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.

Brainspotting and EMDR have many similarities. So how are they different? How do each of them work, and what are some potential side effects of the treatments? Keep reading for answers to these questions and more.

Brainspotting vs. EMDR Therapy

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.

“Where you look affects how you feel.”

Dr. David Grand

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.

By moving your eyes to different positions, you can access unprocessed trauma held deeply in your brain.

Kasia Ciszewski LPC

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 wellbeing.

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.

Here are the main steps of BSP therapy:

  • 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.
  • You will intentionally focus on a brainspot to access a deeper part of your brain.
  • You can process the trauma trapped in your mind and body.
  • You’ll then release the trauma for good and begin healing.

5 Steps of Brainspotting Therapy

1. Locate brainspots.

2. Intentionally focus on one brainspot at a time.

3. Process the trauma.

4. Release the trauma.

5. Begin healing.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.” Like brainspotting, EMDR involves eye movements 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 Therapy 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.

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

EMDR Process Overview

1. Choose a specific memory to target.

2. Describe that memory.

3. Identify a positive and a negative belief about yourself that’s tied to the memory.

4. Rate both thoughts according to how true they are.

5. Begin finding closure and identify how to move forward.

Does Brainspotting Really Work?

Trauma is often – though not always – related to more than one event. For example, consider someone who has felt repeated abandonment or grew up with a mentally ill parent or addict. They may have developmental trauma from the long-term stress they experienced.

Brainspotting is different from many other forms of therapy because it allows patients to dig deeper into their trauma sources. More traditional treatments – like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – don’t always free patients from chronic symptoms that stem from trauma. Instead, individuals often have to repeatedly work on the same issues, which can be frustrating and difficult. It’s easy to lose hope in this type of situation.

Brainspotting addresses the root of the problem so you can release the trauma and heal from it for good. Your body may remember traumatic events even if your mind does not. Brainspotting therapy can effectively help you release emotions that are stuck and heal from physical pain manifested over time.

Brainspotting addresses the source of the problem so you can release deep-rooted trauma for good.

Kasia Ciszwski LPC

BSP is also more flexible than many other therapies, allowing therapists to adapt their techniques based on individuals’ unique needs, leading to faster and deeper results. Another benefit for many patients is that it requires little communication with the therapist.

If you’ve tried other forms of therapy but haven’t experienced the relief you need, consider trying brainspotting. In addition to helping with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, it can be a highly effective way to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Phobias
  • Chronic stress
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Addictions
  • Dealing with an abusive past
  • Self-destructive patterns
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

How Will I Feel After Brainspotting?

During your treatment, you may feel some heaviness as you identify brainspots. But that’s where the healing begins. As you address your trauma and release negative emotions trapped inside you, you’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders.

After a session, you may feel tired, mental fog, emotional, or lightheaded – like you would after a typical therapy session. Everyone’s body and emotional responses to therapy are different, but you will likely feel fatigued as well as relieved.

After you’ve released past traumas, you should feel empowered. You’re no longer a victim of your emotions. You’re in control of them. You should feel confident and resilient. You may also be more aware of yourself – your thoughts and feelings – so you can more effectively deal with stress in your body when facing future stressors.

What are Some Possible Side Effects of Brainspotting?

Fortunately, there are no adverse side effects like there are with many medications. Brainspotting therapy is a healthy way to process pain and traumatic events so you can retrain your emotional responses and heal from past trauma.

Brainspotting is a healthy way to process pain and trauma, empowering you to retrain your emotional responses and heal.

Kasia Ciszewski LPC
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

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