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Brainspotting vs. EMDR

Generally speaking, psychotherapy may do wonders for trauma patients. Multiple treatments address diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, trauma may or may not be connected to depression or anxiety.

While the two have a number of parallels, there are also significant distinctions.

Brainspotting Therapy

Brainspotting is a therapeutic approach relatively recent in comparison to EMDR. This approach skips conventional diagnosis and therapy to get to the base of the problem.

This is accomplished by associating a certain eye position, or “brain spot,” with a particular emotional reaction to an occurrence or event. A therapist collaborates with a patient to identify the brain spot where many reflexive reactions arise. Among these reactions are the following:

  • Eyelids twitch
  • Ocular dilation or constriction
  • Yawns\sCoughs
  • Muscular twitches
  • Facial tics

Typically, these responses occur without the client’s knowledge. A therapist is trained to identify these unconscious reactions. Before identifying a particular blind spot to address, a therapist would establish a foundation for the region via activation or resources.


For instance, a therapist may inquire about the client’s stomach ache or neck tightness during the first consultation. On a scale from 1 to 10, the client may be asked to assess the intensity of this experience. This provides the therapist with an emotional reaction baseline from which to work throughout processing.


Those with severe or complicated trauma may find activation to be too painful. During processing, the therapist will ask the client to concentrate on the area of the body where they feel most grounded or tranquil. After determining the issue’s basis, a particular brain spot is identified to treat it.

If considering activation, the brainspot should be a location where the client feels activated. From a resource perspective, the brainspot should be a place where the client feels anchored or at peace. An advantage of brainspotting is that the client’s brain and body do the majority of the job. The therapist’s goal is to facilitate the subconscious processing that brainspotting makes possible.

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting, also known as BSP, is a kind of psychotherapy created by Dr. David Grand in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Initially, he designed this treatment to treat the trauma of survivors, but now its uses extend beyond signs of PTSD and trauma.

The core concept of brainspotting is penetrating the deeper regions of the brain. To do this, the therapist performs eye movement therapy. Theoretically, when the client shifts their eyes, they may hone in on certain brain regions and go further into that area.

By gaining access to the region of the brain where the trauma remains, the client may be able to recall it, process it, and finally recover.

BSP addresses the limbic system of the organism. The therapist first aids in focusing on certain areas of the brain by eye movement, and then determines the cause of brain damage using physical responses.

The treatment focuses on the psychologically distinct functions of the brain’s hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala. Unprocessed trauma resides in these regions of the brain, which the therapist helps the client identify and address.

BSP consists generally of five steps:

  • Identifying/navigating brain areas
  • Concentrate on a certain brain region
  • Managing the trauma
  • Releasing the suffering
  • Healing

What Happens in a Brainspotting Session?

EMDR vs Brainspotting

During a Brainspotting session, the therapist will assist you in identifying a problem to address. As you concentrate on the topic, you will become aware of how you feel, perceive, and experience the issue in your mind and body. From this point, the eye position or “brainspot” linked with this condition will be determined. A brain spot is not a single location in the brain but rather an active network that leads to a profound release of the problem from the mind and body.

The brainspot functions as a portal to all of the stored, immobile baggage from the past. The concentrated eye posture enables the brain to cease outwardly scanning for threats and instead conduct an internal self-scan to find and keep its concentration on the underlying unsolved problem. When a brainspot is stimulated, the therapist is able to see reflexive healing actions. These motions originate from parts of the brain that are beyond our conscious, cognitive, and linguistic understanding.

Brainspotting is reportedly associated with more deep emotional discharge than other brain-based and conventional treatments. During Brainspotting, the brain is re-stabilizing, replenishing, and rebooting itself, and the processing often continues after the session has concluded. A portal has been opened, and knowledge will continue to surface and leave for the sake of release and healing.

EMDR Treatment

EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a treatment that employs eye movement or other bilateral stimulation to reprocess trauma and improve the client’s ability to function. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s, it is a well-documented and extensively studied treatment utilized by therapists worldwide to treat PTSD and other mental health conditions.

The eight steps or phases of EMDR might take up to 12 sessions to complete. Each session may run one to one and a half hours. The theory behind this treatment, which was championed by Shapiro, is that when a person is distracted by an external stimulation, they would experience less emotional stress while recalling a traumatic event. This facilitates the recall, processing, and stabilization of traumatic experiences.

EMDR employs both sides of the brain to process trauma so that it may be stored in a more stable region of the brain. Thus, even with the triggers present, the client is able to manage their emotions and see the trauma in a fresh manner.

It was created similarly to BSP to treat trauma. However, it is being utilized to treat a variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, dissociation, addictions, bereavement, phobias, and chronic pain.

How Does it Work?

While both treatments may include eye movements, the types of eye motions are distinct. EMDR employs rapid eye movement from right to left or up to down, while Brainspotting typically utilizes a single eye position.

You may believe that this is not a major difference, but it demonstrates that various treatments use distinct strategies for recognizing and processing trauma. BSP focuses on one area of the brain at a time, while EMDR attempts to use the whole brain. Similarly, the purposes of the different stimuli utilized in treatments vary. 

Different Stimulation Devices

As the external stimuli for BSP and EMDR differ, so do the instruments and methods used by therapists for these reasons. During EMDR, a therapist may utilize a light bar with the light traveling from right to left and vice versa to assist eye movement. Alternatively, during BSP, a therapist may use a laser pointer to direct the patient’s gaze to a specific location.

Similarly, certain tappers’ venues are not used in BPS for EMDR. In any event, both treatments use headphones for bilateral sounds.

EMDR Lasts More Time

EMDR is a longer-lasting treatment than brainspotting. With as little as four sessions, the latter is termed short-term. In contrast, EMDR needs at least eight sessions.

EMDR is an older, more rigid protocol.

Brainspotting was created in 2003 and has had sufficient time to become well-known. Nevertheless, EMDR is even more ancient, and its procedure has gotten more detailed and strict over time. Although therapists have some leeway in their delivery, most of the time it must be carried out in accordance with the official handbook.

Which is Better EMDR or Brainspotting?

Brainspotting therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are supported by research evidence for the treatment of a variety of mental disorders, notably PTSD. However, comprehensive research directly comparing the two therapies is lacking.

Brainspotting has the ability to provide faster effects than EMDR due to its speed. However, despite its length, EMDR may have longer-lasting effects.

Also, as previously indicated, BSP provides greater flexibility, which may make it perfect for individuals who do not react well to EMDR or other trauma treatments. Numerous therapists see BSP as an alternative to EMDR, with EMDR being the preferred option.

If you have PTSD or other trauma-related mental problems, explore both treatments with your therapists. Based on your symptoms and prior treatment experience, your therapist can better direct you. There are also specialized centers that can help you with your therapies as well located in Boston.