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Therapy Technique for CLL Patients: EMDR
Posted: Feb 26, 2024
Therapy Technique for CLL Patients: EMDR image

Coping with a CLL diagnosis can be a profound emotional journey, encompassing a range of feelings from fear and anxiety to hopelessness. In managing these emotions, an increasingly recognized therapeutic approach is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Originally developed for treating trauma, EMDR has shown promise in helping individuals confront a variety of stressful life experiences, including chronic illness management

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a psychotherapy technique designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, it's based on the premise that the mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, for instance, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally moves toward mental health unless it's blocked by the impact of a disturbing event.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR therapy involves focusing simultaneously on (1) associations of difficult images, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations and (2) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements. This dual attention stimulates the brain's information processing system, enabling it to process the difficult event. 

Steps to Perform EMDR at Home

EMDR can be performed under the guidance of a trained therapist or adapted to use at home. EMDR steps include: 

  • Set up a comfortable space:
    • Find a quiet, comfortable space where you can relax without interruption.
  • Identify a distressing memory or emotion:
    • Think about a memory that is troubling you, this can be related or unrelated to your CLL diagnosis. 
  • Initiate bilateral stimulation:
    • This can be done by tapping your knees alternately with your hands or tapping each shoulder with the alternate hand.
      • Here is an example:
  • You can also choose to do the eye movement version of EMDR. Feel free to follow along with this self-guided video, or hold your fingers about 18 inches in front of your face and move them slowly from side to side, following with your eyes only. 
  • Focus on the distressing memory:
    • As you engage in bilateral stimulation, allow your mind to focus on the distressing memory or emotion. Notice what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations arise.
  • Anchor in the present:
    • After a few moments of focusing on the distressing memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation, bring your attention back to the present moment. Focus on your breathing or a physical object in your surroundings.
  • Reflect:
    • Think about the experience. Did your feelings or thoughts about the memory change? Do you feel less distressed?

The duration of EMDR therapy varies depending on the individual's needs. Some may experience relief in just a few sessions, while others may require a longer period.

EMDR Benefits

EMDR therapy can offer several benefits for CLL patients, including:

  • Improved immune function:
    • Chronic stress can weaken the immune system. EMDR therapy helps reduce stress which in turn can support your immune system. 
  • Reduced stress and anxiety:
    • By processing traumatic memories, EMDR can help lower stress and anxiety levels. 
  • Improved coping strategies:
    • EMDR can enhance coping mechanisms, enabling patients to better manage their emotional responses to their illness. 
  • Enhanced quality of life:
    • Lower stress levels can significantly improve overall quality of life, allowing patients to enjoy more activities and maintain stronger relationships.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


For CLL patients, navigating the emotional impact of the diagnosis is as crucial as managing the physical aspects. EMDR presents a promising therapeutic approach to addressing the psychological toll, offering a pathway to emotional healing and resilience. As with any therapeutic technique, it's essential to consult with healthcare professionals to ensure it's an appropriate strategy for your specific situation.

The author Megan Heaps

about the author
Megan Heaps

Megan joined HealthTree in 2022. As a writer and the daughter of a blood cancer patient, she is dedicated to helping patients and their caregivers understand the various aspects of their disease. This understanding enables them to better advocate for themselves and improve their treatment outcomes. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family. 

Thanks to our HealthTree Community for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Sponsors:


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