Women's psychosocial health with Dr Robyn Brunton

This episode focuses on Dr Robyn Brunton’s research unpacking the connection between women’s adverse childhood experiences, such as various kinds of abuse, and subsequent pregnancy-related anxiety.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:08):
Hello and welcome to another episode of Psych Attack. I'm Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald and today Dr. Robyn Brunton and I explore issues related to women's psychosocial health. I hope you're going well and have settled with a warm cup of tea.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:29):
Hey there, Robyn. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Dr Robyn Brunton (00:31):
Hi, thanks for having me.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:33):
I am really excited to talk with you today in your research area around issues relating to women's psychosocial health. But before we dive into that, it would be really nice if you could introduce yourself and tell the listeners and tell me about your, your training and things.

Dr Robyn Brunton (00:51):
Yeah, sure. Um, so my name's Robyn obviously, and I live in Bathurst and I work at Charles Sturt University and I have been in academia, probably now for about, only for about 15 years. Um, so I often think of myself.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:10):
Only. .

Dr Robyn Brunton (01:10):
Yeah. well, people often look at me because I'm not a spring chicken and think that I have been in academia for many years, which does work well for me in some respects. Um, but...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:22):
Right.

Dr Robyn Brunton (01:23):
...relatively it's only 15 years compared to my age, which I'm just not saying right now. um, so I often think of myself as a poster child for people that think that they couldn't possibly go to university because I only went to year 10 at school. Um, so I left school when I was 16 and I always wanted to go to university and I so should have done that back then, because back then it was free. But mum said that people like us didn't go to university, which meant I had to go and get a job and contribute to the household, which is what I did. And that's why I left school at 16 and went and worked at the bank. But I did back then wanna go to university and I did back then want to study psychology. And so it wasn't until I was 40, um, that I finally went to university and back then I studied a bachelor of theology, which at that time worked for me in what I was doing. I was counseling people through the church I was involved in. And so that worked in well at that time in my life. But after I completed that, I realized that I wanted to pursue the psychology that had always been, you know, my secret dream. So I enrolled in postgraduate studies and completed those and went on to do my Ph.D.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (02:43):
I think that's, uh, really cool that you've had this life lifelong interest in psychology and, and found your way into the discipline. What do you think it was that made you interested in psychology?

Dr Robyn Brunton (02:56):
I think it came from never really getting people and understanding people and just having a real difficulty yeah. Understanding people. And I really wanted to understand why people did what they did and why they behaved the way they behaved. But I also had a, a desire to help people. Um, and so originally when I started my psych degree, I wanted to go into counseling, become a registered psychologist, but I pretty well decided that wasn't for me and really fell in love with the research side.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (03:29):
Yeah. Nice. When your mom said this, that's not something that's for us. Was that a gender thing? Was it a socioeconomic thing? What was that about?

Dr Robyn Brunton (03:40):
It related to the fact that, uh, when she was 39, she was widowed. So my father died when I was a teenager. So she was left with three children, although I was the youngest. Um, so my two older sisters, one was one was working. One was nearly finished high school. Um, so for her, she had issues around that. You know, "I've got to now support these children". At the time I thought she was quite old, cuz she was 39 now I think back and I think, "wow, she was so young to be widowed". And so for her, it's like, "well, if you go to university, I'm gonna have to keep supporting you." So people like us who have, you know, been left on our own, don't do that. So you have to go out and work. Yeah. So that it was around that mainly. But she did say that, you know, because I was a girl, I had to get a job in the bank. So I think that definitely was a gendered thing.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (04:38):
A little from column A, a little from column B. I think that's an interesting, and um, really poignant segue into the topic that you research around issues, um, relating to psychosocial wellbeing, uh, for women. So, uh, you know, tell us about that. What, what do you research and what interests you about this topic?

