graphic depicting a pink cutout of a brain with "trauma" written in chalk

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and Brainspotting are two prominent psychological approaches to treating certain psychological conditions. While both methods share some similarities, they also possess distinct techniques and theoretical foundations. Let’s take a closer look at Brainspotting vs EMDR so you can decide which is right for you. 

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy, developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, is a structured psychotherapeutic approach primarily used for treating trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is grounded in the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which posits that distressing experiences can become “stuck” or improperly processed in the brain, leading to psychological symptoms.

The hallmark of EMDR therapy is bilateral stimulation, which typically involves the therapist guiding the client’s eye movements or using alternative forms of bilateral sensory input, such as taps or sounds. During EMDR sessions, clients recall distressing memories while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic experiences. Through this process, the emotional charge associated with the memory diminishes, and new, adaptive associations are formed.

What Is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a relatively newer therapeutic modality that shares some similarities with EMDR therapy but also incorporates unique elements. It was developed in 2003 by Dr. David Grand, who was a certified EMDR clinician at the time. Grand combined techniques from EMDR and Somatic Experiencing (SE), which is another therapy used in the treatment of PTSD. 

Grand apparently developed Brainspotting while working with survivors of the 9/11 attack. The therapy is based on the premise that “where we look affects how we feel,” and it emphasizes the role of the brain and body in processing trauma and emotional distress.

Unlike EMDR therapy, Brainspotting does not rely on standardized protocols or sets of eye movements. Instead, it involves identifying and focusing on specific “brainspots” or eye positions that correspond to areas of stored trauma or emotional activation in the brain. Once a brainspot is identified, the therapist facilitates a process of focused mindfulness, which supposedly allows the client to access and process unresolved emotions and experiences.

Comparing EMDR Therapy and Brainspotting

While EMDR therapy and Brainspotting share the overarching goal of facilitating trauma resolution and emotional healing, they differ in their approaches, techniques, and evidence base. 

Brainspotting vs EMDR Techniques

Again, EMDR therapy utilizes bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, taps, or auditory cues, to facilitate memory reprocessing. By contrast, Brainspotting focuses on identifying and targeting specific eye positions associated with trauma or emotional activation without standardized sets of bilateral movements. 

Protocol in Brainspotting vs EMDR

EMDR therapy follows a standardized eight-phase protocol, which includes history-taking, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. 

Brainspotting, while having some structured components, has no established protocol and relies heavily on the guidance of the provider. He or she may redirect the gaze to a different spot, ask for a distress rating, or incorporate other elements, like specialized goggles that block vision in one eye. 

Theoretical Framework for Brainspotting vs EMDR

EMDR therapy is grounded in the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which was developed to explain the marked effectiveness of this therapy. The theory hypothesizes that individuals with PTSD have incompletely or incorrectly stored traumatic memories, which creates an obstacle for rational processing in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Bilateral stimulation strengthens the connection between the amygdala (where stress response occurs) and the pre-frontal cortex, where the memories have been maladaptively stored. This effectively allows the brain to re-experience these memories so they can be rationally processed in a safe environment.  

Conversely, Brainspotting is not explained through a single scientific model but draws from various theoretical orientations, including neurobiology, attachment theory, and somatic psychology, to inform its approach. 

Evidence Base

As a relatively new therapy, there is little clinical evidence to support the efficacy of Brainspotting. Existing studies are small, and many of them are authored or co-authored by Dr. Grand himself. Nonetheless, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it may have positive outcomes, but more research is needed to say this definitively.

EMDR, on the other hand, has been extensively studied and is recommended by many prominent health organizations as a treatment for PTSD. The International Society For The Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) recommends EMDR as one of the “standard therapies” within the first three months following a traumatic event. It is also on the list of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) suggested therapies for PTSD. 

Brainspotting vs EMDR: Which Is Right For You?

In summary, EMDR has a standard protocol, strong evidence base, and utilizes a technique rooted in scientific theory. Brainspotting draws from an array of philosophical and psychological theories and has a more intuitive approach that may differ greatly from provider to provider.

Ultimately, the choice between EMDR therapy and Brainspotting will depend on factors such as personal preference, therapist expertise, and the specific needs of the client. 

EMDR Therapy in Florida

At the Crane Center, we understand that seeking treatment for PTSD is a courageous first step in restoring your quality of life. We offer targeted and customized therapy plans for our patients, including EMDR therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, and more. If you are interested in learning more about EMDR, please contact our office to schedule an appointment with our licensed EMDR specialist, Kathleen Hensely

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