Exploring the Differences between Brainspotting and EMDR
Uncover the similarities and differences between EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Brainspotting therapies in this comprehensive post.
EMDR and Brainspotting are two popular forms of therapy that aim to help individuals process and overcome traumatic experiences. While both therapies share some similarities, there are also key differences in their approaches and techniques. In this post, we'll explore the similarities and differences between EMDR and Brainspotting to help you determine which therapy may be best for you.
Exploring the Differences between Brainspotting and EMDR
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Brainspotting are two types of psychological therapies that have similar goals but differ in their approaches. In this article, we will compare and contrast EMDR and Brainspotting, so you can decide which one is right for you.
What Are Brainspotting and EMDR?
Brainspotting and EMDR are both therapeutic approaches that are designed to help individuals process traumatic experiences and reduce distress. With Brainspotting, the therapist helps the client identify and work with specific accessible states of consciousness in order to activate inner resources and promote healing. On the other hand, EMDR focuses on external stimuli (eye movements, sound or vibration) to process difficult emotions, memories sensations and beliefs.
Comparative History of the Two Therapies
Brainspotting was developed by psychologist David Grand in 2003 and is rooted in Dr. Francine Shapiro's groundbreaking discovery of EMDR. While the two therapies are similar in that they use body-based therapies to process difficult experiences, Brainspotting therapists emphasize the somatic awareness felt when an emotionally charged "Brainspot" is identified and worked with directly, whereas EMDR has a stronger focus on eye movements as the external stimulus to foster healing.
The Science Behind Each Therapy
Both EMDR and Brainspotting rely on neurobiological principles to help reframe and transform a person's experience of difficult memories or emotions. With EMDR, the focus is on stimulating bilateral hemispheric cortical activation in order to process feelings that have been stored in neural networks. Similarly, Brainspotting focuses on the physiological phenomena of direct stimulation to areas of the brain that contain emotionally charged information. By accessing these areas of the brain, or "Brainspots", through eye positioning trauma and its associated symptoms can be processed at a much deeper level than traditional forms of psychotherapy.
Comparison of Brainspotting and EMDR
Apart from the obvious differences between the two therapies, there are a number of similarities to begin with. As mentioned, they are both used to treat PTSD and trauma-related complaints, in both cases we are not dealing with talk therapy and both approaches are extremely effective and suitable for working with deep-seated complaints and problems. Both forms of therapy also have the potential to reach the deeper emotional structures in the brain, where this is generally considerably more difficult with talk therapy.
Differences between Brainspotting and EMDR
However, if you take a closer look at both therapies, there are also differences, both in terms of application and in terms of the underlying therapeutic idea.
If you undergo a session, you will especially notice that EMDR has a strict protocol, in which it is necessary to take the currently most loaded aspect of the traumatizing memory as a starting point and to go back to it in your mind once every three or four minutes (' Back to Target"). As in cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR works with specific thoughts (cognitions), such as 'I am powerless' or 'I am guilty'. Although there is also a lot of freedom in EMDR, the therapist largely directs the course of a session.
Compared to this, Brainspotting has a more open character: there is no protocol and the therapist follows the client's process as it unfolds on the spot. This spontaneity leaves plenty of room for a natural processing process. Furthermore, the emphasis is much more on the body, and hardly on cognitions, which can be nice when you find it difficult to name your feelings, or when you endlessly get stuck analyzing from your upper room. This makes Brainspotting somewhat more body-oriented, and more in line with the function of 'felt sense', as can be found in Peter Levine's Somatic Experiencing. Unlike EMDR, Brainspotting does not require a specific trauma or memory, and the intensity of a session can be varied in various ways, so that a session does not quickly become too heavy.
Applications of Brainspotting and EMDR
Both therapies can be used considerably more widely than just the treatment of post-traumatic stress complaints. EMDR has been found to be effective in the treatment of phantom pain, and is also used, for example, in the treatment of compulsive complaints and addictions. The application possibilities of Brainspotting are possibly even more extensive, because practically all palpable blockages can be worked with and because not only problems, but also resources and enriching or soothing feelings can be used as a starting point (Resource Model, Expansion Brainspotting). This is particularly useful when working with athletes, performers and artists.
Which one is more effective?
Looking at the amount and quality of psychological research, EMDR is miles ahead of Brainspotting and has a rightfully solid status as a proven effective treatment method, included in multidisciplinary guidelines. It should be noted that EMDR was discovered about 15 years earlier than Brainspotting, and certainly did not start with the status it now has. A recent scientific article on the comparison of both therapies can be found here: Hildebrand, Grand & Stemmler (2017).
If I simply measure the effectiveness from what I have seen with my own eyes, I prefer Brainspotting. This preference is personal and therefore subjective, and is based on the impressive processing processes that I have seen over the past eight years in my own practice and of course also in the various international training courses.
In the meantime I have treated many dozens of people who have previously undergone EMDR treatment, or who have used EMDR extensively as a therapist themselves.
It is of course possible that there are also psychologists and psychotherapists who have the opposite experience, where Brainspotting had insufficient effect and EMDR was the missing link. It's not a competition, the method used should be part of a larger treatment plan, and the personal relationship with the therapist is likely to be a deciding factor. In any case, it is desirable that such results are more documented and researched, because Brainspotting is slowly growing out of its infancy.
When choose for Brainspotting?
Choosing a therapy or therapist cannot be done from a book or article, and involves many more factors than just the method. Moreover, the purpose of my work is to help people as much as possible, and not to promote a certain method. In practice, EMDR and Imaginary Exposure are much more familiar, and people will often only come to Brainspotting when they have already completed a part of the customer journey. Having said that, I would say that working with Brainspotting can have added value over EMDR when there are trauma-related complaints where you can't clearly select traumatic events or images (e.g. early childhood trauma), when you've been through so much you don't know where to start, or when you tend to lose touch with your body and therefore need a more body-oriented approach.