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Joanna C.M. Cole, PhD, CD(DONA)

Clinical Psychologist

In her role as clinical psychologist for the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment (CFDT), Joanna Cole, PhD, CD(DONA), is an integral part of the psychosocial service team available to families facing the diagnosis of a birth defect. Working closely with the medical team, social workers and child life specialists, Dr. Cole provides comprehensive diagnostic evaluation and counseling, ensuring that families feel emotionally supported every step of the way.

In collaboration with the Center’s social workers, Dr. Cole assesses families’ understanding, readiness, coping mechanisms and chronic life stressors in order to identify how the news of a fetal diagnosis might intensify symptoms of distress. Her work includes evaluating for preexisting mental health conditions or issues of safety, and determining the risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

An important element of Dr. Cole’s role in the CFDT and Special Delivery Unit is providing supportive psychotherapy to identify, understand and help balance the emotional toll of a complex pregnancy within the context of other life stressors. Dr. Cole counsels individuals, couples, siblings, and family members on effective coping strategies, communication and emotional preparation for different stages in the medical experience, from pregnancy and delivery through the intensive care stay and well after discharge.

Dr. Cole also provides options counseling and grief support and is involved in the development of an expanded Perinatal Palliative and Bereavement Care Program within the CFDT, committed to helping families plan for and cope with the death of a baby or the knowledge that their baby might not survive.

Dr. Cole’s research interests include the development of a mental health screening tool that identifies significant symptoms of anxiety, stress, trauma or depression among expectant parents. This research will help to identify risk factors and provide therapeutic intervention at the earliest possible point of care, with the goal of decreasing symptoms of trauma and depression in the postpartum period. She is also in the process of developing therapeutic support groups for mothers.

Dr. Cole joined the Center in 2012. She earned her PhD in Clinical and School Psychology from the University of Virginia. She completed a pediatric psychology internship and an adolescent and young adult health fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. She is also a certified birth doula and is trained as an alcoholism and substance abuse counselor. In addition, Dr. Cole is a member of the Postpartum Support International network and is one of the members of the National Perinatal Association working to develop guidelines that define clinical support for parents during their child’s time in intensive care. She has completed Postpartum Support International’s Components of Care, a nationally recognized, evidence-based approach to working with perinatal mood disorders.

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