Dr Robyn Brunton (05:02):
My main research interest is related to wellbeing in pregnancy. Um, particularly looking at anxiety and pregnancy and a specific type of anxiety called pregnancy related anxiety. So that was the main topic of my Ph.D. And I've continued to research in that area since, but I'm also particularly interested in issues around that, um, that contribute and particularly adverse childhood experiences, um, and how they may impact women as they go through pregnancy and issues around body image. And I guess my interest there comes from pretty much like, you know, many researchers are probably interested in things that have touched their lives or where they have, that resonates with them. And I know particularly for me, um, through my pregnancies, I did struggle a lot with my mental health and reflecting back on that I can now in hindsight go, oh, this is what was going on. But at the time I didn't know what was happening and it was a pretty scary and, and at sometimes I'd probably call it a traumatic time in my life and it should be a time which is joyous and lovely. And so I guess my interest that area is that I want to try and facilitate that for women that, you know, take away that scariness, that, that, you know, "what's happening to me?" And try and help them to experience that joyous and wonderful time in their life.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (06:30):
Mm-hmm one of the things I noticed when reading your work and, and that you've just touched on there is there's these things maybe we assume in life experiences that are supposed to be really positive or that are really negative. And I think sometimes we're not particularly good, not as clinicians, just as people of sitting back and thinking about, is this a positive or a negative thing for somebody? So, you know, when, when I'm teaching, I would talk to people about, well, "going home at the holidays, you know, that's not necessarily a positive thing for people. It might be for you, but sometimes people going home and seeing their family is actually a massive stressor". Um...

Dr Robyn Brunton (07:07):
Mm-hmm .

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (07:08):
...and I think pregnancy isn't one that I had previously considered as, you know, being associated with some of the mental health symptoms that you talk about in your works. So, um, yeah, I think that in itself is really interesting. And then the layers you have on top of that, around adverse experiences.

Dr Robyn Brunton (07:25):
Mm. Yeah, definitely. And I, when you think about pregnancy and, and we think about the expecting mother, whatever is happening to her is impacting on her body. And so therefor it's impacting on the environment that her unborn child is developing in. And so it doesn't only have consequences for her, but it has consequences for the child. And it also has consequences for the wider family. So if she's struggling, then that can have that ripple effect on the wider family as well.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (07:57):
Mm. And probably something that mothers are quite aware of. Right. And then if you are worried, you're anxious about something you've got this meta worry of, you know, worrying about worrying because the impact that might have on your baby.

Dr Robyn Brunton (08:09):
Yeah, exactly. And you know, most mothers would probably agree that, you know, when you find out you're pregnant, it's wonderful. But then immediately you're thinking, "is my baby gonna be okay? Is my baby going to be...", And I'm, I'm doing the air quotes normal and they're real and very valid concerns. A lot of women have and some women carry those all the way through pregnancy.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (08:31):
Hmm. So how is pregnancy related anxiety different to a general kind of state anxiety that people might experience?

Dr Robyn Brunton (08:41):
Probably the, um, easiest way to distinguish it is that it is contextualized by pregnancy. And so the woman is worrying or has fears around specific areas to do with pregnancy. So they may be childbirth fears. Um, so they may be going through pregnancy and thinking about, you know, what's going to happen at the end, i.e., Childbirth. And if it's a, um, a woman that has never had a baby before, she's got no prior understanding of that experience, everyone's eager to line up and give you a horror birth story. Not many people say, "ah, that was, that was fine". So everyone wants to tell you about their traumatic three day labor. And so, you know, you're heading towards this unknown. So they carry these fears and concerns. And, and, you know, in the past many women have said, look, I just don't wanna do that. And they opt to have a Caesarean section. It could be fears around body image. So if you are a, a particular person that has always kept yourself trim and, you know, whatever, all of a sudden your body's changing and you can't do anything about that. And some women really struggle with the whole body image issue in pregnancy because all of a sudden, they've lost that control that they've had over their shape and size. So that can be a real area of struggle for them. Um, it could be, as I said, baby concerns, they could have issues trusting people so they could have issues, trusting medical staff. So when you're pregnant, you really have to, as they say, leave your dignity at the door. When you go into a lot of these medical procedures, because there's people there that are assuming positions of power and authority over you, and many women can feel quite powerless and helpless in those situations. And for some women, depending on what's happened in their lives, that can be a real key issues for them. And it could even traumatize them further.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (10:36):
Yeah. As you say that I'm, I was just reflecting on, uh, the birth of one of my younger siblings and I, I was there at the time and my mom was having, uh, contractions that were unusual, not problematic, but rare. And the doctor called in extra staff to come and see it was like this really bizarre situation of, you know, who's in control in this situation and, and privacy issues. And, um...

