Reducing childbirth-related intrusive memories and PTSD symptoms via a single-session behavioural intervention including a visuospatial task: A proof-of-principle study

J Affect Disord. 2022 Apr 15:303:64-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2022.01.108. Epub 2022 Jan 30.


Background: Intrusive memories (IMs) of traumatic events are a key symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and contribute to its maintenance. This translational proof-of-principle study tested whether a single-session behavioural intervention reduced the number of childbirth-related IMs (CB-IMs) and childbirth-related PTSD (CB-PTSD) symptoms, in women traumatised by childbirth. The intervention was assumed to disrupt trauma memory reconsolidation.

Methods: In this pre-post study, 18 participants, whose traumatic childbirth had occurred between seven months and 6.9 years before, received an intervention combining childbirth-related reminder cues (including the return to maternity unit) with a visuospatial task. They recorded their daily CB-IMs in the two weeks pre-intervention (diary 1), the two weeks post-intervention (diary 2; primary outcome), and in week 5 and 6 post-intervention (diary 3). CB-PTSD symptom severity was assessed five days pre-intervention and one month post-intervention.

Results: Compared to diary 1, 15/18 participants had ≥ 50% fewer CB-IMs in diary 2. The median (IQR) reduction of the number of CB-IMs was 81.89% (39.58%) in diary 2, and persisted in diary 3 (n = 17). At one month post-intervention, CB-PTSD symptom severity was reduced by ≥ 50% in 10/18 participants. Of the 8 participants with a CB-PTSD diagnosis pre-intervention, none met diagnostic criteria post-intervention. The intervention was rated as highly acceptable.

Limitations: The design limits the causal interpretation of observed improvements.

Conclusion: This is the first time such a single-session behavioural intervention was tested for old and real-life single-event trauma. The promising results justify a randomized controlled trial, and may be a first step toward an innovative CB-PTSD treatment.

Keywords: Behaviour therapy; Childbirth; Intervention; Intrusive memories; Memory reconsolidation; Posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Delivery, Obstetric
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Parturition
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy
  • Video Games*