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Conducting, Publishing Research Broadens PAU’s Doctoral Experience

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nicole Inlow

Joanna Servin

Recently, when two students in her lab co-authored and published an article in Health Informatics Journal, Associate Professor Alinne Barrera couldn’t have been more proud. Published in the September 2019 issue, the article titled, “A Preliminary Study on the Acceptability of a Brief SMS Program for Perinatal Women,” was developed by Dr. Barrera in collaboration with doctoral students Joanna Servin and Nicole Inlow.

“At PAU, it’s our mission to train students in conducting research and in thinking about innovative methods of delivering interventions,” said Dr. Barrera. “Students in our labs are doing just that - figuring out how to adapt evidence based interventions so their application will have a broader reach and benefit.”

Servin and Inlow’s work under Dr. Barrera’s direction focused on an intervention that incorporates text messaging as a delivery mechanism to prevent depression in pregnant and postpartum women. The text application was added to an already existing program called the Mothers and Babies Course (MB) that was first only delivered in face-to-face group settings. The text application, aptly called BabyText, follows an earlier online version of the MB that was developed by Dr. Barrera.

Making psychological interventions more accessible, particularly to underserved communities, is a critical focus of Palo Alto University faculty and their research. Their work, particularly around using technology as a delivery mechanism, offers students many opportunities to engage in hands on research, offering new ways to think about their future work, whether it’s in clinical or research settings.

“Joanna and Nicole brought a research idea that was grounded in clinical practice to fruition as a study; wrote it up for scientific publication; and have made it available to be further developed for application,” Dr. Barrera said.  “Although some students may not be research focused, contributing to their mentor’s research and developing manuscripts for publication teaches them to think more flexibly about how they can apply what they’re learning in the classroom. It opens the door for thinking outside the box.” 

The study built on a body of work using the Mothers and Babies Course (MB). The primary goal was to examine the text messaging adaptation of the MB, the BabyText program, among Spanish and English-speaking perinatal women. As an initial step, the study examined the acceptability of making this resource available to a community sample of perinatal women and by gathering their feedback about the helpfulness of the BabyText program to manage changes in their mood during and after pregnancy. As a secondary aim, pre- and post-intervention depression and anxiety symptoms were examined.

The article’s conclusion and implications for practice and/or policy follow:


Although researchers and clinicians are developing digital psychological interventions to reach underserved communities, few have focused specifically on the mental health needs of pregnant and postpartum women. The original MB is a prevention intervention and the BabyText program builds on previous work using technology-based tools to reach perinatal women. This study examined the BabyText program in a community sample of diverse perinatal women and provides encouraging support for the future development and implementation of a brief SMS program to expand the reach of maternal mental health resources that are low-cost, easily accessible, and which include input from potential users.

Implications for practice and/or policy

The use of technology in the everyday lives of pregnant and postpartum women is widespread. Practitioners and clinicians should consider how to maximize this societal norm by identifying ways to integrate digital tools into their standard practice in order to maximize the impact of services provided. Whether used for appointment reminders, medication alerts, or to provide evidence-based intervention information (as in this study), simple technologies can potentially enhance maternal mental health outcomes.

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