Dr Robyn Brunton (11:03):
Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (11:03):
...yeah. That, I just remember, and that wasn't me, you know, um, laying there having a baby and I was like, this does not feel comfortable.

Dr Robyn Brunton (11:10):
Yeah. Well, when I had my youngest two, I had twins and when I went into labor, they strapped my legs, as they used to do in the olden days, they had crash carts in there and I must have had about, I don't know, 45 people there already to dive in and help with whatever. I don't know. I, I was really oblivious to what was going on, but even just the fact that's happening, it's, you know, you are you're powerless and that it can be quite traumatizing for some women.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (11:42):
I guess that being restrained is, you know, that's really scary, but for some people who have had adverse experiences, that's obviously gonna be something that's threatening and stressful for them.

Dr Robyn Brunton (11:54):
Yes.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (11:54):
What kinds of adverse experiences do you research? And what's the connection there with pregnancy related anxiety?

Dr Robyn Brunton (12:01):
So the one that I've researched the most is child sexual abuse. And the reason that has, I've given that the most interest is because of those things we're just talking about. So if you think about someone that has experienced that, then they become pregnant. So the intimate procedures involved with pregnancy, particularly as you get through the pregnancy and towards the end, it involves the same area of the abuse. And so that is quite traumatic for a lot of women. If they have clinicians that have no awareness of what they've been through and a lot of women choose not to disclose, and that, they have valid reasons for doing that. But if they're being tended to by clinicians that have got no understanding, and they're been perhaps a little bit insensitive because they're time pressured time, poor, you know, I've only got a 15 minute appointment, you know, and all that sort of stuff...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (12:57):
It's routine for them.

Dr Robyn Brunton (12:59):
Exactly. But for the woman, it can become a really defining event. Um, so women that have actually experienced child sexual abuse or any sexual abuse, really, they may be disinclined to seek antenatal care. So they may actually avoid antenatal care. They may be more inclined to smoke or drink during their pregnancy because, um, women that have experienced or women and men that have experienced this in their childhood are more likely to smoke and drink. So that sort of can affect the baby. They can even disassociate during childbirth. Um, they could have their previous traumatic memories could intrude upon them during childbirth. So it's a triggering event and taking them back to what's happened in their childhood. And then that can mean they can have a more traumatic and perhaps a prolonged labor, which in turn can affect the child. So child sexual abuse has really interested me from that perspective. Um, but I've also, am currently looking at other forms of abuse, so physical and psychological, and also childhood neglect...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:05):
Hmm

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:07):
... and looking at those and their impact on pregnant women.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:11):
I'm really interested in how far through you are with that research. And if you've got, if you've seen differences between those different kinds of abuses, but I just wanna pause for two seconds and do a little bit of a terminology check. So for those who aren't aware, what does prenatal refer to?

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:27):
Prenatal means pregnancy basically. So prenatal, antenatal, anytime during your pregnancy from conception to birth.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:35):
And then would have postnatal for after birth.

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:37):
After birth.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:39):
Lovely.

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:39):
And then if I say perinatal, that's the two. So from conception through to 12 months postpartum is perinatal.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:48):
Okay, excellent.

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:50):
Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:50):
Good, good to get the term checked

Dr Robyn Brunton (14:52):
Yeah. Sorry. Cuz they just roll off your tongue without, without thinking. So yes, it's good to do that.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:57):
All right. So you're interested in looking at these different kinds of abuse and adverse experiences. Have you identified whether there is a difference in, you know, psychological abuse, physical or sexual abuse when it comes to pregnancy related anxiety?

