (Slade, 2005) was also completed. Results indicated that parental reflective functioning was significantly correlated with sensitive caregiving; social support satisfaction and adverse childhood experiences were not correlated. Additionally the parental reflective functioning of the clinical sample was significantly lower than the reflective functioning of a non-clinical sample. An exploratory analysis of social support revealed that higher numbers of informal supports were significantly negatively correlated with satisfaction of those supports. The results suggest that parenting interventions for mothers with mental illness must include mechanisms for enhancing parental reflective functioning and building positive informal supports. Implications for future research, clinical interventions, and policy development are discussed.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.