Cancer and PTSD — Minimizing the Trauma

Cancer Can Cause Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Did You Ever Consider That?

EMDR Integrative Group Therapy Protocol (EMDR-IGTP) is proven to help patients with Cancer and PTSD to overcome a PTSD diagnosis.  This will greatly reduce stress levels for cancer patients, caregivers, and loved ones.

Dr. Nacho Jarero, et. Al, published the results of their research on the EMDR-IGTP in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Volume 9, Number2, 2015. People diagnosed with cancer are considered at risk for PTSD because it is a life-threatening illness. Additionally, it is associated with a range of adverse events, such as tumor detection, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment and side effects and potential impact on other aspects of life — all create a total picture of ongoing stressors. In general, people who experience continuing internal and external stressors are more likely to show PTSD symptoms than those who experience one serious stressful event.

Dr. Jarero’s team used the Integrative EMDR Group Treatment Protocol (EMDR-IGTP) with cancer patients in an intensive schedule of 3 consecutive days, 2 group sessions per day. The research results showed significant improvement from start to finish. Thus far, EMDR therapy is the only treatment shown to help cancer patients overcome a PTSD diagnosis.

This is a great service to some of the most challenged people who have cancer and PTSD. They can begin to see a positive view of their own future, which is a true gift.

I have found it equally helpful for the loved ones and caregivers of cancer patients. They can definitely experience PTSD symptoms due to their fears of losing their loved one, and secondary traumatization related to witnessing or hearing of the difficulties of the cancer patient.

I have treated an entire family with a cancer patient in one group. The individuals involved all reported it was beneficial to them. I observed it seemed to calm the whole family and help them be in their Adaptive Information Processing, or AIP system (as EMDR developer Francine Shapiro has hypothesized and research has born out). In my view they became a stronger team. Though they don’t yet have a choice about the cancer, “Cancer and PTSD” no longer applies to them.

My sessions are offered twice a month instead of in an intensive format.  In the busy lives of cancer patients, it seems more achievable.  In San Diego, to learn more about current scheduling of the group, call (619) 283-5665.

How Does the EMDR Group Treatment Protocol Work?

To me there is a tremendous advantage in this group treatment protocol: It is done in silence. Participants draw images of their worse moment. They use the very gentle EMDR method of the Butterfly Hug to help process the memory, with the guidance of the trained EMDR therapist. Because individuals are not sharing their own trauma with the group, the group is spared added secondary traumatization. Family members do not want to cause added worries to anyone, and this protocol saves them from doing that.

At the end participants can share what they wish. The moment they share is now neutralized by the EMDR processing. It becomes inspiring and strengthening to see what they have resolved.

To find an EMDR therapist who offers EMDR group therapy may be a bit of a challenge, because Dr. Jarero has not trained many US EMDR Therapists. However, they may be able to contact Dr. Jarero through the directory to sponsor a training for EMDR therapists in their community. This would be a great humanitarian service, because it can help not just cancer patients, but victims of natural or man-made disasters.

If you have cancer and PTSD, I wish you well in finding a therapist who can help you to overcome it.  Please give them this article and it will help them to locate the protocol.  The research by Dr. Jarero just came out in May of 2015 (the month I’m writing this article).

©2015, Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC
NOTE: I would like to mention that my loved one has been recently diagnosed with cancer. My family is the family I treated, since I received the training just a month before the diagnosis and I do not yet know anyone offering this service. In my opinion, the EMDR-IGTP is a great blessing because it originated in response to prayer, and works so gently, thoroughly and efficiently.


Through this process I’ve done some research on cancer treatments. I’ve learned some valuable things simply from the viewpoint of a loved one, not a cancer specialist. To read more, please link to:


Preventing Cancer Trauma – Cancer Prevention Tips

Reducing Cancer Trauma – Cancer Treatment Tips

©2015 Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC