Women With PMS 'Should Be Offered Psychological Therapy' By NHS, Say Medical Experts

Healthcare professionals are calling for women who suffer from severe PMS to be given therapy. But, is it the best form of treatment?

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Many women who suffer from period pain will be well accustomed to the ritual of grabbing a hot water bottle, popping open some pain killers and curling up in bed in the hope the pain will soon pass.

But, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) there are women who suffer far more emotional and physically painful symptoms.

According to the medical association, approximately 40% of women suffer from severe PMS, with one in 20 undergoing symptoms that can lead to marriage breakdown, unemployment, self-harm and even suicide.

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As a result, the RCOG are calling for all women and girls who suffer from severe PMS to be offered free cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a form of treatment.

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CBT, if you don't know, is a talking therapy that can help patients manager the way they think (cognitive) and the way they act (behavioral) as is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.

Those qualified for CBT as a first line of treatment would have to show symptoms seen to 'impact on daily activity or interfere with work, school performance or relationships', according to the Royal College's newly-published guidelines.

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Shaughn O'Brien, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Keele University and lead author of the guidelines, said:

PMS can be a serious condition which can dramatically impact on the quality of a woman's life affecting her personal and professional life, therefore it is essential that an integrated holistic approach to treatment is adopted.

'Whilst many women can be treated by their GP by adopting lifestyle changes, taking the contraceptive pill, SSRIs or vitamin B6, some women will need more complex care provided by a team of GPs, gynaecologists, psychiatrists and dieticians,' he added.

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The contraceptive pill, estrogen patches, implants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are alternative pharmaceutical treatments noted in the guidelines, with removal of both the ovaries and womb via surgery noted as a last resort for curing PMS.

However, despite calls for CBT to be made available to women on the NHS, several medical professionals don't believe CBT to be the answer.

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Jay Watts claims that while the therapy might help the body 'self-soothe' or aid a person to question 'perfectionist standards' that may contribute to their anxiety, calling PMS a disorder inadvertently creates 'a new population that views its experiences as abnormal, and without the means to be helped'.

Writing for The Guardian, Watts agues that in framing PMS as a disorder, we disregard its causes and 'the sexism of the Jekyll and Hyde depictions that provide the lens through which we interpret body and mood changes'.

The issues that the emotional premenstrual surge often attempt to communicate are often far from irrational. The sudden fury, say, at always doing the washing-up, the feelings of not being appreciated, being ugly; such issues are deeply embedded within gender dynamics.

'Framing PMS as a disorder requiring medical intervention is thus an obscurating political act,' he adds.

Watts also notes that CBT is an incredibly costly form of treatment that the NHS simply doesn't have the funds for.

While the RCOG are calling for the treatment to be free on the NHS, according to the healthcare service, CBT sessions can add up to at most 20 sessions – each lasting 30-60 minutes – and can cost £40-100 per session if someone decides to go private.

'We must attempt instead to educate girls in the trials, tribulations, beauty and power of the female reproductive system. We must listen to our bodies, and to one another again – not to the discourse of disorder,' he writes.

In framing PMS as a disorder, are we encouraging women to view their symptoms as abnormal? Should CBT be offered to women suffering severe PMS?

Let us know your thoughts @ELLEUK.

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