McMaster University

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Research Partnership

Did you know?

Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects up to 1 in 5 mothers with only 10 – 15% of those affected receiving evidence-based care.

Untreated, PPD increases the risk of future depressive episodes, family and parenting problems and emotional, behavioural and cognitive difficulties in children.

Despite the substantial burden posed by PPD to mothers and their children, the healthcare system struggles to address mothers’ treatment needs and preferences.

Beginning in 2018 Kids Can Fly and Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout from McMaster University began a ground-breaking research partnership to address the treatment needs of mothers experiencing PPD.

In this collaboration, mothers and birthing parents with symptoms of PPD who are 18+ years of age and have a baby under 12 months of age have been invited to participate in a number of studies to determine if a peer-led, 9 week group cognitive-behavioural therapy intervention can effectively reduce symptoms of PPD.

What makes this research ground-breaking is that, while CBT is normally delivered by mental health professionals, the intervention offered through this research is delivered by peers – women who have experienced PPD, recovered and then received training in how to deliver the CBT intervention. This dramatically reduces the cost of treatment, and also provides much-needed relatability to the program.

Potential participants are first screened to ensure eligibility for the study, and then are randomly assigned to one of two groups: the control group (which does not receive treatment) and the intervention group (which receives the CBT group). Questionnaires and phone interviews are completed by all participants at enrolment, 9 weeks later and at follow up. The impact of participation in the study is carefully evaluated in both groups to measure the difference between receiving this type of treatment versus not receiving it.

The weekly CBT groups involve teaching and practice of core CBT skills (e.g., cognitive restructuring and behavioural techniques) followed by discussion on topics relevant to those with PPD (e.g., sleep, supports, life transitions).

To date, three studies have been undertaken in this research partnership. The data collected through these first phases of research indicate that:

  • Peer-delivered group CBT for PPD effectively treats symptoms of PPD and anxiety and may lead to improvements in the mother-infant relationship
  • This intervention is an effective means by which access to a treatment that meets the needs and wants of mothers with PPD can be increased
  • This type of intervention has the potential to reach women who would otherwise not receive treatment, significantly improving outcomes for them, their families and society

The partnership between Kids Can Fly and McMaster University provides research studies with access to a frontline service delivery organization (Kids Can Fly) as well as professional oversight from a well-established and reputable research institution (McMaster University).

For more information, or to participate in the study, please email Robin Brennan at

Ryan Van Lieshout Associate Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences

Ryan Van Lieshout
Associate Professor,
Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences

McMaster University