What Is EMDR

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a powerful form of psychotherapy developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro.  It is estimated that over 2 million people all over the world have been successfully treated with EMDR.  It is extremely helpful in the treatment and resolution of the disturbing experineces and trauma that mold and affect many of us.  Through the use of bilateral stimulation (eye movement, tapping, buzzers, sounds), the REM state (rapid eye movement) in the brain is activated.  REM state is the part of our sleep where we process information from our day.  While in this state, the client focuses on difficult feelings, psychological and somatic symptoms or disturbing memories.  Rather than remaining as undigested experiences that can be triggered at any time, trauma is allowed to fully process, leading to more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Since its introduction as a trauma therapy in the late 80's, EMDR has now been applied to a wide range of areas including addiction, anxiety disorders, and even performance enhancement.   EMDR is recognized internationally for its effectiveness by various professional organizations and government institutions including the US Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs, the Menninger Clinic, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, as well as the mental health departments in foreign countries such as United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, and Israel.

For more information on EMDR, visit these websites:
Recommended reading: 
  • Emotional healing at warp speed:  The power of EMDR by David Grand
  • EMDR in the treatment of adults abused as children by Laurel Parnell

What Is Brainspotting

Brainspotting is a type of body-centered therapy that “works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems within the body's central nervous sytem."  Developed by David Grand, Ph.D., brainspotting has been lauded as the new and improved EMDR for its gentleness and depth of processing.  Brainspotting works by finding the “spots" in the visual fields or "eye positions” that activate specific groups of neuronetwork where traumatic memories are stored.  This then allows the body’s own natural, restorative healing process to take place.  Brainspotting can also be used to identify and strengthen an individual's natural resources and resilience.   For this reason, not only is brainspotting an effective tool for working through trauma, it can also be used to enhance performance and improve creativity. 

For more information on brainspotting, visit the website:

Cool Books, Resources, and Links

  • How to make the rest of your life the best of your life by Mark Victor Hansen & Art Linkletter.  A delightful and inspirational read for adults of all ages.

  • Aging with grace:  What the nun study teaches us about leading longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives by David Snowdon.  This is a page-turner based on the fascinating findings from the study of the aging Sisters of Notre Dame.  Dr. Snowdon skillfully weaves science and human drama together in a spellbinding book that will touch your heart and mind again and again.

  • The journey through cancer:  Healing & transforming the whole person by Jeremy Geffen.  Dr. Geffen is a board-certified medical oncologist and he is considered a leading expert in integrative medicine and oncology.  His book has been called "the single best book ever written for those with cancer and the peopel who love them."  

  • The Amen solution:  The brain healthy way to lose weight and keep it off by Daniel Amen.  Based on thousands of brain scans showing varying activity levels in different regions of the brain, Dr. Amen has identified several overeating patterns.  His  discovery paves the way to finding solutions to successful and maintainable weight loss based on an individual's unique make-up.  

  • Endings.  Beginnings...when midlife women leave home in search of authenticity by Ani Liggett.  A book about change that is uniquely for women facing midlife.  Benefit from psychologist Dr. Liggett's wisdom as she shares her own journey and that of 16 other women.

  • They can't find anything wrong:  Seven keys to understanding, treating, and healing stress illness by David Clarke.  Dr. Clarke has practiced gastroenterology for many decades and received numerous awards and recognition for outstanding patient care.  Written with great compassion and clarity, his book offers hope and guidance to many who suffer from stress illness that are frequently overlooked by conventional medicine.

Back to the top

Articles on Grief/Loss and Other Human Experiences

Ran Daw Tay
(A moving story about losing (and later finding) a loved one to dementia)
by Joanne Irwin

    Winter is not cruel in Chula Vista.  December brings warm winds and scattering leaves.

    At nineteen, I sat in front of the Chula Vista post office inside my mom's car, a twelve-year-old Citation.  Grandpa had died the year before.  Grandma sat in the front seat, I sat in the back.  I nervously waited for Mom to finish her errand. 

    "Where's Earl?"  grandma asked.

    I winced.

    "Where's Earl?"  she asked again.

    I stared at the post office door, pleading silently for Mom to reappear.  She didn't.  And grandma asked again.

    I broke a minute's silence.  "He's dead, Grandma."

    She wept.

    Senility is cruel.  My grandma rarely remembered that her husband had died.  She would call for him frequently.  She would worry when he didn't come home.  Someone would have to explain.  How many times had my grandfather died?  A hundred?  More?  What is it like for a woman to relive the fresh pain of her husband's death--daily?

