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Navigating Grief and Loss with EMDR Therapy

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ― Jamie Anderson

Experiencing grief and loss is universal to human experience. It is not just through death that we experience grief; we grieve the loss of a relationship, the loss of a dream, the loss of hope. “Grief refers to the process of experiencing the psychological, behavioral, social, and physical reactions to the experience of loss” (Therese Rando, 2014). In other words, grief is an all-encompassing encounter.

How we understand, experience, and process our grief, however, is very individual. There are innumerable factors that are unique to each loss, which means there is no “one size fits all” grieving process. The loss of a loved one can feel like a warp in the earth’s axis, resulting in erratic shifts of “emotional gravity,” which leave you feeling at times completely groundless and other times burdened with weight.

Societal expectations and misconceptions may leave those grieving feeling bereft and alone. As time elapses, learning to contend with complicated emotions, honor the grief of others, and navigate the uninvited transition that loss brings into your life, can be overwhelming. The grieving process is further impacted by your culture, family system and personal life experiences, which compound to profoundly affect your ability to cope with the loss.

Regardless of your support system, grief is still a very personal experience which many describe as lonely and isolating. You will hear, often from well-meaning people, that you “need to move on,” or “your loved one would want you to be happy.” Such well-intentioned comments only add to the sorrow as they imply a deficiency in the grieving party because they aren’t grieving in the acceptable, expected manner of everyone around them. This is extremely frustrating for those who have experienced loss, as current knowledge and research has proven that grief does not pass through a tidy sequence of defined phases as “experts” once believed, but instead is experienced as an ongoing process of many coexisting emotions that can randomly give way to one another with no notice or logical causation.

Traumatic grief usually involves an additional complicating factor that results in additional difficulty for the individual to resolve and process. A sudden unexpected death, suicide, or losing a loved one in a violent manner (either accidental or intentional) is often associated with traumatic grief for those of us left behind. It is typical for this type of grief to correlate with even more severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

My own journey of grief and loss began as I was finishing my first year in my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. I was feeling optimistic for the first time in a long time, despite the struggles my family had experienced through many years of mental illness and addiction with our oldest son Cameron who was 22. We had had a recent reprieve as he had achieved a year of sobriety and carried straight A’s at his local community college. I was so hopeful we had turned a corner and despite the trials we had faced, I was grateful that my son was still here and fighting. My family supported my dream of becoming a counselor, hoping to make a difference in families and individuals who struggle with the same issues. Cameron was studying to go into the mental health profession as well and we planned on graduating (he with his Bachelor’s and me with my master’s degree) at the same time. This gave me the courage and motivation which I needed to get through graduate school even though I was an “older student.” My other children were doing well in school and in life and my husband and I were grateful for the blessing in our life.

This brief period of joy came to a screeching halt on October 6, 2019, when a uniformed policeman and a social worker arrived at my home uninvited to inform our family that our firstborn son had died in a fatal car accident. I will never forget that day or the ensuing aftermath of the loss of my beloved son. It has been the most difficult, traumatic, and isolating process I have ever experienced. I have vacillated between acceptance and anger, the guilt of “could I have done something different?”, the what if’s, depression, and constant anxiety of losing another child. I have wondered if I would ever heal or feel joy again. My husband and children have experienced their own personal grief journey which have included symptoms of depression, fear of losing another family member, anxiety, guilt of living life or feeling happy, and anger. Not one of us has grieved our loss the same as it has impacted us all with a myriad of complicated emotions and expressions of grief.

Something that has helped me in my journey of grief and loss was the realization that grieving is normal and necessary. It is our way of making meaning and sense of our loss. We cannot skip this essential process, or it will start to manifest in physical, mental and emotional distress. Finding healthy ways to help with this process and giving myself permission to do so, was a key part of my healing and recovery. I became a therapist because I have experienced, and believe in, the therapeutic benefits of evidence-based therapy and its healing effect for helping people navigate the grief process. If you are experiencing grief and loss and still struggle to resolve your heartache, EMDR therapy is an evidence-based therapy that has been found to resolve or diminish the pain and help people heal.

EMDR therapy helps to address the trauma associated with loss by facilitating healing between the mind and the body. This disconnection can cause brain fog, emotional dysregulation, intrusive thoughts and memories which may seem overwhelming at times. In many instances individuals suppress their grief which leads to emotions of denial, avoidance, and anger. This suppression of emotions takes a toll both physically and mentally. Before beginning EMDR therapy, individuals are taught mindfulness coping skills for emotional regulation and distress tolerance with traumatic memories. Through bilateral stimulation EMDR therapy helps individuals to process grief and restore the connection between mind and body, resulting in diminished distress. It allows for a gentle, non-judgmental approach that allows clients to address any guilt, shame, or debilitating sorrow related to their grief, restoring more healing and hopeful feelings about their loss.

EMDR therapy allows clients to become “unstuck” in their grieving process and helps individuals to process their grief in such a way that they can breathe, heal, and live life without their loved one. It helps individuals find a healthy connection to their loved one in their heart and mind that is ongoing, and not feel guilt for living their life fully. Dealing with a recent loss or a remote unresolved loss can be daunting and scary. It can feel impossible that you will ever feel normal again without your loved one. But there is hope!

Interested in more information? Schedule a free 15 min consult to learn more! With offices in Gilbert & Phoenix Arizona, our therapists are ready to help you achieve your limitless potential. Call 480.448.1076 today!

p: 480.448.1076

Gilbert Location: 2563 S. Val Vista Dr. Ste 108. Gilbert, AZ 85295

Phoenix Location: 1440 E. Missouri Ave. C270. Phoenix, AZ 85014


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