Brainspotting
Therapy

Brainspotting Therapy is a Powerful Modality
for Healing Trauma and Emotional Stress

Brainspotting therapy gets to the root cause of trauma, emotional issues and addictions.

If you…

  • feel stuck or that you have plateaued in your healing
  • are tired of talking about issues and still dealing with symptoms
  • have tried other approaches without lasting results
  • feel there is more to explore and uncover but don’t know how to get there

Brainspotting can take you to the next level.

Learn how can we help you on your path of healing

Brainspotting therapy is one of the most effective therapies for changing unhealthy habits, healing trauma and resolving emotional issues.In this article we are going to share how Brainspotting can support you on your healing journey.

In this article we will answer questions to help you better understand Brainspotting such as:

  • What is Brainspotting?
  • What issues does Brainspotting treat?
  • How does Brainspotting help PTSD and Developmental Trauma?
  • What is the connection between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma?
  • How and why does Brainspotting work?
  • How is Brainspotting different from EMDR?
  • What is the difference between Cognitive Therapy and Brainspotting?
  • How is Brainspotting different from somatic therapy?
  • How is Brainspotting different from mindfulness?
  • What is the history of Brainspotting?
  • What to expect with Brainspotting?
  • How to prepare for a Brainspotting session?
  • Is Brainspotting effective online?

What is Brainspotting Therapy?

Brainspotting therapy is an advanced brain-body therapy that focuses on identifying, processing, and releasing trauma, mental health imbalances and residual emotional stress. It is based on the premise that ‘where you look affects how you feel’ and finds that eye positions correlate with unconscious, emotional experiences. When you focus on an eye position related to an upsetting issue, you release the emotional and physical stress within the issue. Brainspotting reaches parts of the brain that are not generally accessed through traditional talk therapy approaches.

Brainspotting therapy has roots in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and similarly supports the reprocessing of negative experiences and retrains emotional reactions. Both approaches include bilateral stimulation, compassionate attunement and brain-body processing.

What is the “Brainspot”?

The brainspot is the eye position that connects to the capsule containing the traumatic experience and brings it into explicit awareness where it can be processed and healed. As the brainspot is sustained with focused mindful attention, the information in the capsule is released and the body and mind move towards greater equilibrium. As implicit memories are brought up into explicit awareness they can be dealt with and moved into a part of the brain that allows us to move forward in our lives.

what-is-Brainspotting

Brainspotting Therapy Helps Trauma Recovery

Brainspotting has been proven to be highly effective in a wide range of settings and issues both personally and professionally.

  • PTSD and Complex Trauma
  • Developmental Trauma
  • Athletic and professional performance
  • Public speaking
  • Self-sabotage and unhealthy patterns
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia and sleep issues
  • Habit change
  • ADHD and/or ADD
  • OCD
  • Substance abuse and addictions
  • Chronic pain
  • Anger and emotional regulation
  • Health issues
  • History of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Phobias and fears
  • Low self-esteem
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Brainspotting Therapy Helps Trauma Recovery

Are you experiencing trauma?

Trauma is our response to an experience that is so distressing and frightening that we become overwhelmed and unable to cope effectively. Common symptoms of trauma include disconnection, arousal, avoidance, sleep issues, withdrawal, insomnia, fatigue, shock, hypervigilance, powerlessness and distrust.

Diagnosing Trauma: Developmental Trauma and PTSD

How do you know what type of trauma you are dealing with?

  • If trauma results from a specific event(s) it is generally identified as PTSD or Complex PTSD.
  • If trauma is rooted in an overall unsafe and harmful childhood environment it is identified as developmental trauma.

Developmental Trauma

Developmental trauma refers to a series of chronic traumatic events, habits, and associations causing overwhelming stress during childhood. A primary component of developmental trauma includes the absence or ineffectiveness of a caregiver to help reduce the stress. This results in a disruption in basic attachment necessary for feeling a sense of safety and security that is critical to healthy brain and body development in childhood. Research studies have discovered the significant toll adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have on our mental, emotional and physical well-being. This may include but is not limited to experiencing the following prior to your 18th birthday:

  • witnessing or receiving verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • neglect
  • feeling unsafe in your home
  • bullying
  • divorce
  • swearing, yelling, humiliation or name calling
  • drug or alcohol abuse by caregivers
  • imprisonment by a family member or caregiver
  • mental illness by a family member or caregiver
  • other serious hardships during childhood

What is the connection between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma?

The ACEs screening assessment is seen as an invaluable tool for helping youth and adults identify PTSD and developmental trauma sooner and hopefully prevent the long-term effects of undiagnosed trauma. Answering yes to one or more of the categories of adversity above can lead to challenges, stress and trauma. If you can relate to having learning challenges, focus and concentration issues, anxiety, depression, addictions, relationship and attachment issues, low self-confidence and self-esteem, health challenges and sleep issues then you might consider the role of trauma and ACE’s in your life.