    Ten years after that difficult day, I was packing my own car for the eight hour drive to Chula Vista.  I looked forward to introducing my husband to my grandma; her senility had prevented her from attending our wedding.  Since grandma had little short-term memory, traveling to the wedding would be far too confusing for her.  Truthfully, senility had stolen enough of her long-term memory that my mom doubted grandma would understand her own granddaughter was getting married.

    Mom had warned me that Grandma didn't answer questions anymore.

    "Can we take her for a walk?"  I asked, struggling to figure out how to spend time with her.

    "That wouldn't work," Mom explained.  "She'll be happier staying in her room."

    "Could I bring pictures of the wedding to show her?"

    "She won't recognize anyone," Mom conceded, "but she might trace her finger around the people in the photographs."

    I couldn't figure out what we would do together, yet I knew I wanted to see her, and I knew I wanted my husband to meet her.  Even if Grandma wouldn't remember that we had come, we would.

    When I entered the activity room at Brookvale Convalescent, two limber hands scaled down the piano keys.  Another older gentleman hunched over his harmonica, keeping time with the pianist.  Anxiously, my eyes traveled from wheelchair to wheelchair, searching the faces of residents who had crowded the room for their Saturday afternoon entertainment.  Nowhere did I see my grandma.

    I turned to find a nurse.  Down the hall I asked a young man in a white lab coat if he could help me find Mildred Martin.  He smiled and motioned me towards the activity room.  I glanced at my husand, shrugged my shoulders and followed.  The young man approached a woman sitting five feet away from the musicians.  Her entire torso rocked in time with the music.  Her back towards us, all we could see was a pink sweater curled around her shoulders, and her white, white hair.  When the orderly turned her wheelchair around, I stiffened.  A pink nylon hair band held her thinning white hair flat against her scalp.  An unnatural strawberry rouge encaked both her cheeks.  Finally, through her thick eyeglasses I found a feature I knew; this aged woman clearly had my grandma's gray-blue eyes.

    We wheeled Grandma to her room and pulled up two chairs.  I reached to hold her hand as I spoke. 

    "It's wonderful to see you, Grandma.  I'd like you to meet my husband Kent.  We married in July."

    She mumbled something unintelligible.

    I shuddered.  My mom had warned me, but I still wasn't prepared to hear my Grandma mumble nonsense.

    After a long, impenetrable pause I began again.  I slowed my speech.  I increased my volume.  I explained what each of her grandchildren were doing.  Sharon, George, Neal...jobs, school, hobbies.  I was careful to begin each set of details by clearly explaining who each person was.  "Sharon is Virginia's daughter.  She is thirty-five.  She is your oldest granddaughter..."

    My grandmother smiled and opened her mouth to speak.  "Ran daw tay.  Ran daw tay," she repeated.

    My heart stung.  Did I think that explaining things more clearly, or speaking more slowly, would cause her to speak more clearly to me?  No, not consciously anyway.  Yet, her unintelligible reply struck me to silence.  I looked to Kent, my eyes begging him to help me carry on this monologue.  Her understood.  As he spoke I continued to pat her hand; this at least she could understand.

    Understand.  The word triggered a memory from my college French class.  My mind shot back to that off-white lecture hall where I sat at a small desk near the window.  With great concentration I could decipher most of Monsieur Bouchard's French lectures.  But whenever I was cornered with a question I would stutter a French reply that was marginally intelligible at best.  Like me, perhaps my grandma could understand what I was saying.  Like my own fractured French answers, perhaps she couldn't reply in words I could understand.

    With new vigor I recounted the details of our wedding.  I brought out our wedding pictures and pointed out faces of people she would know.

    Though I saw no glimmer of recognition in her eyes, she smiled as she outlined the figures in the photos.  She mumbled periodically.

    I wondered if she understood anything at all.  As if to answer, she mumbled "Ran daw tay".

    Kent understood the disappointment that squeezed the hope out of my tired eyes.  He began the next conversation.  "I'd like to read you a psalm, Mrs. Martin, psalm twenty-three."  His tenor voice repeated the words she must have heard several hundred times in her ninety-five years.  "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He maketh me lie down in green pastures..."

    She nodded her head and smiled.

    "...Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..."

    My grandma's eyes were fixed on Kent.

    "...Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

    When he closed the Bible softly, a mist coated her gray-blue eyes.

    I knew she understood.

    A tap on my leg interrupted my thoughts.  "Tell her you love her," Kent whispered.

    Of course!  I looked intently into her eyes, "Grandma, I love you."

