Both EMDR and neurofeedback are evidence based therapies that are effective in the treatment of trauma.  While the methods are different, they are both somatic therapies that work on the principles of neuroplasticity.

But how do you decide which approach is going to be the most effective for you?

There are so many different therapeutic approaches for treating trauma that it can be overwhelming to decide which approach makes sense.

People usually seek mental health support in the form of therapy when symptoms become overwhelming.  Traumatic early life events can go unrecognized for many years before they catch up to us. 

Talk therapy is a starting point to understanding how trauma and early negative life events have shaped one’s life.  It can help people to cultivate greater self compassion and develop tools to manage depression and anxiety.

But talk therapy is not enough especially when symptoms are overwhelming.  People who have experienced trauma often suffer from symptoms of dysregulation including mood problems, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, sound sensitivity, anger, addictive behaviours, and eating disorders.

An integrative approach to healing is the he most effective way to heal from trauma.  The first phase starts with stabilization  by teaching the nervous system to feel calm and regulated.  Once people feel stable, they can then process the trauma memories that are keeping them stuck.  A skilled trauma therapist will be able to assess which stage you are at in  your recovery and recommend where to start.  

Here is how neurofeedback and EMDR can work together to support a phase based approach to recovery.

Neurofeedback Addresses Symptoms First

Neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback has been used effectively to help resolve symptoms of trauma by teaching the nervous system to self regulate.   It is particularly helpful when talk therapy or relaxation skills are not enough to bring people out of an anxious hypervigilant state.    After a few sessions of neurofeedback people report feeling more calm, improved sleep, less anxious and overwhelmed. 

To understand more about neurofeedback for the treatment of trauma, see our previous blog on the topic.

EMDR for Reprocessing Memories and Creative Adaptive Responses

Trauma can be thought of as being stuck in maladaptive memories that are held in the body.  We all experience disturbing or harmful events at times in life.  Luckily we usually recover from these experiences when we have the resources we need to survive and thrive.  Trauma happens when the harm is too much to bear for the individual so that they remain stuck in the past.  The danger may have passed but the person still holds onto old beliefs that they are not safe.  These fears are held in the body, beyond conscious awareness and are very difficult to change through cognition alone.

Trauma treatment starts with teaching the nervous system to feel calm.   Even though people may feel more calm and regulated after a course of neurofeedback, they may still hold onto stuck beliefs about themselves and the world.  They may still believe that the world is unsafe or that they are unworthy and deserved what happened to them.

This is where EMDR can be helpful.  We begin by identifying these maladaptive beliefs and associated memories where these beliefs took root.  Then we ask ourselves what adaptive beliefs we would like to hold about ourselves and work towards integrating these beliefs.

EMDR is a therapeutic method of reprocessing these memories using bilateral stimulation through eye movements, sounds, or tactile movements.  The individual is asked to work with a target memory that is associated with these negative beliefs and work through this memory until an adaptive belief emerges.  It is based on a trust that the mind has a natural capacity to heal when supported in the right way.

Should I Start with EMDR or Neurofeedback?

If you are starting therapy for the first time, an experienced trauma therapist will be able to assess what phase of therapy is best for you.  People who have done previous therapy and have a good capacity to self regulate should be ready to experience EMDR.  Those who are doing supportive or psychodynamic therapy and feel stuck with symptoms of dysregulation would benefit from a course of neurofeedback to complement the therapeutic growth they are experiencing with a trusted therapist.


If you have any questions about EMDR vs. neurofeedback, feel free to reach out for a free 15 minute consultation.