Neurofeedback vs EMDR: Which Is Better for Trauma Recovery?

by | Last updated Feb 22, 2021 at 11:33AM | Published on Feb 22, 2021 | Addiction Treatments, Individual Therapy

woman during EEG neurofeedback session

In the journey of trauma recovery, talk therapy or psychotherapy is the go-to treatment choice to help people improve. Still, other forms of therapy like neurofeedback and EMDR are popular options to complement therapy. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, when comparing neurofeedback vs EMDR, trauma recovery extends far beyond the type of therapy used.  

What’s Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that focuses primarily on how brain waves help the brain operate more efficiently and helpfully. This type of therapy directly works with the brain waves that are dis-regulated due to trauma or post-stress traumatic disorder (PTSD). Also known as Neurotherapy, it uses real-time displays of brain activity to teach self-regulation of brain function. 

Throughout a neurofeedback therapy session, the specialist rewards the brain for changing its activity to more appropriate and healthy patterns. Unlike traditional types of psychotherapy, neurofeedback training is a more technological approach.

Specialists use electrodes to listen to brainwave activity and process these signals using a computer. Then, the patient sees these frequencies and attempts to change the activity levels. Eventually, the brainwaves are shaped toad a more regulated performance. 

What’s EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy technique that helps relieve psychological stress. It’s an effective treatment plan for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can help anyone recovering from trauma. 

During EMDR sessions, the patient relives traumatic events or triggering experiences while the therapist directs their eye movements. During some of these phases, eye movements help to link neural pathways and alleviate adverse cognitive reactions.

The idea is to recall distressing episodes as you divert your attention, making them less emotionally upsetting. Over time, this form of therapy can help people experience these triggers without unfavorable psychological responses or physical sensations.

Neurofeedback vs EMDR for Trauma Recovery

Both neurofeedback and EMDR are popular trauma treatments. However, they’re also useful in helping people with depression, insomnia, anxiety disorders, and even headaches or migraines. 


Overall, neurofeedback is more likely to be used for brain-based issues. This includes seizures, disruptive behavioral disorders, and developmental delay. Neurofeedback can be helpful to those with birth trauma, cerebral palsy, and an acquired brain injury. However, it can still be beneficial for people with PTSD, particularly those with substance use disorders.

Because addiction alters the brain’s chemical pathways and long-term substance abuse can alter the brain’s function, neurofeedback can help self-regulate the process. So far, studies point that neurofeedback is a promising therapy to treat fear-related disorders, including PTSD. 


For decades, EMDR has been the type of psychotherapy used to treat trauma. By using eye movement stimulation, EMDR hopes to help people process disturbing memories and traumatic experiences. It disrupts how the brain stores memories, and it allows people to process traumatic memories, including imagery, thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions attached to the memory.

The goal of EMDR is to help people process such traumatic memories so they can stop consciously or unconsciously reliving them. One study argues EMDR provides an efficient way to address trauma’s psychological and physiological symptoms, giving relief to a variety of symptoms. 

The Role of Trauma in Addiction

When it comes to Neurofeedback vs EMDR for trauma recovery, both are valid choices. Over 9 million people in the United States live with a co-occurring disease, yet only 7.5 percent of people enroll in treatment programs. Mental health disorders are the most common cause of disability, with at least 1 in 17 Americans struggling with at least one disorder. 

Unfortunately, trauma and addiction are tightly related. As most people will self-medicate to deal with their traumatic experiences, many end up with a substance use disorder. In return, their addiction also heightens many of their symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and other behavioral symptoms. In the end, trauma and addiction become a vicious cycle that can be life-threatening without assistance. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with any kind of trauma, please reach out for help. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our mission is to help people enjoy a healthy life, free of trauma and addiction.

Start your recovery journey today and contact us to learn more about our dual diagnosis programs that address trauma and addiction simultaneously. It is thanks to this approach that we’re able to help our patients find long-term recovery. 

Chiba, T., Kanazawa, T., Koizumi, A., Ide, K., Taschereau-Dumouchel, V., Boku, S., Hishimoto, A., Shirakawa, M., Sora, I., Lau, H., Yoneda, H., & Kawato, M. (2019). Current Status of Neurofeedback for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review and the Possibility of Decoded Neurofeedback. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 233.

Shapiro F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 71–77.
Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.

Medical Disclaimer: Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance abuse or mental health disorders sharing fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions and the treatment options available. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by our licensed medical professionals’ team. By no means, the information we provide is intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used in place of any advice received from your physician or another qualified healthcare provider. Visit our medical disclaimer page to learn more about our standards.

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