    She said nothing, but held my gaze unswervingly.

    "I love you grandma, " I repeated.

    Still silence, but without taking her glance from me, she leaned forward and lightly kissed my cheek.

    Her smile.  Her kiss.  She understood!

    We continued to stare and smile at one another.  Through my satisfied tears I glimpsed a tear track running down the strawberry rouge on her left cheek.

    Yes, we both understood.

    Indeed Grandma, I am your ran daw tay.

Back to the Top
A Path to Healing from Grief and Loss
by Elsi Dodge

Do you remember when Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit got lost in the fog? In House at Pooh Corner, I read, they were having a rest in a small sand-pit on the top of the Forest.  Pooh was getting rather tired of that sand-pit, and suspected it of following them about, because whichever direction they started in, they always ended up at it, and each time, as it came through the mist at them, Rabbit said triumphantly, 'Now I know where we are!' and Pooh said sadly, 'So do I.'

As I deal with grief and loss, I know exactly how Pooh felt. How did I get back here again?  I thought I was past this! But, struggle as I may, it seems I return to where I came from, over and over and over.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, the main stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance) would be fine, if they came with a linear-sequential timeline. You know, something like three months, eleven days, and 27 minutes for each stage. Then I could mark it on my calendar and make plans:  Sorry, I'd better not come for dinner next month; I'll still be angry then.

I could even handle the clichéd one-full-year-of-grieving. Or two, since Hospice points out that the second year is the same loss with less support. Any schedule, as long as I could count on it! I'm looking for a sign like the one on Interstate 70, coming down from the Colorado mountains: Warning, truckers:  two more miles of steep grades ahead. How about: Warning, griever: two more months of sorrow, and then you'll be all right.

But no, it's much more like a labyrinth. I seem to keep looping back, not getting anywhere. There's no clear direction. I go around, and back, and over, and under, and just as I see the light at the end of the tunnel, the path forks and I'm back in that blasted sand-pit again. It feels hopeless.

And then I remind myself of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt. The Promised Land was, at worst, a two-week walk away. It took them 40 years! Were they lost? Abandoned by the Lord their God? Being punished?

No, God led them the way He wanted them to go, taking them around dangerous countries, training and guiding them so they would be His people when they arrived. They didn't see it like that, of course, but it's true from God's point of view.

If I had an overhead map of my walk through grief and despair, would it show that I'm hopelessly lost, bad, alone, and abandoned? No, it would probably show the Lord leading me to circle around to stay away from the lions, helping me avoid the poison ivy, and taking me on a side trip when the bears are defending their cubs. The trail isn't straight, but it's safe, and it's the way I need to go.

So I appreciate those who remind me, repeatedly, of three basic facts:
1.     This isn't meant to be fun.
2.     It's totally normal.
3.     God's in control.

It's a difficult process, at best. This is miserable, but there's no avoiding it. No one's going to give me a map.  There isn't a GPS to help me keep track of my progress.  I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, until I get there.

I'm not alone in my feelings. When I'm working through the grief process, whether death or divorce or losing a friend, I re-read Grief Observed. C. S. Lewis, arguably the greatest Christian mind of the twentieth century, kept a journal after his wife died. I find great comfort in watching him roll from ‘I'm at peace with God over this’ through ‘Clearly God hates me or this wouldn't be happening’ to ‘There isn't a God’ and back to ‘I miss her but she's in a good place.’  If he repeatedly dealt with all those conflicting emotions, it must be okay for me to have similar feelings.

I'm not in control here. I need to remember the concept of the “new normal.”  That is, as little as I like where I am--grieving, facing loss--it is where I am. I can't go back and undo or change what has happened. So I really have only two choices: I can camp on resentment, or I can step into the “new normal” and wait to see what God will do with it. (For further discussion of the “new normal,” read Heaven Is Real by Don Piper and Cecil Murphy.)

Still, I don't like this. I want a shortcut, a guarantee of a quick way through the quagmire of my feelings. Of course, I'm not going to get that. So I might as well just keep going, knowing that this is part of the human condition.  God is in control, and I ought to be able to trust Him, no matter how I feel at any given moment. Now, where did I put that map?

Back to the Top

Working through Grief and Guilt
by Margaret Van Andel

My Mother passed away in August 2005.  In May, my four siblings and I learned she was declining at the age of 74.  Her neighbors contacted us since Mom wasn’t going to ask for help.  Being the organized adults that we had become, we immediately set up a schedule for all of us (four daughters, one son) to take care of Mom.  My twin sister, Cathy, was the first.  She could only stay one week, but saw Mom discharged from the hospital into her home on oxygen.  Mom was suffering from cancer, her third big bout with cancer (the first being ovarian cancer, the second melanoma), and had a tumor near her larynx and possible spots in her lungs.

