Brainspotting vs. EMDR: What’s the Difference?

Brainspotting and EMDR are two therapeutic procedures that help alleviate symptoms caused by depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both are considered “power therapies” for assisting people in working through past traumas. They can also help individuals successfully unlock trapped creativity.

These two powerful therapies can help individuals address common psychological issues that lead to procrastination, anger, stress, lack of motivation, and trouble concentrating. They can also help treat physical illnesses and injuries. Both help individuals reprocess stored information and see things from a different perspective that can help them heal.

First, we’ll break down the differences between EMDR and brainspotting and show you how they both work. That way, you’ll have a general idea of what to expect if you try either one.

What is Brainspotting?

Dr. David Grand developed brainspotting (BSP) as a form of mental health therapy in 2003 when he discovered that “where you look affects how you feel.” He originally developed the protocol to help trauma survivors of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack and Hurricane Katrina.

BSP allows therapists to access body processes to bypass conscious thinking and tap into deeper parts of your brain that affect your body and emotions. By merely moving your eyes to certain positions, you can access unprocessed trauma held deeply in your brain. You can also use the therapy to tap into creativity and improve performance in different areas.

Your therapist will ask you to move your eyes in different positions or “brainspots.” These brainspots are eye positions that trigger negative emotions or painful memories. When a trained therapist identifies the source of a problem through BSP – often through a reflex signal – they can help you effectively work through trauma.

How Does Brainspotting Work?

Your limbic system includes your hypothalamus (internal stability), hippocampus (memory and spatial navigation), and amygdala (emotion and responses to stimuli). In other words, it involves your emotional and regulatory systems and impacts your emotional and psychological well-being.

During BSP sessions, your therapist will help you tap into your limbic system to treat past traumas effectively. They will walk you through a process to help you locate brainspots and tap into trapped emotions that may be causing symptoms like anxiety, depression, or stress.

5 Steps of Brainspotting Therapy

  1. Locate Brainspots – Your therapist will locate brainspots by guiding your eyes to different positions until repressed emotions are triggered and stimulated. Common reflexive signals include shifting body weight, changing facial expressions, swallowing, coughing, yawning, twitching, and pupil dilation.
  2. Intentionally focus on one brainspot at a time – You will intentionally focus on a brainspot to access a deeper part of your brain.
  3. Process the trauma – You can process the trauma trapped in your mind and body.
  4. Release the trauma – You’ll then release the trauma for good and begin healing.
  5. Begin Healing

Effective for the Following Issues

  • Insomnia
  • Trauma
  • PTSD
  • Flashbacks
  • Anger Management
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of flying
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Self-doubt and negative self beliefs
  • Addictions
  • Dealing with an abusive past
  • Sexual trauma and abuse
  • Self-destructive patterns
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.” Like brainspotting, EMDR involves eye movement to access and process trauma stored in the brain. Other techniques include audio stimulation and hand clapping.

While primarily used to overcome negative symptoms of PTSD, EMDR can also help with addictions, panic disorder, panic attacks, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and eating disorders.

How Does EMDR Work

EMDR techniques help individuals unblock emotions and reprogram their brains to heal from painful memories and fear caused by traumatic events. Treatment involves eight phases that help patients address the past, present, and future, working through stress and trauma by learning productive coping skills.

8 Phases of EMDR

  1. Review your history to uncover specific memories or incidents that may be causing you stress.
  2. Your therapist will prepare for the remaining stages by identifying practical ways to deal with your anxiety and stress.
  3. Choose a particular memory or event to “target”.
  4. Describe the memory as it visually appears in your mind, including how it makes you feel emotionally and physically.
  5. Try to identify a positive and a negative belief you have about yourself related to your target memory.
  6. Rate both beliefs based on how true they are. This will set EMDR stimulation into motion.
  7. Start finding closure. Review the positive steps you’ve taken up to this point and identify how to move forward with your therapist.
  8. Discuss with your therapist the progress you’ve made, your goals, and whether you have other targets to address and heal from.

Effective for Following Issues

  • PTSD
  • Trauma
  • Phobias
  • Chronic Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Brainspotting and EMDR Similarities

  • Make use of eye movement
  • Make use of biLateral stimlulation
  • Make use of resourcing
  • Same protcol for each session
  • Focus on client’s emotional state, memories and thoughts
  • Help reprocess information
  • Access information stored in the amygdala

Brainspotting and EMDR Differences

  • Different eye movements and positoning – EMDR is visual with rapid eye movement. BSP focuses on a single eye postion
  • Different devices used
  • Protocol differences – EMDR has a very strick protocol to follow, BSP is flexible and allows the client to guide the session

Which is better EMDR or Brainspotting?

As a trained Brainspostting practitioner, I have a lot of success in dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety, and Brainspotting is my preferred tool in therapy. Both EMDR and Brainspotting have been proven effective in peer-reviewed research and should be tried and tested to see if they will work for you.

Written by Kasia Ciszewski, LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram - Facebook - Pinterest - Twitter - Linkedin

Leave a Comment