New ways of helping bereaved parents

New ways of helping bereaved parents
31 October 2016

A bereavement midwife from Queen’s Hospital has undertaken training in an innovative therapy that could help some traumatised parents come to terms with the loss of their baby.

The hospital already supports grieving parents in a number of ways. It has a private Snowdrop Suite where bereaved parents can spend precious time with their baby and receive specialist support from the hospital’s midwives. Queen’s also has a quiet room, which includes a giant image of a tree on the wall where parents can add a leaf bearing the name of their baby. Special memory boxes are created and given to parents to bring them comfort following the loss of their baby.

Now the team is exploring the benefits of a therapeutic technique called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Bereavement midwife Sam EvansBereavement midwife Sam Evans (pictured right) recently attended an intensive three-day course on EMDR at St George’s Hospital in Stafford, which was organised by South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (SSSFT).

Sam said: “I heard about this course from a colleague and joined about 30 other delegates to learn about the techniques of EMDR and how it can help. I understand that psychologists and social workers have been trained in EMDR in recent years, but I may be one of the first midwives to have been trained in it.”

Consultant psychologist and EMDR consultant, Dr Shirley Timson, who leads on organising EMDR training within SSSFT, said: “I am passionate about the benefits of EMDR having seen first hand the difference it can make to people experiencing a range of difficulties associated with previous trauma – such as accidents, bereavement or military service, etc.  I believe colleagues across the health service will find this a useful therapeutic tool and am delighted to have welcomed a midwife to our training”.

Dr Timson added that SSSFT has long recognised the benefits of EMDR as an extremely cost-effective treatment for all levels of trauma, producing excellent clinical outcomes.  The Trust is keen to continue to develop the service and equip more staff with the skills to offer the treatment and has been funding in-house training for staff for a number of years as well as offering training to professionals from external organisations.

Powerful emotions can ‘overwhelm’ the brain when people have suffered a tragic experience or trauma and those memories and thoughts can keep replaying  - on a continuous loop - forcing the person to repeatedly relive what happened.

“Remembering and reliving the experience of losing their baby can feel as bad as experiencing it the first time,” said Sam.

EMDR is based on the discovery that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts and seem to influence the way that the brain functions and processes information. Memories are no longer so raw and people can reflect on the past in a way that is less upsetting for them.

“It’s a natural therapy that helps the brain to work through deeply distressing thoughts and memories,” said Sam who will be putting the techniques she learned into practice straight away and also talking to her colleagues at the Trust that runs Queen’s Hospital to look at how it can be used more widely, including to help women with a deep-seated phobia of labour and birth.

Interim Head of Midwifery, Helen Hurst, said: “I am pleased that Sam was able to attend this training. Everybody reacts differently to grief and trauma, and at Burton we are continually looking for ways in which we can provide more personalised help and support to families who lose a baby at any stage in pregnancy.”

American Clinical Psychologist and Researcher Dr Francine Shapiro is credited with discovering in the late 1980s that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts and feelings under certain conditions.  Since then EMDR has been widely researched and is now used by trained therapists all over the world to treat people who have suffered severe trauma.

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