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What's the difference between EMDR and Brainspotting?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Brainspotting are both therapeutic approaches used primarily to treat trauma and emotional distress. Despite their similarities, they have distinct mechanisms and techniques. Here is an overview of the differences between the two:

EMDR Overview:

  • Developed by: Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s.

  • Primary focus: Processing traumatic memories and reducing their psychological impact.

  • Mechanism: Utilizes bilateral stimulation (e.g., eye movements, taps, sounds) to facilitate the processing of distressing memories.



  1. Assessment and Preparation: The therapist takes a history and prepares the client for the process.

  2. Desensitization: The client recalls a traumatic memory while simultaneously focusing on an external bilateral stimulus (usually the therapist's hand moving back and forth).

  3. Installation: Positive beliefs are reinforced to replace the negative beliefs associated with the trauma.

  4. Body Scan: The client is asked to observe any physical sensations related to the memory.

  5. Closure and Reevaluation: Each session is closed properly, and progress is reviewed.

Brainspotting Overview:

  • Developed by: David Grand in 2003.

  • Primary focus: Identifying and processing trauma by locating "brainspots" – eye positions that correlate with areas of distress in the brain.

  • Mechanism: Focuses on specific eye positions to access and process deeply held trauma and emotional pain.


  1. Identification of Brainspots: The therapist helps the client find specific eye positions that activate distressing memories or feelings.

  2. Sustained Focus: The client maintains focus on the brainspot while experiencing and processing the associated emotions and physical sensations.

  3. Therapeutic Processing: The therapist may use techniques to deepen the processing, often encouraging the client to remain mindful and present with their internal experience.

Key Differences:

  1. Structure vs. Flexibility:
    EMDR's structured approach can provide a sense of security and predictability for clients, which is particularly beneficial for those who need clear guidelines and steps. In contrast, Brainspotting's flexibility allows for a more individualized experience, which can be more effective for clients who's problems require a less directive approach


  2. Focus on Cognitive vs. Somatic Processing:
    EMDR primarily focuses on cognitive reprocessing of traumatic memories, using bilateral stimulation to facilitate this. Clients work through specific memories and associated beliefs, gradually reducing their emotional charge. Brainspotting, however, emphasizes the somatic experience, helping clients process trauma through bodily sensations and emotional responses linked to specific eye positions.


  3. Client-Led vs. Therapist-Led:
    Brainspotting tends to be more client-led, with the therapist following the client's responses and guiding them accordingly. This can empower clients, giving them a greater sense of control over their healing process.
    EMDR, while still collaborative, is more therapist-led, providing a structured framework that some clients might prefer.


  4. Bilateral Stimulation vs. Eye Positions:

    • EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, etc.) to facilitate memory processing.

    • Brainspotting focuses on identifying specific eye positions (brainspots) that correspond to areas of emotional and physical distress.

  5. Theoretical Framework:

    • EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which posits that trauma disrupts normal information processing.

    • Brainspotting is rooted in the concept that eye positions can directly access and facilitate the processing of traumatic memories and emotions stored in the brain.

  6. Empirical Support:

    • EMDR has a robust body of research supporting its efficacy and is widely recognized by major psychological and health organizations.

    • Brainspotting is newer and has less empirical research, though it is gaining clinical support and anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness.



Both EMDR and Brainspotting offer effective pathways for trauma recovery, yet they cater to different client needs and preferences. EMDR's structured, cognitively-focused approach, provides a predictable and systematic method for reprocessing traumatic memories. In contrast, Brainspotting's flexible, somatic-focused technique, with it's emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, offers a more personalized and experiential form of therapy. Understanding these differences can help therapists and clients choose the most suitable approach for their unique therapeutic journey.

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