Dr Robyn Brunton (15:13):
We have, um, so we've looked at women who experienced childhood physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and the impact on pregnancy related anxiety. And what we actually found was of those three, sexual abuse was the, uh, you could say the weakest predictor of pregnancy related anxiety, whereas psychological abuse was the strongest predictor. And when I say predictor, what I'm talking about is, um, in terms of frequency of abuse experienced. So someone that has experie that type of abuse, if they've experienced the, um, psychological abuse, they're more likely to experience greater pregnancy related anxiety in adulthood. Now talking about these findings, the caveat is it was cross sectional research. So it wasn't longitudinal research where we followed people from childhood through to adulthood. It was asking women at this time to reflect on what happened to them in childhood and then measuring their pregnancy related anxiety now. So that is a limitation of the research, but it's still findings that we can talk about and, um, discuss in this context. So interestingly, what I found with that was that sexual abuse was the weakest, you could say, predictor, but when you're talking about the different types of abuse, you have to really understand that there are a lot of issues if you like in measuring and understanding these experiences that have happened to people in their child, because a lot of people don't wanna disclose them and that's, that's fair and reasonable. Um, so you know, people may choose not to be honest, if you like, and I don't like to use that word when I'm talking about these sort of things, but they don't like to, you know, acknowledge that it's happened. Um, and quite often people aren't ready to do that at the at particular point in their life. So whilst that is probably the weakest predictor, if you like, I think what you can take away from that research is that all three types of abuse were significant predictors of pregnancy related anxiety.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (17:29):
Mm. Yeah. I think there, there's some aspects here in terms of measurement of different, you know, broader trauma experiences that the whole industry of people researching trauma face, this is not a specific limitation to your research. It is important to acknowledge.

Dr Robyn Brunton (17:44):
It's just getting that definition and it's, that's just tricky. Like you, you can't just say, well, this is how we define it and this is how we operationalize it because there's just, it's such a broad thing.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (17:57):
Yeah. I'm wondering as well about the frequency or the, the presence of psychological abuse as opposed to sexual abuse or maybe even physical abuse being something that's a little more hidden, probably they overlap quite significantly. It's not like someone would be experiencing just one or the other necessarily.

Dr Robyn Brunton (18:14):
Yeah, definitely. There is a lot of, um, interrelatedness between the three types of abuse. And interestingly with psychological abuse, it's been less studied than the other two. So physical and sexual abuse have received the most research attention. Psychological abuse, less so, but it is, um, attracting more interest and it's been described as, you know, almost like a hidden abuse. So it could be even more dangerous if you like, because it's that hidden abuse that is potentially inherent in the other types of abuse. And in the study, I was talking about a minute ago where psychological abuse was the strongest predictor. We actually only measured it using two questions, which isn't a lot, um, when you're sort of trying to, you know, measure something that's quite broad. So those findings that we got are potentially masked by that. So yeah. I found that really interesting, but yeah, psychological abuse is something that is attracting a lot more research attention as it should.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (19:18):
Mm-hmm So like, it sounds like you're saying that perhaps there aspects to psychological abuse, you weren't able to assess. And so it might be even more predictive or a stronger predictor than you even think.

Dr Robyn Brunton (19:28):
Yeah, yeah. And as you know, Jaz like, when you do research, you can't just sort of make up questions to use and, you know, you've gotta sort of rely on those valid and reliable scales that we have. And so, um, finding those for this can be a little bit problematic. So...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (19:44):
Yeah, one of the things I wanted to touch on is, you're looking in your research at this relationship between childhood sexual abuse and pregnancy related anxiety. And I think it's useful to just think about that childhood sexual abuse in terms of the negative outcomes that it can have in and of itself, because that further kind of complicates the pregnancy related anxiety. So, I mean, you talked substance use, you know, around cigarette use and, and alcohol, but I thought it was really interesting when I was going through your work, talking about things like what I would broadly consider trauma reactions, including substance use, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, more broadly, suicidal ideation, and you've touched on body and, and eating disorders. That's, that's pretty profound.

