With so many different types of therapy out there, it can be hard to know which one will work the best for you. EMDR and brainspotting are two trauma therapies that have a lot in common, though there are also significant differences. Learning more about each one can help you figure out which one might be the best fit for you. 

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What is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a form of therapy that was first designed to treat post traumatic stress disorder. EMDR therapy uses an approach called bilateral stimulation to help people with unprocessed trauma change the way that they react to traumatic memories.

There are many different kinds of bilateral stimulation techniques that therapists may use in session. Rapid eye movement is one common technique-and the one that EMDR was named for. However, other bilateral stimulation techniques include alternating sounds, rhythmic tapping on the body, and vibrations from handheld bilateral stimulation devices.

Though treatment is customized to each person’s needs, EMDR therapy typically consists of eight phases: history taking, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation.

While there is significant evidence that EMDR is highly effective, researchers aren’t entirely certain why it is effective. One theory suggests that the brain responses produced during bilateral stimulation are similar to those in deep sleep, a time when the brain is thought to process information and form memories.

What is brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a relatively new form of therapy that is used to treat trauma. The theory behind brainspotting therapy is that where a person’s eyes look may correlate with areas in the brain that store unprocessed trauma.

In a brainspotting session, the therapist will use “Outside Window” or “Inside Window” techniques. An “Outside Window” is when the therapist helps the client identify a stuck point around one of their traumatic memories. In this approach, the therapist notices subtle shifts in the client’s responses, such as facial tics, certain eye movement, pupil dilation, and shallow breathing.

With an “Inside Window,” the client will identify that they feel activated. In both approaches, the therapist will encourage the client to maintain their gaze while helping them process trauma.

Brainspotting is thought to work by accessing where memories of traumatic events are stored in the deeper areas of a client’s brain. By accessing these brain areas, the therapist’s goal is to support the client in processing trauma and feel less emotional stress.

person searching brainspotting online

Breaking down the similarities & differences between brainspotting vs. EMDR

As you can see, there is a significant amount of overlap between EMDR vs. brainspotting. However, they are also distinctly different treatment methods. Here, I’ll dive into more of the similarities and differences between brainspotting vs. EMDR so you can get a better understanding of each therapy approach.

Similarities between brainspotting & EMDR

Though they are two separate treatment approaches, EMDR and brainspotting have several similarities. Here are just a few.

Both are alternatives to talk therapy

One of the most important similarities between brainspotting and EMDR is the fact that both are considered alternatives to traditional talk therapy. Instead of focusing solely on verbal processing, both of these treatment techniques involve integrating the brain and body.

Both incorporate eye movements

Brainspotting and EMDR also share a basis on the importance of eye movements in healing from the negative emotions that trauma can cause. Again, more research is needed to determine exactly why the eye movements are helpful, but they seem to help people access and process their past trauma.

Both use bilateral stimulation

Use of bilateral stimulation techniques is another similarity between brainspotting vs. EMDR. Some brainspotting therapists use bilateral music to help clients process around a particular brain spot. Similar techniques are used in EMDR, though there is typically a wider menu of approaches.

Both help clients reprocess trauma

Both EMDR and brainspotting are primarily used to help trauma patients recover. However, research suggests that both brainspotting and EMDR may be able to help with other mental health issues.

Differences between EMDR & brainspotting

While brainspotting and EMDR have many similarities, there are also several factors that distinguish them from each other. Here are some examples.

Different types of eye movements

Though both EMDR and brainspotting incorporate eye movement, they use different techniques. In an EMDR session, the therapist will guide the client through rapid eye movements to help heal trauma, whereas brainspotting involves keeping a stationary eye position.

Differences in structure

EMDR also tends to be more structured than brainspotting. Brainspotting can be incorporated more fluidly or periodically, whereas EMDR has certain stages that it follows. Neither is better or worse-simply different.

Different levels of verbal processing

Brainspotting and EMDR typically involve different levels of verbal processing as well. In brainspotting, a client may recount their painful memories while the therapist guides them. In EMDR, however, a client holds the memories of stressful events in mind while describing how their body feels rather than explaining the traumatic experiences themselves.

Different research bases

One of the major EMDR differences is its research base. Since it was created nearly three decades prior to brainspotting, it has a more robust research base behind it. Though there are studies to support the effectiveness of brainspotting, there are fewer since it is a newer treatment.

Should I try EMDR, brainspotting, or something else?

It can be daunting to figure out which type of trauma therapy you need. Many people benefit from EMDR, and others enjoy brainspotting. Still others prefer different types of trauma therapy, such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), internal family systems therapy (IFS), and more.

There is no way to know for sure which treatment technique will be the most helpful for you. Now that you have more information about each one, go with your gut. You can always try one form of trauma therapy and change your mind down the road if you don’t like it.

The most important thing is that you get the support you need. Trying one form of therapy is likely to be more helpful than trying none at all, so I recommend starting with whichever one feels right to you.

person considering emdr

Start the process of EMDR therapy in Tampa, FL today

If EMDR interests you, I’m here to help. I provide EMDR in Tampa, though virtual sessions allow me to work with people throughout the entire state of Florida. I’ve helped dozens of people like you on their healing journey, and I’ve witnessed some incredible transformations.

I’m passionate about helping trauma survivors recover from the pain, anxiety, and emotional suffering that traumatic events can cause. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, recovery is possible.

Childhood trauma can impact your daily life, even years after the events happened. Your relationships, career, mental health, and even physical health can all suffer if trauma goes untreated. Thankfully, EMDR can empower you to make helpful mindset shifts and teach you new ways to cope.

I work with each client to create an individualized treatment plan that’s suited to your needs, preferences, and goals. Your treatment should be tailored to fit you-not the other way around. Trauma can take away your sense of safety and control, so I believe in preserving your authority and autonomy in our virtual therapy space.

If you’re ready to learn more about EMDR or schedule your first appointment, I’m ready to hear from you. Reach out today to get started.