Developmental trauma is often used interchangeably with Complex PTSD however trauma experts are working to clarify it as distinct in many important ways.

  • Developmental trauma is not rooted in a traumatic event like PTSD or stacked specific events like Complex PTSD and does not always lead to meeting all of the criteria for PTSD.
  • In fact, research shows over 50% of people do not show signs of trauma until they are adults. This can make identifying a specific traumatic event challenging and because of this, individuals with developmental trauma often feel shame, confusion, and frustration at understanding why they feel the way they do.
  • Along with many of the symptoms of PTSD, individuals with developmental trauma may also experience a chronic history of serious dysregulation in their relationships and attachments, attention, self-esteem, self-image, body image, self-regulation and emotional imbalances.
  • Health issues are also a common complaint of individuals with developmental trauma.

The ACEs assessment and the identification of developmental trauma have been essential for people who:

  • don’t have specific memories of traumatic incidents
  • have difficulty pinpointing one major event
  • didn’t start developing symptoms until later in life

This is where Brainspotting has a significant advantage over other therapies given it doesn’t require specific memories, analyzing issues, verbal processing or reference to a specific time frame. It helps access, process and resolve deep seated issues that exist inside and outside of our conscious awareness. Brainspotting’s ability to access where trauma is stored in the brain combined with its sophisticated, intuitive, deep, mindful and attachment based approach makes it highly effective at treating both developmental trauma and PTSD.

Brainspotting and Healing Through the Phases of
Trauma Recovery

There are three main phases of trauma recovery that provide a roadmap for healing. Here is how Brainspotting helps heal through each phase.

Phase 1:

Safety and Resourcing

Brainspotting helps you cope with the trauma shock associated with traumatic experiences. Trauma shock involves feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from ourselves and others. Grounding, resourcing and self-regulation practices are a core component of Brainspotting and are vital to the first phase of trauma recovery.

Phase 2:

Face, Feel, Release, Grieve

Brainspotting allows for the deep processing and releasing of traumatic and emotionally stuck experiences. It gets to the root of issues that feel deep seated, unconscious and self-sabotaging. It helps to unwind the residue of stress and nervous system imbalance enabling the mind and body to feel, release and return to homeostasis.

Phase 3:

Integrate and Reconnect

Brainspotting supports the integration and reconnection to oneself and the safety found within. It realigns you with your innate power for self-healing and self-trust. Through dual attunement, Brainspotting supports the power of healthy attachment, connection and compassion for healing. This allows the brain to coregulate, open to trust again and rebuild relationships.

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How Brainspotting Therapy Works….

  • Together we will identify an issue that you want to transform and heal.

  • As you focus on this issue, we will identify how your mind and body respond to it.

  • From here we will identify the eye position or ‘brainspot’ associated with this issue. A brainspot is not just one spot in the brain but rather an active network in the brain that leads to a deep releasing of the issue where it is stored in the mind and body. The brainspot acts like a doorway into all the stored, stuck baggage from the past.

  • You will focus on the brainspot by holding your eye position. The focused eye position allows the brain to stop scanning externally for threats and instead internally self-scan to identify and maintain its presence on the deeper unresolved issue.

  • When a brainspot is activated, stored trauma energy begins to release, rebalance and heal. You will often feel these visceral, unconscious and reflexive movements. These movements come from deep regions of the brain, outside of our conscious, cognitive and verbal awareness.

  • The attuned, mindful presence of the therapist further allows the brain to feel safe in releasing stored trauma energy.

Brainspotting can be used as a primary mode of therapy as well as an adjunct in the therapy toolkit. For individuals who feel like they have plateaued in their healing or those who are not finding relief in more traditional approaches, Brainspotting offers new possibilities for breakthrough and healing.

People report having deeper and more profound releases with Brainspotting as compared to other brain-based and traditional therapies. The brain is re-stabilizing, resourcing, and rebooting itself during Brainspotting and the processing often continues to occur after the session has ended.  A doorway has been opened and information will continue to come up and out for releasing and healing.

Given much of this information is sensory and nonverbal, it is common to not be able to put into words all that has happened. What often occurs are new insights emerge, internal shifts happen, and the issue feels neutralized. This may happen over the course of the session or in the hours, days, weeks or even years that follow.

In the age of holistic health, brain-body approaches are increasingly sought after for treating simple and complex issues. Brainspotting is a newer mind-body therapy that is showing a lot of promise in its ability to provide relief for trauma, anxiety, depression, and daily stressors. It is also an effective PTSD treatment.

Why Brainspotting Works….

A primary goal of counseling is to support individuals to move from dysregulation to self-regulation, from imbalance to homeostasis, from emotional stress to emotional healing. Distress causes the body and mind to become imbalanced or dysregulated. This can be mapped in the brain and body. When mapping regulation, it appears the process of Brainspotting directly accesses the parts of the brain associated with regulation including the agranular isocortex (ventromedial, orbitofrontal, and anterior prefrontal cortex) and the limbic cortex or allocortex.

