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What is Brainspotting? How does it compare to EMDR therapy?

by Dana Terrell, LCSW, EMDRIA-Approved Consultant,

Brainspotting Consultant, San Diego Therapist


Both of these profound therapy approaches can be included in the new class of “power therapies.” These are therapies that work in a deep, efficient manner to bring about observable healing in the brain. I do not mean just observable by brain scan by Daniel Amen, M.D., as shown on the home page of SanDiegoTraumaTherapy.com. I mean observable by clients (or their loved ones), in subtle, yet definite and amazing ways. Other power therapies include Somatic Experiencing, Advanced Integrative Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, Energy Testing and others.

EMDR is the most researched of the power therapies, and has validation by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration, when it comes to treatments for Post–traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It’s developer, Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., discovered serendipitously while she was thinking of a matter disturbing to her, her eyes spontaneously moved back and forth on a diagonal. Very quickly she could see the issue from a new perspective and found it wasn’t disturbing to her anymore.

Wondering if this was a personal quirk, she asked friends and colleagues to try it with her on a current “garden variety” concern. To her delight, it worked for them, too. She developed a research design to put it to the test on a clinical population of war combat veterans and rape and molestation victims. The result? 90% of the clients resolved one traumatic experience in one to three 90 minute sessions. This was a higher success rate than any previous therapy researched. It created quite a stir in the field. As more and more confirming studies came in, it only creates political “stirs”, in those attached to other methods.

It no longer can be considered controversial, as there are more controlled studies validating EMDR for the treatment of PTSD than any other treatment method. The previous standard-bearer in the field of psychotherapy was (and still is, to a great extent) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Controlled studies have shown both to have an 80% success rate. EMDR has been shown to accomplish that result in ½ to 1/3 the time of CBT, with far less homework (100 hours for CBT, compared to 3 hours for EMDR). EMDR had a lower drop-out rate, as well.

Another important contribution of Dr. Shapiro is her description of the brain’s “Adaptive Information Processing” capacity. She explains that EMDR works because it taps into the brain’s amazing capacity to become adaptive, positive. We are born with this capacity to heal quickly [though for years the accepted “wisdom” was that mental and emotional healing is a long, slow process]. Occasionally it gets stuck. EMDR appears to jump start the Adaptive Information Processing system. EMDR therapists have observed this seeming miracle on a daily basis. It makes my work a great joy, and my career “burnout-proof.”