Perinatal Trauma: Can EMDR help?

Perinatal trauma affects a significant number of mothers and babies across the globe, impacting their emotional and psychological well-being. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a groundbreaking therapy technique that has shown promising results in healing trauma. This article explores the intricacies of EMDR, its application in perinatal trauma, and its effectiveness in promoting healing and recovery.

Understanding Perinatal Trauma

Perinatal trauma refers to any physical, emotional, or psychological distress experienced by a mother and/or baby during pregnancy, childbirth or the postpartum period. This may include:

  • Complications during pregnancy or delivery
  • Near-miss experiences such as hemorrhage or fetal distress
  • Emergency or unwanted medical interventions
  • Traumatic childbirth experiences
  • Postpartum depression or anxiety
  • Grief and loss due to miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Negative effects on maternal-infant bonding

Such experiences can lead to acute stress reactions or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in both mothers and babies, adversely affecting their mental health and overall well-being.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a psychotherapy approach developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It combines elements of various psychotherapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help individuals process and resolve traumatic memories. The core principle of EMDR is that disturbing memories of traumatic events are not fully processed by the brain, resulting in continued emotional distress.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR works by using a structured eight-phase approach, incorporating various aspects of psychodynamic, cognitive, and behavioral therapies. The foundation of EMDR therapy is bilateral stimulation of the brain, which is achieved through eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones. These bilateral stimulations help activate the brain’s information-processing mechanism, enabling individuals to reprocess traumatic memories effectively.

Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

  1. Client history and treatment planning
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installation of positive beliefs
  6. Body scan
  7. Closure
  8. Re-evaluation

EMDR and Perinatal Trauma: A Perfect Match?

Given its specialization in dealing with trauma, EMDR seems to be an ideal therapeutic approach for handling perinatal trauma. Recent research has revealed the following promising findings in this area:

  • EMDR can help reduce symptoms of postpartum PTSD, depression, and anxiety
  • It can aid in the healing of traumatic birth experiences, promoting better maternal-infant bonding
  • EMDR is effective in helping individuals cope with grief and loss following miscarriage or stillbirth
  • It can assist in resolving traumatic memories related to pregnancy complications and medical interventions
  • EMDR may improve overall emotional well-being for mothers, fathers, and babies affected by perinatal trauma

EMDR Success Stories

Numerous anecdotal accounts from individuals who have undergone EMDR therapy for perinatal trauma testify to its effectiveness in promoting healing and recovery. Here are some success stories:

“After a traumatic birth experience, I struggled with anxiety and was constantly haunted by memories of the event. With the help of EMDR therapy, I not only processed the trauma but also regained confidence in my ability to be a good mother.” – EMDR client

“I lost my baby during the third trimester, which left me feeling broken and lost. EMDR helped me work through my grief and loss, allowing me to cope and move forward in my life.” – EMDR client

Who Can Benefit From EMDR?

People affected by perinatal trauma, including mothers, fathers, and babies, may benefit from EMDR therapy. Additionally, EMDR can help those who have experienced other forms of trauma, such as:

  • Survivors of abuse or assault
  • Individuals who suffered accidents or natural disasters
  • Veterans with combat-related PTSD
  • People with phobias or anxiety disorders
  • Those struggling with grief and loss

It is crucial to work with a trained and licensed EMDR therapist to ensure the proper application of this therapy technique.

Preparing for EMDR Therapy

If you are considering EMDR therapy for perinatal trauma, it is essential to prepare mentally and emotionally for the experience. Consider the following steps:

  1. Research: Read up on EMDR therapy, its process, and what to expect during the sessions. This will help you familiarize yourself with the approach and feel more at ease.
  2. Consultation: Have a thorough consultation with your therapist to understand the specific treatment plan for your situation.
  3. Self-Care: Ensure that you are taking care of your physical and emotional well-being before, during, and after the therapy process.
  4. Support System: Reach out to supportive friends, family members, or support groups to help you cope with the emotions that may surface during EMDR therapy.


Perinatal trauma can have a lasting impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of mothers, fathers, and babies. EMDR stands as a revolutionary approach to addressing this issue, helping individuals process and resolve traumatic memories effectively. By making use of EMDR therapy, those affected by perinatal trauma can embark on a journey to healing and recovery.

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