Development of (early) interventions to tackle intrusive memories and posttraumatic stress disorder following childbirth
Approximately one third of women perceive their childbirth as traumatic and some may as a consequence develop childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder (CB-PTSD). In community samples, CB-PTSD affects between 3–4 % of women after birth and around 16–19 % of women in high-risk groups, e.g., emergency cesarean section. Intrusive traumatic memories are repeated, involuntary and distressing sensory-perceptual fragments of a trauma memory. They are a core symptom of PTSD, as they drive other PTSD symptoms and prevent the normative decay of trauma memories. Targeting them may thus be an effective strategy to tackle PTSD symptoms. Evidence-based (early) interventions to reduce maternal intrusive traumatic memories to prevent the development of CB-PTSD, and thus the transfer of trauma-related consequences onto the future generation are lacking. Furthermore, currently available treatments for established CB-PTSD, such as exposure therapy, do not necessarily prevent the return of the trauma-linked fear response. Indeed, extinction is thought to produce a new memory trace inhibiting the original fear memory, which still exists and can thus resurface. This talk will describe some innovative theory-driven approaches assumed to directly target the original maladaptive memories, based on memory consolidation and reconsolidation processes. Results from several translational clinical studies from our lab testing a single-session behavioural intervention to reduce childbirth-related intrusive traumatic memories and in turn either prevent CB-PTSD symptoms or reduce established CB-PTSD symptoms will be shown. They represent potential first steps in the development of a brief, single-session, (early) intervention for CB-PTSD.