Treating Grief and Loss with EMDR
Most people can attest to the devastatingly painful feelings that can exist following a major loss. These reactions, felt in mind, body, and spirit, can lead to immense suffering and debilitation.
While most people associate loss with the death of a loved one, grief can occur in other contexts as well. The same grief reactions often happen following the loss of a pet, a physical disability (e.g., the loss of a limb or physical ability), the loss of a relationship, or even the loss of a career or professional identity.
The term grief refers to the reactions that are experienced after a loss. Mourning encompasses the experiences of grief but also corresponds to active efforts of an individual to cope with the loss as well as their attempts to re-orient and adjust to life without the person who is gone.
Here are some common symptoms following a major loss:
- Strong emotions (such as pain, sadness, anger, numbness, or guilt)
- Mental problems (such as confusion, difficulty concentrating, intrusive images, and a sense of detachment or dissociation)
- Behaviors (lashing out, neglecting oneself, using substances or alcohol)
- Physical symptoms (such as difficulty sleeping, feeling weak, muscle pains, fatigue, or hypersensitivity)
Complicated grieving, also often called traumatic grief, represents an often-more severe set of psychological symptoms. With complicated grief, symptoms are more persistent and lead many people to commonly report feeling “stuck”. This can be due to a more complex set of circumstances surrounding the loss including the loss occurring abruptly or in a violent way or with the loss of a child. For example, having an elderly parent pass away naturally and expectedly is more likely to lead to a “normal” grief response as compared to, say, the sudden death of a healthy partner. The result often includes, in addition to the normal feelings of grief, the presence of classic post-traumatic stress symptoms.
A major loss can be extremely distressing, and there are a host of situations and reminders in a person’s everyday life that can trigger an immense amount of anguish and pain. Regardless of the type of loss you experience, treatment with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) can be extremely helpful in providing the healing and relief you need.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that enables people to heal and recover from disturbing life experiences. It has been practiced around the world for the past 30 years or so and is an accepted treatment for trauma and PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association, Veterans Administration, Department of Defense, World Health Organization, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, among others.
EMDR is based on the idea that current dysfunction stems from insufficiently-processed, maladaptively-stored disturbing memories from the past. Essentially, when a person experiences a traumatic event or something that is beyond the capacity for their brain to process at the time, parts of the experience get stuck causing them to encounter problems down the road.
The therapist leads a client in a series of eye movements or other types of bilateral stimulation (such as tapping or bilateral sounds). At the same time, the client focuses on various aspects of a disturbing memory. During this procedure, clients process the memory often in a positive and rapid way that leads to a peaceful resolution.
See our page on EMDR Therapy for more, in-depth information.
How can EMDR Help with Grief and Mourning?
EMDR is not a shortcut that can help you skip over the process of grief and mourning. Clients who participate in the process often go through all of the stages that would normally occur, however often at an accelerated pace and more efficient way.
In a way, EMDR can be conceptualized as fostering a movement toward healing by processing the factors that could complicate the grieving process and keep someone stuck. In my experience, sometimes a person is not able to flow through the normal grieving process until the surrounding traumatic experiences are reprocessed and neutralized.
Grief and mourning can be seen using the metaphor of a raft floating down a river. One must flow down the river, and there are no shortcuts. If there is something impeding this natural flow, they may feel stuck. EMDR can help remove whatever is in the way of moving down the river successfully.
Common EMDR therapy targets for the treatment of complicated grief include:
- Processing the memories surrounding the loss. These can include memories of witnessing a person die, the moment of hearing about the death, not being able to be present before the person dies, memories from a hospital seeing a loved one struggle, memories from the funeral home, seeing someone in a casket, and vicarious imagery a person can have without even witnessing the actual event.
- Processing triggers in a client’s current life.
- Creating a positive future template for the client’s life moving forward after the loss.
And because traumatic memories and images are so powerful and all-encompassing, desensitizing these can often help a person to have more access to past positive memories and images related to the person who is gone. I had the honor of working with someone who lost their father in a horrific accident that she witnessed. All she could see in her mind was the terrible event that transpired. When we desensitized the traumatic memories related to what happened, she was then able to reflect on all of the positive experiences she had with him throughout her life and see him in her mind and dreams with peace, serenity, and acceptance.
Begin EMDR Therapy in Delray Beach, FL
Grief is a normal reaction to a significant loss, though there are often situations that lead to a more severe and persistent set of psychological symptoms. EMDR is a powerful and effective therapy for helping clients get through this and safely down the river of grief. Our team of caring therapists can offer support from our Delray Beach, FL-based practice and across the state. Start your therapy journey by following these simple steps:
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start receiving support for yourself and your loved ones
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy
EMDR therapy isn’t the only service Mangrove Therapy offers in Delray Beach, FL. Our team knows that you may experience other mental health concerns which is why we are happy to offer therapy for trauma and PTSD/C-PTSD, substance use disorders, eating disorders, body image issues, anger management, anxiety, low self-esteem, and much more. Please feel free to learn more about how we can support you. We also offer support with addictions such as process addictions, grief, and loss, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, CBT, and DBT. Feel free to learn more by visiting our blog or FAQ page to learn more today!