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How EMDR for Traumatic Grief can help you

Photo of grieving Muslim woman by Omid Bonyadian; EMDR for traumatic grief
If your grief is lasting a long time and you keep reliving it, you may have traumatic grief.

If you're are having a hard time accepting a significant loss in your life (like losing a loved one), you may have traumatic grief (known in the current Diagnostic and Statistics Manual as Prolonged Grief Disorder). While traumatic grief is not a diagnostic term, it is a phenomenon that can happen when the nature of the death is sudden, unexpected or violent. It leaves you in a state of shock and disbelief, and then plunges you into feeling persistently upset about it prolonged period of time.

EMDR therapy can help you address the traumatic nature of the death and your reaction to it, so that you can grief and a healthy manner and resolve the grief. EMDR therapy does not bypass the painful nature of losing someone you care deeply about, but it does reduce the preoccupation and the elements of reliving the death. This post will address how EMDR for traumatic grief can help you.

Does research Support Use of EMDR for Traumatic Grief?

In studies that have been done so far, EMDR therapy for traumatic grief has been found to be effective, in that it provides a shift in your perspective on the grief that is helpful and adaptive. It is been found in some studies to be as effective as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of traumatic and complicated grief.

There were distinct advantages to EMDR, in that recipients were better able to distance themselves emotionally from their distressing memories of the loss, and they were also less likely to have intrusive thoughts and images related to the death. Another advantage of using EMDR therapy for traumatic grief is that you don’t have to go over the details of the death repeatedly and listen to it until you are desensitized, as you would with CBT. This repeated exposure therapy aspect of CBT can lead to dropping out of treatment before you receive the benefits of the therapy.

EMDR Therapy for Traumatic Grief

EMDR therapy is a type of therapy that is empirically validated for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a therapy developed by the late psychologist and innovator, Francine Shapiro, PhD that helps process traumatic incidents so that they are stored adaptively in the mind. Inherent in many traumatic incidents is a sense of loss – whether it’s loss of safety, security, integrity, or peace of mind. There is a loss of an assumptive world that is stable, safe, and predictable when something like a terrorist attack or a personal attack occurs. The same can also be said for unexpected loss of a loved one.

Client sculpture; EMDR for traumatic grief
It can be very hard to accept the loss of someone important to you.

The death of someone close to you, such as a parent, child or spouse, can feel traumatic to you, especially if you lost a person unexpectedly or through a violent means (such as murder, suicide, terrorism or war). Many people are suffering this type of loss from the COVID-19 pandemic because they lost someone much younger than they expected. Traumatic grief is different from acute grief, in that the yearning, longer and the negative symptoms of traumatic grief disrupt the person’s normal functioning for much longer time than is usual for people experiencing loss.

Two prominent psychologists in the field of trauma and loss, Solomon and Rando, assert that EMDR therapy can be useful for removing present triggers that remind you of the loss, as well as secondary losses that occurred as a result of the death. This could include loss of employment, displacement from housing, loss of friendships, or other circumstances that changed after the death. Once past and present triggers are neutralized using EMDR therapy, the therapist can also create a future template of possible situations where you might have trouble because you are reminded of the painful loss.

Preparing For the Future with EMDR For Traumatic Grief

Are there places that you avoid going to because they remind you of the loss? Do you try not to listen to certain music because it hurts to think about your loved one being gone? This makes sense when you think about grief, but it can limit your life in that you can enjoy freedom of motion and go wherever you like.

The future template mentioned above can help you feel more comfortable doing things that remind you of the loss. This way, you can still remember that you used to enjoy going certain places with the deceased, but you don’t have to fear being emotionally overwhelmed if you happen to go there without them.

The future template is basically a procedure that helps you imagine yourself going to a place or doing something that is painful because it reminds you of the death. While you are imagining this and how it makes you feel physically and emotionally, you are receiving bilateral stimulation to help take away the emotional sting from the situation. This can be very helpful in liberating you from having to avoid everything that reminds you of your loved one’s death. It can also restore your life to normalcy more quickly, thus helping you grieve in a healthy fashion.

Are You Ready to Try EMDR For Traumatic Grief?

This is just an overview of some of the benefits of receiving EMDR therapy for traumatic grief. It’s important to let the therapist know whether you have a seizure disorder, heart problems, or if you might be pregnant. These are contraindications for receiving EMDR therapy. You should also let the therapist know if you have symptoms of dissociation, but you can talk to the therapist about this in more depth.

This does not preclude EMDR therapy for traumatic grief, but it does require some modifications to make it safe and tolerable for you. If you are able to remain emotionally present while discussing or thinking about disturbing life events, there’s a good chance that you will be able to benefit from EMDR for traumatic grief. Otherwise, it is a safe and effective treatment for the traumatic aspects of losing a loved one.

If you want to know more, please call me at 661-233-6771.


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