The brain is a complex mechanism. It stores a plethora of information that we can call on when needed. Smell, touch, and how we felt, are all being processed and stored in our brains.

Some information, such as fearful and threatening experiences, is stored in the amygdala, a deep part of our brain that pairs memories with emotions. It’s in the amygdala that traumatic memories are stored. 

Traumatic memories are splintered. They’re not stored like a narrative, instead, they’re remembered as the emotions we felt during the experience. The traumatic memory hasn’t been processed correctly and needs to be stored properly. 

Getting into that deeper part of our brain is difficult due to the emotional distress and physical reaction that comes with the memory. Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) and Brainspotting (BSP) help patients reprocess, repair, and release those traumatic memories. 

What is EMDR?

EMDR enables the natural healing processes in your brain and is an effective treatment for PTSD.

Using bilateral eye movement or bilateral tapping, therapists guide patients to safely process traumatic memories. The bilateral stimulation encourages better communication between the two brain hemispheres, which helps the patient calmly process a traumatic memory.

The Process of EMDR

EMDR is a long-term therapy option as It requires multiple sessions. During these sessions, therapists will guide patients through a series of eight steps.

  1. History—The client and therapist talk about what the client wants to work on
  2. Preparation—Discuss and practice coping strategies
  3. Assessment—The client offers an image that relates to the event
  4. Desensitization—The client thinks about the image while the therapist begins stimulation
  5. Installation—Replace negative cognition with positive cognition
  6. Body Scan—Scan for lingering sensations
  7. Closure—Discuss calming techniques and implement them
  8. Re-evaluate—Reassess goals and progress

Not every step will happen during every session, and some steps are usually repeated. EMDR has proven effective against trauma and complex trauma.

What is Brainspotting?

This trauma therapy is much younger than EMDR but has been favored by many.

Discovered by Dr. David Grand, brainspotting’s motto is “Where you look affects how you feel.” This means our subconscious eye movements give us insight into our brain’s subconscious thoughts and can help guide you to the brain's natural healing mechanisms.

The Process of Brainspotting

During brainspotting sessions, clients will offer the therapist what they want to work on. This could be sadness related to a life situation or a traumatic event. They may offer an image, a feeling about the event, or even how the patient feels when thinking about the event. The therapist may help the client nail down their target experience or memory, but it is typically client-led. 

Next, the therapist will help the client find the eye position that corresponds to the emotion or event. This eye position might also be found naturally by the client.

Some eye positions are found by reflexive eye movements such as:

  • Twitching 
  • Dilation or constriction
  • Muscular twitches 
  • Facial tics

From here, the client will hold the eye position while focusing on what it was they wanted to work on. The therapist may step in to ask them how they feel, but this process is client-led.

How are EMDR and Brainspotting Alike?

EMDR and brainspotting have similar foundations. They both use the client’s visual field to help patients properly process information. They also share some other similarities.

Brain-Body Somatics

Both types of therapy also have a brain-body somatic approach to therapy. Meaning, both EMDR and brainspotting engage the mind-body relationship to create a safe space in which the client can process trauma. 

Both EMDR and brainspotting tap into the relationship between the body and the brain to find areas where trauma can be processed. 


Both of these forms of therapy are client-led. Meaning, the client chooses what they want to work on. The therapist might give suggestions to help the client frame the event or thought, but during the session, the therapist acts as a support and the client the expert. 

Minimal Talking

Because these techniques are client-led, most sessions require less talking. If the client wants to talk they can, but they’re encouraged to focus on what they’re feeling instead of focusing on verbalizing those feelings.


Brainspotting therapy and EMDR can both be draining. Due to the mental effort put into reprocessing, clients will feel a level of exhaustion. In both cases, patients are encouraged to rest the entirety of the day and practice self-care.


Both techniques allow for stimulation to be applied in different ways. Brainspotting allows clients to close their eyes while still keeping the eye position. EMDR allows clients to receive bilateral stimulation through taps instead of moving their eyes.

How are EMDR and Brainspotting Different?

When considering Brainspotting vs EMDR, there’s no answer for which is better. However, you and your therapist may choose one or the other due to your specific needs and preferences. 

Start-Up Time

Brainspotting therapy has a quick start-up time. Sessions can start on day 1. This is different from EMDR which requires more introductory sessions before the stimulation can begin.


Due to EDMR’s longer startup time, it typically lasts longer than brainspotting. Some have even found that EMDR has a longer-lasting positive effect.


Brainspotting is a flexible modality that relies on the attunement of the client and the therapist. This could be helpful for people who are creative and those who don’t like rigid processes. 

Due to its structured phases, EMDR is considered more rigid and regimented than brainspotting. This added structure may be beneficial for some, but some have reported a feeling of loneliness when receiving EMDR Therapy.

Tried and Tested

Because EMDR is older, there are more studies on it. It’s considered the “gold standard” for trauma treatment and has been proven over time.

What’s Best for You?

Both therapies have their merits, and neither is better than the other. If you’re considering either of these two options, talk to your therapist.

At Inner Balance, we offer EMDR therapy. If you’re curious or just looking to talk to someone who will help you feel better, contact us. Our team of dedicated and caring counselors can help you start your path toward wellness.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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Mesa, AZ 85206

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