EMDR with grief: Exploring the client experience and potential benefits



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Grief is a universal, human experience. While the majority of those suffering from a significant loss may return to normal functioning within 18 months without clinical intervention, up to 20% may develop prolonged, severe, or complicated grief, which has been associated with increased depression, anxiety, substance use, illness, and suicidality. Research suggests that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) may help bereaved individuals increase acceptance of their loss and improve their access to positive feelings and memories related to the loss. The present study explored the client experience and possible benefits of two sessions of individual counseling for grief using EMDR. A case study design was used to enable in-depth exploration of how grieving clients perceive the experience of EMDR, how clients perceive EMDR might be helpful, and what therapeutic change processes might be at work. Five adults experiencing a loss of a significant relationship participated in two individual 60-minute EMDR sessions for grief. Results indicated that the following themes emerged during EMDR reprocessing: changes in the target image, changes in body sensations, recognizing impact of the loss, expressing difficult emotions, accepting the loss, connecting to adaptive beliefs, insight, meaning-making, reprocessing negative memories, connecting to positive memories, redefining the relationship, and reinvesting in the present and future. In follow-up interviews, participants expressed an overall positive view of their experience of EMDR and believed it to be helpful. Based on the EMDR reprocessing sessions, pre and post assessment forms, and participant interviews, individual EMDR appeared to be helpful through the following therapeutic processes: desensitizing negative images and memories, recognizing and accepting the loss, cognitive restructuring, remembering the relationship that was lost, and reorienting to present and future life. Implications for theory and practice are discussed as well as suggestions for future research.



EMDR, Grief, Counseling