I felt this was going to call for long-term care, so I arranged to stay for four weeks.  My strength is administration, so I got Mom on all her medications, set up schedules, recorded her food intake, got her on financial aid, got her affairs in order, took her to radiation daily and to all her other medical appointments, cooked her meals, etc.  At the same time I was working my job remotely, doing more than 40 hours, which was my norm.  I dropped everything to go running to her side whenever Mom rang her bell.  Sometimes she just wanted to share a TV show with me, which made me angry to be interrupted by something so trivial.

There were several horrible times, like being at the Doctor’s office and hearing him say that Mom had 3-6 months to live.  Wait, we weren’t giving up yet – why was he?  My other sister, Betsy, was busy exploring medical options.  Mom, however, knew her time was ending, and she wanted me to help the other kids understand that.  Through daily emails to the family and sometimes to her friends, I kept everyone informed.  I know the other kids were angry with me for accepting Mom’s decision, at least until they got their turn to be with her.

So, where’s the guilt?  I wish I could say that I had been loving and caring all the time.  Instead, being human, I got frustrated at being cooped up caring for my Mom.  I took it out in little ways that I’m not proud of.  Sometimes it was pushing Mom really fast in her wheelchair or getting frustrated when she wouldn’t eat.  Even just not taking the time to sit with her and watch her TV shows!!  You can’t imagine how much I regret the time spent in pettiness instead of love!  I wanted so much to be like my other sisters who hugged and rocked my Mother.

When Evana offered a grief and journaling class at my church, I knew I had to attend.  I was bursting into tears at random moments, driven by regrets.  Journaling helped me break out of my cycle of guilt.  Although we were instructed to journal about anything, after a few weeks, I knew I needed to push my journaling towards what was going on inside me and my memories of my Mother.  I knew my Mom forgave me – she had said again and again how much my time with her meant to her.  I also knew my God forgave me, but how could I forgive myself???  The journaling helped me do that.  I can’t give any formula, I just know that I no longer burst into tears and self-loathing.  I came to accept that I am human, with human failures, and I can accept that.  I’ve learned things that changed me for the better.

Back to the Top

Divorce and Journaling:  Write Your Way Out of Pain
Evana Hsiao-Henri

Divorce is a time when one experiences a great many changes and emotions.  It can be overwhelming, confusing, frustrating, and even frightening.  There are many healthy ways to cope.  Journaling is perhaps one of the best.  The benefits of journaling are many fold.  First, it allows the person to release negative emotions safely.  A journal is like a trusted confidant who is available, 24/7.  Journaling lets you express yourself without the fear of judgment, repercussion, or betrayal.  Journaling is also convenient.  You can journal in the comfort of your home or at your favorite coffee shop.  You can journal while waiting for the laundry to finish or during your child’s piano lesson.  Unlike calling family and friends, who are not always accessible, you can journal at 3 a.m. when you can’t sleep; you can journal when you accidentally run into your ex and his or her date; you can journal at the end of an exhausting day when nothing seems to be going your way. 

Being able to fully express one’s feelings usually results in greater clarity of thinking.  Once the overpowering negative emotions are processed and released, the brain can then engage in productive problem-solving.  In a study of a multifaceted rehabilitation program for women with cancer, journaling has played a major role.  It helps to promote personal growth through succeeding at new and difficult experiences and empowers participants to override their fears of facing what seemed impossible (Johnson & Kelly, 1990).

Expressing strong negative emotions instead of holding them in also has important physical health benefits.  Professor of psychology James Pennebaker at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, is a leading researcher in the field of journaling and health.  He is also author of the book Opening up:  The healing power of expressing emotions (1997).  His landmark study shows that writing about traumatic experiences can boost immune system functioning (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988).  Other studies have shown that people who journal have lower blood pressure (McGuire, Greenberg, & Gevirtz, 2005), fewer doctor’s visits (Pennebaker, Barger, & Tiebout, 1989), and lower absenteeism from work (Francis & Pennebaker, 1992).  Among asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients, writing leads to reduced symptoms and greater physical and social functioning (Kligler et al., 2011; Synder & Wieland, 2003).    

Another important advantage of journaling is that it is economical.  All it takes is the cost of a notebook and a pen.  It requires minimum space and relatively minor time investment.  While journaling does not replace psychotherapy, coaching, and other highly beneficial professional services to help you get through the divorce, it is frequently an important component in these approaches.

