Brainspotting vs EMDR: What’s the Difference?


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While there are numerous treatment modalities in use today, two relatively new therapies are growing in popularity: brainspotting and EMDR.

These eye-movement-based trauma therapies are highly focused treatment methods that work by identifying and processing a variety of challenging traumas through exposure therapy.

Clients are able to experience significant psychological progress through these treatments.

Up to 90% of patients have been found with eliminated post-traumatic stress disorder after only three EMDR sessions.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between brainspotting vs EMDR, as well as benefits and techniques for each of these highly effective treatments.

Brainspotting vs EMDR

To begin, both treatments utilize bilateral stimulation: a neurobiological tool used to locate and fully process deep-seated traumas.

These psychological treatment methods are effective in locating non-typical symptoms that may be out of reach with traditional talk therapy.

The practices can make an impact on healing within a short span of time. While traditional talk therapy can sometimes take years to yield noticeable healing, EMDR and brainspotting have been shown to achieve successful results in a third of the time.

Let’s explore.


As a treatment technique discovered in the early 2000s by Dr. David Grand, brainspotting is relatively new in comparison to EMDR.

The technique is one that bypasses traditional diagnosis and treatment to dig into the root of the issue at hand.

This happens via locating an eye position, a “brainspot,” in correlation with a specific emotional response to an incident or event.

A therapist works with a client to locate the brainspot upon which a number of reflexive responses manifest. Some of these responses include: 

  • Eye twitches
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Yawns
  • Coughs
  • Body twitches
  • Facial tics

These reflexes typically occur outside of a client’s awareness. They are subconscious responses of which a therapist is trained to locate.

Prior to finding a specific blindspot to work with, a therapist will locate a foundation for the spot through resource or activation. 


For example, upon first meeting, a therapist may ask where in the body the client notes a feeling of stomach pain or tension in the neck.

The client may be asked to rate this sensation on a scale of 1 to 10. This gives the therapist a baseline of emotional response to work with during processing.


For those with intense or complex trauma, activation may feel too intense. In this case, the therapist will ask the client to focus on where the body feels most grounded or calm during processing.

Once a foundation is determined, a specific brainspot is then located to address the issue at hand.

If from an activation standpoint, the brainspot should be a point where the client feels activated. If from a resource standpoint, the brainspot should be a point where the client feels grounded or calm.

One of the benefits of brainspotting is that from there, the client’s brain and body actually do most of the work.

It is the therapist’s job to aid in that subconscious processing that brainspotting allows.


What is EMDR? Another form of trauma therapy, EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

While not quite as new as its brainspotting counterpart, EMDR is a form of exposure therapy discovered in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro.

This treatment helps individuals tap into stored negative feelings and cognitions associated with traumatic events and adapt them positively.

Think of EMDR as jump-starting the brain’s capacity to heal in a positive manner.

As trauma gets stuck in the neural network, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to unpack and process those emotional or traumatic memories.

As the brain is hardwired to protect itself, traumatic memories may be packed away as a method of self-preservation.

Bilateral Stimulation

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to unpack and process these memories.

Bilateral stimulation can include:

  • Alternating rhythmic taps
  • Side to side light bar
  • Alternating audio tones

This type of stimulation activates both sides of the brain, which is crucial for processing information.

During a deep REM cycle, our brain processes information while we sleep, leading to enhanced clarity and processing power upon waking.

EMDR utilizes a similar process during a session in order to aid in the complete processing of negative, traumatic emotions buried within the subconscious.

The therapist’s goal during an EMDR session is to fully process the trauma. This treatment targets to process by a three-pronged approach:

  1. Past
  2. Present
  3. Future

This type of therapy is rooted in the belief that until proper processing of past memories, present experiences, and future skills is complete, the root of the problem will not completely heal.

Benefits of Each

There are significant benefits for both brainspotting and EMDR therapies:

  • Can yield quick results in just a few sessions
  • Release and healing happens at the deepest level
  • Can be used in tandem with other forms of therapy
  • Can be less intensely distressing during a session
  • Conversation during a session can be minimal

Long-term issues can arise if a traumatic experience is not adequately processed. EMDR and brainspotting are able to assist in the adequate processing and long-term healing of trauma stuck in limbo in the brain’s neural network

Neural Networks

Because of the bilateral approach to each, brainspotting and EMDR can be classified as therapies that utilize the brain’s dual awareness to unravel trauma’s tight grip on the brain.

The bottom-up approach of EMDR and brainspotting allow the brain to process through a past experience and feel safe in the present.

Each modality gives the brain the tools it needs to correctly and positively adapt in the future.

Path to Healing

There are many treatment avenues to explore in order to heal trauma. No one technique works for everyone, and the efficacy between brainspotting vs EMDR can merely come down to preference.

For those who have experienced trauma, it can feel isolating. It may feel as if closure may never come.

At Steps for Change, we’re here to let you know that while healing isn’t always immediate, it is possible. If you’re interested in exploring therapies such as EMDR to aid you in your healing journey, please contact us today.