Dr Robyn Brunton (20:36):
Yeah. So when you think about, um, pregnancy related anxiety and the outcomes associated with it, and also the outcomes or the possible outcomes associated with child sexual abuse, and I say possible because not everybody has adverse outcomes from adverse childhood experiences, it's important to note that, um, and there's a variety of reasons for that. But if, say for instance, there's a woman that's had, you know, this adverse childhood experience and she goes into pregnancy and she has pregnancy related anxiety, she has these fears and worries, both pregnancy related anxiety and child sexual abuse have similar outcomes. So for instance, preterm birth is linked to both. So pregnancy related anxiety is a significant predictor of preterm birth child. Sexual abuse also is as well. So you have this potential for an additive effect and for something like preterm birth, um, it's a leading cause of death in children, in infants. And so if you've got these things that are contributing to it, then it's really important to understand that, but to also try and screen for this and pick up on it so we can intervene early and perhaps, you know, identify women that may need special care or special understanding.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (21:56):
Something I wanted to lead up to discussing was "what are the practical implications of the findings here?" And that that's really important, you know, if we can reduce the negative experience for the woman, um, and how that impacts the baby as well in terms of stress levels, um, but also reduce the likelihood of pre-term birth and, and the pot, the potential for harm that comes along with that. That's a huge reason that more research needs to be done in this area.

Dr Robyn Brunton (22:23):
Exactly.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (22:24):
Are there other, other key kind of implications or reasons for screening that you, you wanted to talk about?

Dr Robyn Brunton (22:31):
The whole screening thing is, is so tricky because when you think about antenatal care and you know, our midwives and clinicians that look after women, they are so, so busy. So time poor, so overworked. And so it's easy for me to sit here and go, "well, they need screen this and they need to screen that, and they need to do this and they need to do that". Well, hang on a minute, like, is that practical? Um, so it's really hard, it's, you have to have the screening. So as it fits in, in a practical sense into that clinicians' workload, if you like. Um, and so at the moment that they do have, um, early screening and they use a particular, um, screening method, which screens for postnatal depression, but it has been validated for use in antenatal care. Um, so there is no formal screening where they have to screen for the anxiety, pregnancy related anxiety. I do know that in some instances they do screen for this type of thing and adverse childhood experiences, but there's nothing formally required. So it's finding that balance, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. Like when I say it's tricky, it's finding that balance between what we need to screen for, when to do it, and what is also practical in the life of, you know, our clinicians. Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (23:56):
Yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (23:57):
But definitely, um, you know, childhood, adverse childhood experiences, I think is something they need to screen for.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (24:03):
Yeah, I guess, uh, what it's sounding like is maybe just taking an approach of trauma informed care in general, just make an assumption that, you know...

Dr Robyn Brunton (24:12):
Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (24:13):
The, keep the woman as informed as possible, checking in with them. This seems like maybe one of the best possible starting measures.

Dr Robyn Brunton (24:20):
It's interesting because they've introduced over the last couple years, um, what they call midwife continuity of care, goes under a variety of names, but basically it's, um, when a woman is, um, first enters into the system, if you like, when she becomes pregnant, she's assigned a midwife who gives her that continuity of care right through to after childbirth. And so they actually develop a relationship. And my daughter who, um, had my first grandchild 18 months ago...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (24:51):
Congratulations.

Dr Robyn Brunton (24:52):
I knew I'd bring her into the conversation in some shape or form. Um, she actually went through that system and developed a really strong friendship with her midwife and still keeps in contact with her to this day.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (25:06):
Oh, that's awesome.

Dr Robyn Brunton (25:07):
Yeah. And, and I really think that for women to have that special trusted relationship with a midwife would be more conducive to them sharing and talking about experiences that have happened in their childhood than someone that they don't really know with a pen and paper going, "has this happened to you?" Um, so for women that have experienced some type of abuse in childhood, I think that that type of model would be really practical, but again, it's, comes down to economics and things like that because, you know, is it sustainable with our healthcare system? They're all the bigger questions.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (25:48):
Yeah, sure. That continuity of care as well, I would think is gonna be protective if you know, the birthing was okay and everything's good for the first couple of weeks or months, but then stuff starts to get hard. Like that idea of having someone that you've built up a relationship with that you could reach out to. Um...

Dr Robyn Brunton (26:07):
Yep.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (26:07):
It's really interesting.

