What Is (AF-)EMDR? What Is Brainspotting (BSP)?

"Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen."
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. The traumatic experience becomes “frozen in time”. When the trauma is triggered (c.q. thru images, sounds, smells, feelings, etc.) it is experienced as if it happens right here, right now. Trauma memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and its associated symptoms. The goal of EMDR is to process the distressing memories while applying bilateral stimulation (BLS), therefore desensitizing the traumatic memory, reducing their lingering influences, and allowing clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR session, normal information processing is resumed, and a person no longer relives the negative consequences triggered by images, sounds, and feelings, or when the event is brought to mind. One still remembers what happened, but it is less upsetting. EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.


Attachment-focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) is client-centered and emphasizes a reparative therapeutic relationship using a combination of (1) Resource Tapping™ (Parnell, 2008) to strengthen clients and repair developmental deficits, (2) EMDR to process traumas, and (3) talk therapy to help integrate the information from EMDR sessions and to provide the healing derived from therapist-client interactions.

AF-EMDR extends the use and benefits of EMDR and bilateral stimulation for use with clients who have been typically less responsive to traditional EMDR protocols, due to acute or chronic relational trauma and attachment deficits. Those deficits include the effects of childhood physical or sexual abuse, neglect, early losses, birth trauma, medical trauma, parental drug or alcohol abuse, caregiver misatunement, secondary trauma, and the cumulative effects of all.

Brainspotting is a newer psychotherapeutic method for treating trauma that evolved out of EMDR. It is a powerful and focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing, and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional and physical pain and unhealthy coping mechanisms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety, Depression, Grief, as well as other distressing  mental health issues can also benefit from  this approach.
Brainspotting is based on the discovery of the relationship between where we focus our eyes and what happens inside our brain. Unlike EMDR, Brainspotting uses one or more specific eye positions (also referred to as “brainspots”) to help access traumas and make them available for processing.

A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain. The therapist and client work together to discover these eye positions, by scanning the visual field and noticing eye positions that carry a stronger emotional charge. During Brainspotting, like EMDR, the client is invited to free associate, under the therapist’s guidance, while a trauma is activated. “Bilateral stimulation” may also be used.

Some therapists find that Brainspotting is more flexible in its use and relies more on the therapist’s attunement to the client. I find both EMDR and Brainspotting highly effective in working with trauma, and I help each client choose the method that works best for him or her.

For more information about EMDR please visit www.emdria.org
For more information about AF-EMDR please visit www.parnellemdr.com
For more information about Brainspotting (BSP) please visit www.brainspotting.com