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EMDR vs. Brainspotting

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

In this blog, general information will be shared about EMDR and Brainspotting. Brainspotting has components of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and similarly supports the reprocessing of negative experiences along with emotional reactions. Both are therapeutic interventions that allows access to information that can be emotional, somatic, and traumatic for the individual person. EMDR and Brainspotting can involve bilateral stimulation and are known for being advanced brain-bodybased strategies. The primary difference between the two involves the specific procedure used (EMDR or Brainspotting) which will be covered when talking about the differences, as well as certain similarities of the two.


EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and it was started by Francine Shapiro in the 1980’s. EMDR can be effective in treating trauma. EMDR follows a very specific protocol in which the therapist guides the client through a series of eight phases. EMDR has been around longer than Brainspotting. As part of this process, the client focuses on a stressful or traumatic issue while encountering a bilateral stimulation. The client is guided to repeatedly re-experience the issue while being guided through the steps in the process. While Brainspotting involves a focused eye position, EMDR involves rapid bilateral movement of the eyes, auditory or sensory system.

The Eight Phases of EMDR

Phase 1: History Taking and Treatment Planning

The therapist assesses the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan. Current sources of distress are identified for processing. Emphasis is placed on the development of specific skills and behaviors that will be needed by the client in future situations.

Phase 2: Client Preparation

The therapist and client are building the therapeutic relationship and rapport. The therapist helps the client learn ways to handle emotional distress during and in between sessions.

Phase 3: Assessment

A therapeutic target is identified for processing. The client develops a vivid image related to the event, a related negative emotion and a positive emotion that contradicts the negative. This positive emotion will be crucial later in the process.

Phase 4: Desensitization

Desensitization reduces the client’s distressing reactions to the traumatic memory. This desensitization is accomplished by the therapist directing the client’s eye movements while they focus on the traumatic memory.

Phase 5: Installation

This stage “installs” the positive thoughts identified in phase 3. During this phase, additional sets of eye movements are used.

Phase 6: Body scan

A body scan is a meditative technique in which the person scans their body from head to toe noticing any physical sensations that may be occurring. The therapist may target these physical sensations for processing.

Phase 7: Closure

Each session ends with the therapist stabilizing the client using the self-control techniques identified in phase 2. The client will be asked to keep a record of any negative experiences that occur between sessions. These experiences can be targeted in subsequent sessions.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

The next session begins with an evaluation of the client’s progress. This evaluation provides information for the client and therapist going forward in treatment.

This protocol is very specific and requires a considerable level of training and skill for the therapist.


Brainspotting was discovered in 2003 by David Grand, who was a trainer in the field of EMDR. Mr. Grand and other trained and certified Brainspotters have spent many years applying and refining the treatment technique. Brainspotting focuses on “where you look affects how you feel”. When an individual maintains an eye position and focuses on a stressful experience, they connect to a spot in the brain which is called “brainspot.” This gives them access to releasing and processing any challenging experience that they may be encountering. Dual Attunement is a primary tenant of Brainspotting in that the attunement of the therapist activates brain pathways associated with safety, support and connection. Brainspotting focuses on the attunement of the therapist to the client, which combines relational and neurobiological connection happening at the same time. During Brainspotting once the focused eye position is established, the client is allowed to organically and intuitively process through their experience without following a specific series of steps. Opposite of ongoing talk therapy, you can expect Brainspotting to be more short term. Some clients may feel that their issue resolved after just one or two Brainspotting sessions. On the other hand, Brainspotting can be more adjunctive and use regular talk therapy to further process and enhance progress made in a Brainspotting session.

Similarities to EMDR and Brainspotting

1). Both techniques use Bilateral Stimulation.

2). Processing of both can be slowed down if necessary.

3). Both can help you process information stored in the amygdala.

4). Both techniques helps you to reprocess information.

Differences to EMDR and Brainspotting

1). Brainspotting access your thoughts in a focused state and can be used with almost any client. Brainspotting can be completed in a session with a client by utilizing one of any of the specific techniques such as Outside Window, Inside Window, Gazespotting, Resource Spot, and etc. However, EMDR can utilize the thought process, but can be overstimulating. EMDR cannot be used with every client and it depends on their diagnosis (EMDR may not be an effective for psychosis). In addition, research has shown that EMDR was not as effective for Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia (source:

2). EMDR has a very specific protocol to follow. There are a total of eight phases and all of the phases cannot be completed in one session or in a very short time in treatment. Duration of EMDR can vary and it can take months for EMDR to be fully completed by using the all of the phases. Brainspotting is flexible in its use and it does rely on much more attunement with the therapist.

3). Both EMDR and Brainspotting can be completed virtually. EMDR is used with rapid eye movements, but however, tapping can be used as an option. On the other hand, Brainspotting is used with a single eye position.

Keep in mind that both EMDR and Brainspotting is not a “quick fix” process. It is a PROCESS. However, EMDR consists of eight phases to complete all of the steps. It is advisable not to “rush” through using either one of them to help with treatment of a client who may have encountered complex trauma and with any other diagnoses. Depending on the needs of the individual person whether it is trauma related or situation crisis, both techniques can be effective in treatment.

For additional information, please review the following links and videos (sources):



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