Within the field of psychology, professionals have come to realize that when someone experiences trauma, whether it be emotional or physical, it is held in the body. This trauma, potentially caused by a variety of events, such as a serious physical illness, acute or chronic pain, or life trauma in general, can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and one way that professionals can help to target and locate that pain is through Brainspotting. Therapists use Brainspotting to target these areas of trauma stored in the body from previous traumatic experiences.
These traumatic experiences become stored in the body typically because the traumatized person has not had the means to properly deal with the trauma that he or she has experienced. Because the traumatic experiences have not been properly dealt with or processed, they become a part of the person’s trauma reservoir, which can manifest in other physical and emotional symptoms.
What is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting is a technique that was developed by David Grand, Ph.D. The technique itself has roots in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment that helps to alleviate symptoms caused by traumatic memories.
Brainspotting provides a neurobiological tool for accessing, diagnosing, and treating a wide range of somatic and emotionally-based conditions. It seems that Brainspotting acts as a stimulant to the body’s own natural ability to heal itself from trauma. Brainspotting has also been shown to help reduce physical pain and tension caused by physical symptoms.
How Does it Work?
Brainspotting works at the level of deep reflexes, thus much of the processing is focused on the sensations in the body, which move and change. Bodily tensions and memories are released in this process. Sometimes the client is aware of memories and thoughts. Sometimes they are not, but notice changes in their body. Either way, Brainspotting is still working to create deep releases of stored distress.
Robert Scaer, MD, the author of The Trauma Spectrum, said “Brainspotting is based on the profound attunement of the therapist with the patient, finding a somatic cue and extinguishing it by downregulating the amygdala [a brain structure responsible for noticing threat and holding memories of threats]. It isn’t just PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) activation that is facilitated, it’s homeostasis.”
Brainspotting works by directly tapping into the brain’s autonomic and limbic systems, located within the central nervous system. Because of this, it can be considered a physiological treatment, and provides physical benefits as well as psychological and emotional.
Brainspotting works as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment. It works by assessing what a person’s core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma and dissociation are. It can also work for a variety of other symptoms.
Once it identifies the sources of these ailments and pains, it simultaneously treats whatever symptoms it has diagnosed as well. Part of the treatment can include playing Biolateral sound, which can enhance the beneficial effects of Brainspotting through it’s powerful and focused healing properties.
In addition to being both a treatment and diagnostic tool, Brainspotting also functions as a neurobiological tool as it identifies, processes, and loosens up the symptoms that are hidden away in the unconscious mind. This supports a healthy clinical relationship between Brainspotting and healing.
Why Does Brainspotting Work?
Brainspotting is so beneficial and unique because it provides a necessary, safe environment for its patients. It is a method that allows for a unique relationship between the patient and practitioner. This usually helps the person to feel that their pain is finally being understood and helped.
What is a “Brainspot?”
According to David Grand, Ph.D., “A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain, most likely in the amygdala, the hippocampus, or the orbitofrontal cortex of the limbic system. Located by eye position, paired with externally observed and internally experienced reflexive responses, a Brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem holding emotional experience in memory form.”
How do Therapists Identify Brainspots?
Brainspotting is usually done with both eyes but may also be done with one. A therapist identifies a Brainspot by waving a pen-shaped object in a specific pattern in front of the patient’s eyes, and when the pen-like object comes across a Brainspot, the deep brain will reflexively signal to the therapist that a Brainspot has been found. This happens outside of the patient’s consciousness. These reflexive signals can include (all without the patient being aware of these happening) an eye twitch, facial tic, brow furrow, pupil dilation/constriction, swallows, yawns, coughs, foot movement or body shifting. Among these signals, facial expressions are the strongest indicators of a Brainspot.
The identification of a reflexive response that indicates a Brainspot hints at the somatosensory experience of the trauma, emotional or somatic problem. By finding these Brainspots, the therapist is triggering these somatosensory experiences in the patient. To access the Brainspot (and the emotions that can follow), the therapist holds the patient’s eye position while the patient focuses on the experience of the symptom being accessed by the Brainspotting.
The therapist and patient work together to find the Brainspots. The patient participates in this by letting the therapist know, during the Brainspotting scan, when he or she feels any heightened intensity, either physically or emotionally.
How Does Brainspotting Act as A Healing Agent Against Trauma?
The way that Brainspotting heals is that it helps the patient process the trauma that lies within him or her. When the therapist accesses a Brainspot, the patient experiences the distress that is associated with that Brainspot. The patient then experiences the physical or emotional pain that presents itself, in a comfortable setting, in the presence of the therapist. Over time, accessing this trauma in a safe environment helps the brain to break away from the associated trauma.
The Relationship Between Physical and Emotional Trauma
Health care professionals realize that there are many instances in which physical symptoms are present as a result of psychological or emotional trauma, and it can be very difficult to separate these two. Often, traumatic events, whether they were physical or emotional, lie dormant in the brain in the individual’s unconscious and later manifest themselves into very real physical or emotional symptoms.
Brainspotting Used with Other Treatments
Brainspotting, although it has a myriad of beneficial properties alone, can also be used in combination with a variety of other healing techniques. Brainspotting can be used as a complementary treatment in conjunction with other body-based treatments such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and physical therapy.
Brainspotting or EMDR?
Some clients prefer Brainspotting over EMDR because they need to talk even less than with EMDR, and they feel so much better afterward.
Many therapists agree that both of these therapies (EMDR and Brainspotting) work better than talk therapy alone. For people who don’t like to talk about their issues, EMDR and Brainspotting are ideal therapies.
Both of these approaches integrate the best of the standard therapies. As therapists, we are aware of cognitions, and help the client to identify their negative cognitions, specifically in EMDR, or if necessary in Brainspotting. But in both approaches the client spontaneously creates their own positive cognition at the end of processing. By the time the positive cognition(s) arises, individuals most definitely believe them. This then shifts the way the individual thinks and feels about themselves and allows for positive growth.
With Brainspotting and EMDR we are not trying to hook the brain and drag it to a place it’s not ready to go. We are connecting with a person’s whole being, and a healing process that naturally blossoms into an organic and natural, healthy self-concept and peaceful self-love.
If you’ve taken time to notice, people with a true self-love tend to treat others with that same love. This is a health so natural that sometimes the person isn’t aware of it until receiving positive feedback from others.
How Can Brainspotting Help You?
I typically use Brainspotting in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and processing other traumatic experiences. The next time you or a loved one has a disturbance, a minor or major trauma or crisis, please consider either EMDR or Brainspotting. I believe you will find it well worth the investment in your own emotional health and well-being.
Please contact me to schedule a consultation appointment to determine if Brainspotting or EMDR could be a beneficial treatment choice for you.