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The Differences Between Brainspotting And EMDR Mental Health Therapy

The Differences Between Brainspotting and EMDR Mental Health Therapy

Brainspotting and EMDR mental health therapy are two procedures administered by therapists for clients suffering from a wide range of stress or trauma-related diagnoses. Individuals that have experienced trauma often have trouble processing that experience on their own and benefit from some sort of psychotherapy. There are some similarities between Brainspotting and EMDR mental health therapy, but the two are actually very different from one another. Understanding these differences may help therapists understand when to apply either one. Only trained therapists should utilize or administer these procedures to clients they believe would benefit from them.

What is Brainspotting


Brainspotting or BSP was developed by Dr. David Grand as a form of mental health treatment in 2003. Relatively young in age, this therapy was invented when Grand had the realization that what an individual looks at has an impact on what they experience on an emotional level. His protocol was developed in response to those experiencing trauma after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina, which occurred only a few years after. A direct quote from Dr. Grand is “where you look affects how you feel.”


Brainspotting is characterized by a therapist guiding an individual to look at certain things in certain positions to both access the trauma as it exists deep in their mind and resolve that trauma. These positions that therapist ask their clients to move their eyes to are referred to as “brain spots” and is where the protocol receives its name.

Steps of Brainspotting:

1)     Therapist locates and identifies that individuals “brain spots” through thoughtful instruction

2)     Client will intentionally focus on brain spots to access their trauma and stress

3)     Therapist guides the patient through the processing of that trauma

4)     Client learns to deal with trauma in a healthy way.

What is EMDR Mental Health Therapy


EMDR mental health therapy stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR was invented by Francine Shapiro in 1987. Shapiro noticed that her eye movements had an impact on her own distressed memory processing. After experimentation and research, Shapiro found that this applied to not only herself but to others who needed help processing trauma or stress. Shapiro found that these movements, partnered with traditional cognitive therapy, were an effective treatment for trauma or stress-related conditions.


EMDR therapy is characterized by back-and-forth eye movements that aim to help individuals unblock emotions and reprogram their minds to process and heal from those disturbing or painful cognitions and learn healthy coping skills.

Steps of EMDR

There are eight phases of EMDR therapy:

1)     Uncover specific memories

2)     Therapist identifies practical ways to deal with stress

3)     Choose a memory or event to target

4)     Client describes the memory visually, emotionally, and physically.

5)     Uncover both positive and negative self-thoughts tied to memory.

6)     Identify the level truth behind each thought

7)     Identify steps that have been taken to find closure up to this point

8)     Discuss with the therapist the progress that has been made, the therapist forms a treatment plan moving forward.

Main Similarities Between Brainspotting and EMDR Mental Health Therapy

The main similarity between Brainspotting and EMDR mental health therapy is the use of intentional eye movement to identify trauma, feelings surrounding trauma, and paths toward healing. Providers will find that both protocols believe that the eyes are a bridge to the identification of trauma, experiences, and stress as well as the processing of those things.

Main Differences Between the Two

While both believe in the use of intentional eye movements, Brainspotting and EMDR mental health therapy apply it in very different ways.

Brainspotting believes in the identification of specific “brain spots” and their essentially being portals or paths to specific trauma buried deep in the brain. Each individual has different “brain spots” that need to be identified before those things can be accessed.

EMDR therapy, on the other hand, does not apply the same level of uniqueness and individuality that Brainspotting does. EMDR focuses on the generalized movement of one’s eyes in conjunction with psychotherapy to identify trauma and find a path toward healing.

Therapists that are trained in either therapy can decern when one might be applied over the other and in what situations.