And of course, you don’t have to be a writer to journal.  You don’t have to spell correctly or know the grammar well.  Remember, a journal will not judge.   

How to Journal

While there are many different methods of journaling, I believe the simpler the better.  I encourage you to pick up a notebook and just write for 10-15 minutes.  The only rule is that you write as fast as you can until the time is up.  You do not stop to think about what you are going to write next.  You do not stop to cross out a misspelled word, add a missing comma, or restructure a sentence.  Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are completely irrelevant in this context.  If you get stuck, just write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until something comes up for you to write about.  Without getting caught up in the technicalities of writing or the need to follow a logical line of thinking, people frequently are surprised by what comes out of their journaling.  I give the same writing instruction to my grief/loss journaling support group.  After writing, group members can choose to share what they have written with the group.  The rest of the group then gives encouraging and constructive feedback to the person.  It is one of the most healing experiences I have ever witnessed.  One participant said this about the group:  “I feel I have learned a lot about myself and that you never walk alone as many people feel they do when grieving.”  Another said, “I like the openness that we have all achieved.  It helps so much to see that others not only have their own pain—but are willing to share yours.  It’s the support of the leader, the individual members, and the corporate-ness of the group that have meant the most to me.” 

For people who prefer more structure in their journaling, the following guidelines may be useful.  First, you write down the topic you want to write about (e.g., my divorce) in the center of a page and circle the topic.  Then, you set the timer for 5 minutes.  During this time, write down other words/short phrases that are associated with your topic.  Draw a circle around each new idea.  Connect circles to either the original circle or each other.  Pretty soon, you will have a page filled with connecting circles.  This technique is known as “brainstorming” or “clustering” and is designed to activate ideas associated with the original topic.

Next, set the timer for 10 minutes.  During this time, you will be writing about the same topic that you just brainstormed on.  Without referring to the page with all the circles, write how you feel about this topic non-stop until the time is up.  Try to use words like “I feel” or “I felt”.  After completing the writing, you may want to copy the following affirmation several times:  “It is good for me to express my feelings.”  This is especially helpful if expressing your feelings is new for you.  

Finally, write for another 10 minutes on the same topic.  This time try to focus on any insights and lessons learned.  Use words like “I recognize”, “I realize”, “I understand”, etc.  After completing the writing, you may want to copy the following affirmation several times:  “It is good for me to have better understanding about (my topic).” 

If possible, complete these three steps daily.  After going through the process with one topic, you can stay with the same topic or move on to something else.  It is entirely up to you.  Regardless of which journaling method you use, explore and find something that works well for you.  It may feel like a lot of work in the beginning if you are not in the habit of keeping a journal; it may feel very painful to face your thoughts and emotions.  Just be patient with yourself and with the process.  It will get better and be worth the effort. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I handwrite or type when I journal?  Most of the journaling studies have been conducted with participants handwriting their journal.  I think what is more important is to choose the method that helps you express yourself the most.  Some people even keep a picture journal where it is filled with pictures and drawings, rather than words. 

I don’t keep a journal because I worry that someone else would read it without my permission.  What should I do?  It is perfectly fine to shred what you have written or delete your files if you typed your journal entries.  I think a lot of the benefits of journaling come from expressing yourself.  While some people like to keep a record of what they have written, I do not think it is always necessary.

Should I go back and read what I have written?  Some have argued against going back to read past journal entries, at least initially.  Author of The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2009) Julia Cameron does not think what we write during the first 6-8 weeks is worth rereading.  In my grief/loss journaling support group, people often choose to reread what they have written and share with others in the group.  I think it is fine to reread what you have written but don’t dwell on it and analyze it too much.  Rather, focus on the process and focus on the progress. 

How often should I journal?  Recommendation varies and generally ranges from daily to weekly.  Find something that works for you so journaling will not feel like a burden. 

Is an unsent letter similar to journaling?  An unsent letter is a letter addressed to someone with whom you have some major, unresolved conflict.  The purpose of the letter is for you to express your true feelings and thoughts freely without reservation.  It is not used to communicate with the other person.  In fact, sending such a letter is often destructive toward the relationship.  The benefits of an unsent letter are similar to that of journaling; it allows the writer to release negative emotions safely and help to clarify confusions.  Sometimes such a letter opens a way towards reconciliation.  Often times such a letter gives the writer a sense of closure when it is not possible to resolve the conflict (e.g., the other person is deceased).

Back to the Top