Dr Robyn Brunton (26:08):
Yeah. No, it, it was brilliant. And in an ideal world, if we could provide that to all women, um, it would be wonderful, but we don't always live in an ideal world.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (26:19):
Right. Yeah. All right. So I wanna go back to where you were saying, not all women who have adverse childhood experiences are going to end up experiencing pregnancy related anxiety. In your own research, have you found that there are certain, uh, factors that are protective?

Dr Robyn Brunton (26:34):
We've looked at this and identified social support as a key influence and also resilience. So those sort of things actually do have a positive influence on that relationship.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (26:47):
Yeah. So I'm wondering Robyn, what is next for you? What studies do you have planned, or what questions are you thinking "I need to know more about this".

Dr Robyn Brunton (26:56):
At the moment we are looking at a, uh, longitudinal study that we are trying to get off the ground. So it's still in the early stages. But what we are looking at doing is linking archival data. So data from substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect and linking that 15, 20 years later to New South Wales health data in their perinatal records and their mental health records. And so we would be able to look and see what are the outcomes? So we'd use two, it's called a case control study. So our cases would be the children that have got the substantiated abuse, controls would be children who weren't abused. So they would be drawn from just, um, the general, uh, birth records. And we would just track those two and compare the outcomes. So I'm really excited about this study, but there are a few more hurdles to jump through before we get it off, off the ground. But if we can, I think it'll give us really good and interesting data, particularly on the perinatal outcomes for women. Um, so we'd be able to look at their antenatal care. We'd be able to look at variables around childbirth, the child itself, whether it was preterm, its health, um, the mother's health during pregnancy and compare that with the other group that didn't experience child abuse. So we would do that for women. And we would also include in this study men, but obviously we wouldn't look at perinatal outcomes, but we'd be looking at mental health outcomes for both men and women as well. So it's a pretty exciting study, but as I said, I've got a few more hurdles to jump through before it's actually off the ground, but that's the plans at the moment. The other big thing we've got is we've got a book coming out, which is due for publication in the next month or so. So it's a, a book that I was a co-editor on with my colleague and, um, it's on pregnancy related anxiety. So we've got a lot of international author chapters on that. I of course have a chapter on child sexual abuse and pregnancy related anxiety. Um, but we look at things like the antecedents, we look at cross cultural considerations, acculturation. We look at interventions, we look at screening, so lots of different aspects that we tap into. So yeah, I think it was nine of the 13 are recognized international authors. So pretty excited about that as well. So that's coming out shortly.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (29:33):
Fantastic. I'll make sure I link to that in the show notes. Um, some info about it and then update that later when it comes out.

Dr Robyn Brunton (29:40):
Yeah, that'd be great. I

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (29:41):
It may be putting you on the spot. So tell me if I am, what are the potential cultural issues here?

Dr Robyn Brunton (29:46):
There's a lot of cross-cultural considerations in the way that women are viewed in different cultures during pregnancy and perhaps the agency they have in their pregnancy, the way that different mental health aspects are viewed, um, in different cultures and even the way that it's understood or whether it even is understood. There's also other issues around antenatal care and accessing that care as well. So the chapter on the, um, cross-cultural considerations, I found quite interest. Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (30:22):
Mm. Yeah, really interesting. I look forward to reading the book. That's really exciting.

Dr Robyn Brunton (30:27):
Yeah. .

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (30:28):
I'm really interested to hear from you as a researcher. What is it about studying this topic that's a challenge or that, things you might have tried that didn't work?

Dr Robyn Brunton (30:41):
My biggest challenge is that I'm studying an area where I don't have available access to clinicians. So our university is not connected to a hospital. And so for me to access midwives, it's a real challenge. And it's one I'm still trying overcome. So as part of my PhD, I developed a scale to screen for pregnancy related anxiety. And we've just completed another study where we've developed a short screener. So to actually translate that into something meaningful, we have to get it in on the ground. And that's really difficult when you're not connected with a hospital or clinic. So that's probably the biggest hurdle I have.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (31:25):
Yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (31:25):
And they're so busy. Like why would they care about little old me? I have to develop a louder voice.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (31:33):
How do you get around that at the moment?

