Treating Complicated Grief with EMDR

Passages Counselingby Jacque Amweg, LSCSW, LCSW, CT, Clinical Social Worker & EMDR Therapist at Kansas City Hospice

The death of a loved one is one of the most distressing experiences you will face. Grief is a natural response to loss. One of the tasks of grief is to keep an enduring connection with the one who died while moving forward in life.

But for some people, feelings of loss are severe and don’t improve with time. This is complicated grief. Painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that it’s hard to recover.

You can be at greater risk for complicated grief when loss is sudden or unexpected. It can happen with the loss of a child, or death after a long illness. You may have unresolved family issues or feel a lack of support from those around you.

You may be struggling if you experience any of the following signs of complicated grief:

  • avoiding reminders of the deceased
  • feeling negative about the future
  • numbness and detachment
  • feeling stunned, dazed, or shocked
  • difficulty acknowledging the death
  • feeling that life is empty or meaningless
  • difficulty imagining a fulfilling life without the deceased
  • feeling that a part of you died
  • excessive irritability
  • bitterness or anger

You may have heard about a treatment for PTSD called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It’s a type of therapy that helps with healing from trauma or distressing experiences. EMDR can also be very helpful for people coping with severe grief.

After an impactful event, you may have difficult memories, sounds, dreams or images that continue to come up or are intrusive. EMDR can help you to experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings or beliefs about the event.

One person who experienced EMDR therapy during her grief said that she began to feel like engaging again and took up a forgotten hobby. Another reported that she now feels a sense of spaciousness about her grief. One man said that when he wakes at night, he no longer relives the whole experience. He’s able to go back to sleep.

It’s common to have relief from the anguish and anxiety of grief reaction after EMDR.

The brain naturally wants to heal. EMDR uses the natural abilities of the brain to help it learn, organize and update memories of your experience.

Most commonly, the therapist will help you begin side-to-side eye  movements or other methods while thinking of the event. Sets of eye movements are repeated until the event becomes less disturbing. Memories remain intact while there is relief from anxiety and anguish that can be part of grief.

EMDR therapy is available through Passages Counseling Program of Kansas City Hospice. Passages accepts insurance and Medicare. You may also search for area therapists experienced in working with grief.

About Us

The mission of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care is to bring expert care, peace of mind, comfort, guidance, and hope to people who are affected by life-limiting illness or by grief. Our vision is that each person in our community is valued from life through death and each family is supported in their grief.


  1. Stephanie Turner on April 21, 2020 at 9:03 am

    I struggled with terrible visuals from the aftermath of childhood trauma. They were so awful I didn’t share them with anyone. Matter of fact, I kept them to myself until I was in my late 40’s. I was encouraged to do EMDR for other traumatizing events. However, I shared with my therapist my visuals and we concentrated on them I can tell you my inner struggles changed after that therapy. Words cannot express the healing and relief I had because of EMDR. I had been in talk therapy for years. But it was only with EMDR that the tormenting visuals subsided. Later I read Dr. Bessel Van der Kolks work. It was spot on! I believe EMDR will have strong place with healing the traumatized. Thanks for this article.

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