Giving birth is rarely the picture-perfect event painted on our televisions, billboards, and
Giving birth can be a raw emotional and physical experience.
It can be both beautiful and distressing.
Exciting and fearful.
For 1 in 3 women, it’s traumatising, in addition, 1 in 10 will emerge from the experience with PTSD
after birth prompting a rise in the need for birth trauma therapy to help parents heal.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) can be a highly effective therapy
for birth trauma, helping women and their partners process the trauma of childbirth, freeing
them to enjoy parenthood at their best.
What is birth trauma?
Childbirth can be unpredictable, complicated, and confusing for parents who are already
battling through the pain and exhaustion of the experience.
Birth trauma can come in many forms, but often can all be linked back to emotions
experienced during childbirth that led to feeling:
- Powerless and unheard
- Sad and hurt
- Scared and abandoned
- Disrespected and disregarded; and
- Confused and alone
Many women who experience a traumatic delivery then go on to develop disorders such as
postnatal depression and anxiety and birth PTSD that can be overlooked and not given the
proper mental health support needed.
What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a WHO gold standard therapy
used to help people process traumatic memories in a safe and controlled space and reduce
triggers that cause emotional distress.
EMDR works on the theory that traumatic memories that aren’t processed by the brain
correctly can be triggered by sensory factors such as certain sounds, smells, images, or
words. These triggers can cause people to relive those traumatic events or experience the
same distressing emotions linked to them (PTSD). EMDR works by stimulating bilateral eye
movements while a person is focusing on a traumatic memory to help the brain process the
How does EMDR work for birth trauma?
EMDR uses an 8-phase process to essentially identify the traumatic memories of childbirth
and uses bilateral eye movements to allow the brain to reprocess these memories and store
them properly to desensitise their severity.
Phase 1 – History & Treatment Planning
The psychologist and patient will work together to identify and list the traumas experienced
during childbirth and the best treatment plan to move forward with.
Phase 2 – Preparation
The psychologist will help the patient to develop and use stress-reduction techniques that
they can call on during the therapy and in between sessions, as well as discussing in detail
what the therapy will involve and how it works.
Phase 3 – Assessment
The psychologist will work with the patient to pinpoint the specific birth trauma memory/s that
trigger the emotional response, including determining the cause, any consistent imagery,
and how this memory links in with the present.
Phase 4 – Desensitisation
The psychologist will ask the patient to focus on the specific birth trauma memory and to
begin a series of bilateral eye movements to help process the memory, then ask the patient
for feedback on the feelings that occurred during those eye movements until there is a
decrease in sensitivity to the memory to 0 (no negative reaction).
Phase 5 – Installation
Once the patient has been desensitised to the birth trauma memory, the psychologist will
work with them to install a new, more positive self-belief to replace the negative one.
Phase 6 – Body Scan
The psychologist will ask the patient to again recall the negative birth trauma memory and
assess whether there is still a trauma response to it such as a raised heart rate, high blood
pressure, or tense muscles, and will continue EMDR therapy sessions until there is no
Phase 7 – Closure
The psychologist will ask the patient to keep a record of their progress between sessions
and to note down any negative events so that they can be worked on during sessions and
coped with between sessions.
Phase 8 – Re-evaluation
The psychologist will review and assess how the EMDR therapy has worked for the patient
and whether ongoing sessions are needed.
Do you need mental health support for birth trauma?
Happy Minds Psychology in Geelong and the Bellarine are a clinic dedicated to women’s
mental health and are EMDR therapy practitioners with proven results.