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Birth Trauma and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T)

Updated: Jan 20, 2023


If you’re reading this, you’re likely doing so because you’ve unfortunately experienced birth trauma. As much as I wish I didn’t have to address this topic, it is one that I work with often when it comes to the individual therapy services that I offer. As a certified trauma specialist, I am passionate about supporting mothers and families who unfortunately experienced birth trauma, and one way that I do so is through Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T). I’m going to share how I use A.R.T to help mothers or parents who have experienced birth trauma, but first let’s discuss birth trauma and why it’s important to address it.

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma refers to the negative emotional and/or physical experiences that a birthing woman may have during pregnancy, childbirth, or the postpartum period. It can range from a life threatening, difficult, or complicated pregnancy or birth to feelings of powerlessness or perceived lack of control throughout the process. Unfortunately, birth trauma is more common than many people realize. If you’ve experienced birth trauma, you’re likely aware of how confusing and overwhelming it can all feel. With proper help and support in place, I want you to know that you can begin to heal from your experience, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes with many of my clients. You have a right to heal from your experience, not because you’re broken or because there is something wrong with you, but because you deserve to get some of your light back. Sadly, trauma has a way of dimming your light.

How birth trauma can impact you

The truth is, birth trauma impacts everyone differently and the effects can be wide-ranging. It can affect your physical, emotional, and psychological well-being in the following ways:

  1. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Birth trauma can lead to the development of PTSD, which is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts, and avoidance of reminders of your birth experience. You may also feel numb…

  2. Depression and anxiety: Birth trauma can also contribute to the development of depression and anxiety or exacerbate per-existing depression or anxiety. This often tends to show up in the form of anger, rage, irritability, intrusive thoughts, excessive guilt, feeling on edge, ongoing or consistent worrying, and feeling overwhelmed.

  3. Difficulty bonding with the baby: Birth trauma can make it difficult for a mom to bond with her baby. The feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame that often accompany birth trauma experiences can make it hard to feel positive emotions like joy and excitement, even towards your baby. Aside from the heavy emotional experience, physical limitations may interfere with the process as well, such as recovering from injuries or complications that can make it difficult for you to care for your baby (e.g., mom recovering in the hospital while baby is at home, baby recovering in the NICU while mom is discharged).

  4. Difficulty breastfeeding: Birth trauma can impact a mother's ability to breastfeed, which can lead to grief experiences and include feelings of failure and guilt. These heavy emotions can make it difficult for a mother to feel comfortable and confident breastfeeding her baby. Physical injuries or surgeries can also make it difficult to hold or position the baby for breastfeeding or interfere with (or inhibit) the body’s ability to produce breast milk.

  5. Difficulty with future pregnancies: Birth trauma can make it difficult for a woman to consider going through another pregnancy and birth. Beyond this, birth trauma may actually take that option away completely (e.g., hysterectomy as a result of birth trauma).

  6. Physical effects: Some physical effects of birth trauma can include chronic pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, and sexual dysfunction. The ongoing need to address the aforementioned concerns can be mentally, physically, and financially exhausting.

  7. Impact on relationships: Birth trauma can affect your relationships, particularly with your partner and other family members. You may have a difficult time expressing or communicating your feelings to your partner, as well as difficulty trusting those around you. Birth trauma may also impact your sexual relationship with your partner.

  8. Difficulty trusting healthcare professionals: Birth trauma can make it challenging for a woman to trust healthcare professionals, which can affect your ability to seek care in the future. Should you pursue individual therapy to work through your trauma experience, I can’t express enough how important it is to work with a provider that you feel safe and comfortable with.

All of this likely sounds overwhelming, because it is. As you work through your birth trauma experience, it’s okay to take things one day or step at a time. You don’t have to address everything all at once. I’ve worked with mothers in various seasons of life when it came to addressing their birth trauma - some shortly after their birth trauma, some a year or two post birth trauma, and some several years later. As you consider your resources and options, I wanted to share about a form of individual therapy that is promising and impactful, and that is A.R.T.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T)

One treatment option for birth trauma is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T). A.R.T is a form of psychotherapy that uses eye movements and other forms of sensory input to help you process and resolve traumatic memories. The theory behind ART is that traumatic memories can get stuck in the brain in a state of heightened arousal, and by using eye movements or other forms of sensory input, the brain can process the memories and resolve them in a more healthy way (1). By recalling the traumatic event while making bilateral eye movements, the brain is able to process and integrate the memory in a more cohesive way (1). This can lead to a reduction in symptoms of trauma, such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and depression.

During an A.R.T session, you will guided you through a series of eye movements while you visualize your traumatic event or experience. Other forms of sensory input, such as tapping or auditory stimuli, may also be used to help your brain process the memories. Bilateral stimulation facilitates the integration of the work of your two cerebral hemispheres and consequently the integration of images, thoughts, emotions, and sensations in your brain (2). The brain, while focusing on a problem and concurrently using eye movements, makes new connections with your strengths and problem solving abilities.


The goal of A.R.T is to help you reduce or eliminate negative emotions and physical sensations or symptoms associated with the traumatic memory/experience, and to integrate the memory into your life in a more adaptive way (1). You won’t lose your memories or forget your experience, but you will be able to let go of the negative feelings and sensations connected to your experience by using a technique called Voluntary Image Replacement to change the way the negative snapshots or images are stored in your brain (1). While some traumatic experiences can be painful and difficult to work through or visualize, A.R.T. rapidly moves you beyond the place where you are stuck in your experience towards growth and resilience.


You can learn more about treatment options in great detail in our "I was robbed" birth trauma course. We also have a free birth trauma webinar that we offer on a recurring basis. You can register for our free birth trauma webinar here. b


If you have experienced birth trauma and you’re interested in working through your experience using A.R.T, you can connect with either Dr. Kaffer or myself. It is important you work with a mental health professional who is trained in this approach and who also specializes in or focuses on perinatal mental health. Individual therapy may be one branch of your birth trauma healing, and with the right treatment and support, it is possible to heal from birth trauma and move forward. You deserve to get your light back. Sincerely, Dr. Pickering

*This blog post was originally written by Dr. Alice Pickering on dralicepsyd.com and has been cross posted.

References

  1. https://acceleratedresolutiontherapy.com/

  2. Chiorino, V., Cattaneo, M. C., Macchi, E. A., Salerno, R., Roveraro, S., Bertolucci, G. G., ... & Fernandez, I. (2020). The EMDR Recent Birth Trauma Protocol: a pilot randomised clinical trial after traumatic childbirth. Psychology & health, 35(7), 795-810.




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