Dr Robyn Brunton (31:35):
By developing connections with people that do have that access and just fostering those connections. Um, but it is hard. It's tricky.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (31:45):
Mm-hmm .

Dr Robyn Brunton (31:45):
And, and I think the biggest issue is the time for them. Like you're asking them to do something else, you know, "Hey, you know, use this scale as well. And you know, we wanna measure this and assess this" and yeah, it's tricky.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (32:01):
On top of the various things that they're screening for every time they're working with a pregnant woman. Yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (32:06):
Exactly. Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (32:09):
What keeps you in psychology? You've been interested in it for so long and you, I know that this isn't your only research area. You do research in other areas as well. This is just your passion area. What keeps you motivated to keep doing research in psychology?

Dr Robyn Brunton (32:27):
Well, I think it's because I still don't understand people, Jasmine

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (32:32):
I honestly think it's one of those things that the more you know, the less you feel like you know, as well

Dr Robyn Brunton (32:38):
Oh yes. I, I just think I'm still trying to figure out humankind .

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (32:46):
I think I came into psychology thinking I knew people well and then realized I didn't at all. And I still don't. I have become less confident as well.

Dr Robyn Brunton (32:57):
We're such a unique bunch, you know, we're just fascinating. And, and I, as I was saying to you, before we started the recording, my husband is a case study all on his answers. So , if I can figure him out, I can figure anyone out.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (33:12):
Makes me laugh. I like it. Um,

Dr Robyn Brunton (33:16):
Oh gosh. I hope he doesn't listen to this.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (33:19):
I'll see if I can set up some kind of block for, for his IP or something. if listeners wanna reach out to you or if they want to, um, kind of check out any, any of the, the research that you're up to and follow along with the stuff that you're doing, what's the best way for them to do that?

Dr Robyn Brunton (33:37):
Probably the most up to date is the CSU [Charles Sturt University] research outputs. So if they just Google my name, that's probably gonna be the top hit. I do have a presence on Research Gate, but I'm probably not updating that as much as I should, but definitely, um, just the research outputs through CSU.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (33:56):
Lovely.

Dr Robyn Brunton (33:56):
Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (33:58):
I think it's always nice to have of a little bit of a personal touch within an episode, and I'm working out what is the best way to do this. So I'm just gonna have a crack. When you're not doing research, what takes up your time? I'm gonna, hazard a guess to say part of that is, um, your grandchild so yeah. What does, what does life look like outside of research and academia?

Dr Robyn Brunton (34:26):
I, um, I live on a farm, so we have, uh, sheep on the farm. So often I'll be driving a tractor...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (34:34):
Oh, that's awesome.

Dr Robyn Brunton (34:35):
...out in the paddocks. I know it's so much fun, makes you feel so powerful up in the big tractor. Um, I love being outside, so I used to be a huge gardener, but I've scaled back. Um, as I've gotten a bit older, but just being outside, I've got new puppies. Um, and I also like macrame. So I'm doing a lot of macrame now. I've always been a crafty person.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:00):
What's macrame?

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:02):
Macrame is the stuff you hang on the walls. So you're knotting string and making, um, you know, wall hangings .

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:10):
Is this like...

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:11):
Sounds so, yeah,

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:12):
...when I go to my local cafe and they've got like knitted things around the light post and stuff like that, or is it different?

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:19):
It's um, you can either, you can have like beautiful wall hangings or you can have, um, hangings that they put pots in. So it's like knotting cotton and string.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:29):
Oh, nice.

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:30):
And I can't believe you dunno what macrame is.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:32):
I know I'm feeling very ignorant right now.

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:35):
Oh my goodness.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (35:38):
I'm learning. I'm learning about craft and psychology. Excellent.

Dr Robyn Brunton (35:44):
Yeah. So I've been doing some macrame workshops with Lifeline. So we went down the south coast after the bushfires we had last year and, and, uh, I can't remember the name they called it, but it was pretty, you know, the ladies, I teach them how to make something with their hands and then we, we chat and, um, they have a workshop on, you know, dealing with, you know, the trauma and resilience and things like that. So that's pretty cool.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:11):
Yeah. That that's awesome.

