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  • Writer's pictureKelli Niewhoner

Healing from Grief: EMDR Therapy Explained

Loss has a way of reminding us of the profound love and connection we share with others. However, the process of grieving that loss can lead to emotional trauma that can influence our daily lives in unexpected and challenging ways. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between grief and trauma, how it affects our daily life, and most importantly, how therapy, specifically EMDR therapy, can offer a path to healing and recovery. At Growth & Grace Counseling, we understand the emotional challenges that come with grief and offer support to help you navigate the emotional burden you may be carrying.

Can Grief be Traumatic?

Grief is a natural response to loss, encompassing a wide range of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion, and even guilt. It is essential to acknowledge that at some point in our life we will have to learn how to navigate a life-impacting loss. The way that people experience grief is as unique as they are. Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, or even non-death losses like the loss of a job, a home, or a sense of identity.

Sometimes, the intensity and duration of grief can lead to trauma. Grief-related trauma can emerge from various sources, such as the circumstances of the loss, unexpected events surrounding it, or unresolved issues with the departed. This trauma can deeply affect your daily life, leading to symptoms like anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and even physical health issues.

The Link Between Grief and Trauma

Grief, by its very nature, is a complex emotional response to loss, whether it's the death of a loved one, a significant relationship ending, or any other major life change. The emotional pain associated with grief can sometimes trigger trauma, which in turn can profoundly affect daily life. Here's how this connection works:

  1. Emotional Overload: Grief often brings intense and overwhelming emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, and despair. These emotions can be so potent that they overwhelm the brain's capacity to process them effectively, leading to trauma.

  2. Intrusive Thoughts and Memories: Trauma from grief can result in intrusive thoughts, memories, and flashbacks related to the loss, making it difficult to focus on daily tasks or engage with others without being triggered by the past.

  3. Avoidance Behaviors: Coping with grief-related trauma may lead to avoiding places, people, or situations that remind us of our loss. This can result in isolation and a sense of disconnection from the world around us.

  4. Physical Symptoms: Trauma can manifest in physical symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, and even physical pain, all of which can further disrupt daily life.

Understanding EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach specifically designed to address trauma and its symptoms. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, addictions/ disordered eating, isolation, avoidance of anything related to the trauma, depression, trouble sleeping, and feelings of shame/guilt. Traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and leave lasting impacts on the person who is grieving. EMDR may provide relief as it is widely recognized for its effectiveness in processing traumatic experiences and facilitating emotional healing.

How EMDR Works

EMDR therapy is based on the idea that trauma is stored in the brain in a dysfunctional way. It is like your brain is a filing cabinet. Your memories and life experiences are placed in the filing cabinet. When trauma occurs it disrupts the organizational process; instead of putting the files (memories and life experiences) in their respective places, a pile just sits on top of the cabinet causing clutter. This 'clutter' causes a roadblock to healthy functioning resulting in physical symptoms of trauma (these are listed in the above paragraph).

So, how do we get reorganized? EMDR works to help reprocess traumatic memories, reducing their emotional charge and allowing individuals to heal and regain control of their lives. EMDR is what helps us deal with the 'clutter' of our mind and return to normal organized filing of memories and life experiences .

Here's the process:

  1. Assessment: The therapist will first assess your specific needs and identify the traumatic memories associated with your grief.

  2. Desensitization: EMDR helps you confront traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. The therapist guides you in reprocessing these memories, reducing their emotional intensity and distress.

  3. Bilateral Stimulation: EMDR incorporates bilateral stimulation through eye movements, tactile taps, or auditory cues, which help your brain process the trauma more effectively. You will be guided through one of the forms of bilateral stimulation while recalling the traumatic event. This helps desensitize the emotional charge attached to the memory.

  4. Reprocessing: During this phase, you will work with your therapist to replace negative beliefs and emotions associated with the trauma with healthier, more adaptive ones. Positive beliefs and emotions are reinforced in place of negative ones. This phase helps you establish healthier coping mechanisms and thoughts.

  5. Body Scan: EMDR therapy often includes a body scan to address any physical sensations or discomfort associated with the trauma.

  6. Closure: The final phase of EMDR involves reviewing the progress made and reinforcing positive coping strategies to help you move forward. You'll be better equipped to move forward with your life, honoring your loved one's memory without the crippling effects of trauma.

The Positive Impacts of EMDR

EMDR therapy has shown remarkable success in treating grief-related trauma. It allows you to:

  1. Reduce Intrusive Thoughts: EMDR can help you gain control over the intrusive thoughts and memories that disrupt your daily life.

  2. Improve Emotional Regulation: You'll learn healthier ways to manage your emotions, reducing the intensity of grief-related feelings.

  3. Enhance Coping Skills: EMDR can equip you with more effective coping strategies, helping you face your grief with resilience and strength.

  4. Promote Healing: EMDR therapy aids in the healing process, allowing you to move forward with your life while still honoring the memory of your loved one or the loss you've experienced.


Grief is a natural part of the human experience, and it can sometimes lead to emotional trauma that disrupts daily life. The good news is that therapy, especially EMDR therapy, can provide invaluable support in processing grief-related trauma and helping individuals heal. At Growth & Grace Counseling, we are here to assist you on your journey of healing and recovery, offering the expertise and compassionate care you need to navigate through these challenging times. Remember, grief is a process, and healing is possible with the right support and therapeutic interventions. Contact us today to learn how we can help you navigate the challenges of grief and trauma with EMDR therapy.

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