Dr Robyn Brunton (36:12):
I also like making them for myself. Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:13):
Yeah. I think...

Dr Robyn Brunton (36:15):
My, my granddaughter asked for a macrame wall hanging for her first birthday or her mother did

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:23):
That's fantastic. Um, I think that there's...

Dr Robyn Brunton (36:27):
I'll send you a photo Jaz.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:28):
Please. Please do. Yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (36:30):
Yeah.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:30):
And as soon as we finish up, I'm Googling, macrame, but I'm pretty, I'm pretty sure I've got a good sense of, of what you, what you're referring to, yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (36:38):
Yeah. I'll send you a photo.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:41):
There's a lot that we do in psychology where there's not necessarily like a tangible outcome or that we create with our hands. And I was thinking about this, even when you were saying, you know, riding around on the tractor. Um, we spent a lot of time inside at desks a lot, you know, a lot of time thinking and writing, but there's, you know, these long gaps between publications and talking to people and they talk about the stuff they create with their hands. I, I feel like that fills this need that I've personally had. It's like to have an outcome, to have created something tangible.

Dr Robyn Brunton (37:13):
Mm. Yeah. I mean, to create something and you stand back and go, "wow, that's beautiful and I did that". There's something special about that.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (37:21):
Yeah, for sure.

Dr Robyn Brunton (37:22):
Yeah. I get a real sense of satisfaction out of it. And also slashing paddocks in the tractor.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (37:30):
I can't finish this conversation without asking about the puppies.

Dr Robyn Brunton (37:35):
Oh yes. So we've got, we've got three dogs at the moment, so we've our matriarch, her name's Secret and she's 14.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (37:43):
Oh wow.

Dr Robyn Brunton (37:44):
A month ago she nearly died. She got run over and she had a major operation and we thought we're gonna lose her.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (37:50):
Oh, that's awful.

Dr Robyn Brunton (37:51):
She has bounced back. She's amazing. But then we've also bought two puppies. So one Jack is a working dog, so he's a short head border collie, and he will be trained to, you know, work with the sheep. But at the moment he's fairly well untrained. So outta control and the other, one's my dog that my husband hates and his name's Oliver and he's a little spoodle, so he's just like, my husband calls him ugg boot, cuz he's this little caramel colored, fluffy ball of fluff and extremely naughty . So my husband came out the other day and he's always like "go away ugg boot" and stuff like that. And he's trying to put his shoes and socks on and Ollie just comes in and swoops in and grabs the socks...

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (38:36):
Mm-hmm .

Dr Robyn Brunton (38:36):
...and starts running. And so Paul's chasing him and so the more you chase him, the harder he runs and it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. And by the time he got his socks back, they were all wet

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (38:49):
I like Ollie.

Dr Robyn Brunton (38:51):
So yeah. So, oh, he's, I'll send you a photo of him too. So things can be a little bit chaotic around here at the moment with the two pups and, and Secret. But, um, yeah, it's good fun. I take 'em for a walk and it's, it's very entertaining.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (39:05):
I'm glad Secret's bounced back, that's yeah, that would've been a really scary experience.

Dr Robyn Brunton (39:10):
It was really traumatic. And um, I just wanna say that we did not name her Secret. That was the name she came with. So .

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (39:18):
It's very, it's like a very intriguing name. Yeah.

Dr Robyn Brunton (39:22):
Yes. Yes. Well, we often say she should have been called Sly-cret, because she's a little bit sly, like she'll sneak up and steal bit of food and, but yeah, Secret's her name.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (39:35):
Adorable. Uh, Robyn, I've had a really good time talking to you about your research and, and your puppy dogs. Um, so thanks for coming along and having a chat with me today.

Dr Robyn Brunton (39:44):
Thank you. Thank you.

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald (39:48):
For those of you at home. That's all for today. Show notes for the episode can be found at www.psychattack.com. If you've enjoyed listening to Psych Attack, please rate it on your favorite podcast platform and share this episode to help other people find the show. If you have questions or feedback, you can reach out on Twitter: @psychattackcast. Thanks for listening and we'll catch up with you again next time.

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