Consequently, the following tend to arise:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Phobias
  • Panic Attacks
  • Isolation

These symptoms are not easily associated with the original trauma and thus it can be confusing as to where they are coming from. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the outside world is generally obsessed with what happened and recalling the details of the events, but this is not where trauma lives. It lives in the response not the event, in the sensory experience not verbalized cognitions. This is another reason people feel ashamed, isolated, confused and even crazy following trauma. Equally, it is why talking about it won’t make it go away. As long as the memories or experiences are suspended in implicit memory they cannot be fully let go.

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Brainspotting identified as the most effective therapy following Sandy Hook School Shooting

The Sandy Hook School Shooting in 2012 was a horrible tragedy taking the lives of 20 children and 6 adults. Teams of therapists and crisis interventionists offered their services and support to help the individuals and town impacted by the trauma. The following report was compiled by the Distribution Committee of the Sandy Hook School Support Fund regarding these services. Brainspotting was found to be the most helpful and effective therapy for relieving anxiety, stress and trauma.

Mindful attunement is a primary tenant of Brainspotting in that the compassionate presence of the therapist activate brain pathways associated with safet, support, and connection. Brainspotting focuses on the attunement of the therapist to the reflexive,somatic and subtle response from mind and body. In this way, healing comes from the combination of being compassionately  supported and seen at the deep mind body level. This fosters a sense of trust that allows the nervous system to feel safe and open to processed stored unconscious trauma energy.

Attunement act as gateway to the deep centers of the brain giving them permission to safely release pent up residual energy. The compassionate presence of the therapist is necessary ingredient of accessing implicit memories. This process is goal of most  therapeutic approaches given it is crucial to letting go, moving on and dealing with issue.

Attunement is highly stabilizing to brain pathways. The brainspotting  model is in alignment with what is also known as mindful witnessing  and interpersonal neurobiology  as coined by Daniel Seigel neuroscientist  and author of Mindsight.

Goal of Counseling
– Dysregulation to Self-Regulation

A primary goal of counseling is to support individuals to move from dysregulation to self-regulation, from imbalance to homeostasis, from emotional stress to emotional healing. Distress causes the body and mind to become imbalanced or dysregulated. This can be mapped in the brain and body. When mapping regulation, it appears the process of Brainspotting directly accesses the parts of the brain associated with regulation including the agranular isocortex (ventromedial, orbitofrontal, and anterior prefrontal cortex) and the limbic cortex or allocortex.

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The Brain Science Behind Brainspotting Therapy

Let’s take a deeper look at brain science from the research of Frank Corrigan and David Grand. In the process of regulation and healing Brainspotting accesses the:

  • subcortical regions of the brain
  • right brain
  • limbic system
  • brain stem (midbrain)

Brainspotting allows for processing down in the reflexive core of the brain stem and spine reaching into the deepest subcortical regions of the brain.  In doing so it combines physiological sensory activation with emotional processing. It reaches deep down where the heart of trauma is stored in the unconscious. It is not focused on thoughts, thinking, or analyzing as all of this inhibits flow of deep limbic, brainstem experiences and are not involved in regulation.

Another way it helps move from dysregulation to self-regulation is through the mindful presence of the therapist. Research shows that the safe, caring support of another person moves us into the part of our brain-body connection for healing. Brainspotting’s dual attunement frame activates regulation by supporting an individual to reconsolidate traumatic energy and memory and move into greater homeostasis. It is through the safety and compassionate presence of the therapist that implicit memory becomes activated and can be moved into explicit memory.

It is further theorized that through the use of the pointer, traveling down the optic nerves, individuals access the visual layer of the superior colliculi in the midbrain. The pointer becomes a resource anchor that provides a sense of stabilization and safety and allows the brain to stop scanning the room.

As part of our survival instinct, our brain is constantly scanning our environment and adjusting accordingly to ensure our safety and equilibrium. The pointer along with the presence of the therapist refocus this self-scanning tendency from external to internal. From here we can use the massive power of our brain to self-scan, identify, and heal unresolved imbalances.

How is Brainspotting different than EMDR?

EMDR follows a specific set of steps that involve repeatedly reexperiencing a traumatic event while engaging in rapid bilateral stimulation. Generally, one trauma at a time is processed during an EMDR session and it is important to have detailed memory of the event.

Brainspotting uses a fixed eye position that connects to the brain networks which store trauma, known as a ‘brainspot’. Brainspotting has a couple of significant advantages, it does not require the memory of a specific event and can release multiple traumas during one session. For many people difficulty recalling the details of traumatic events is a significant area of shame and frustration. Brainspotting can be used on its own or in addition to other therapies.

Cognitive based approaches, aka talk therapy, activate the part of the brain associated with higher order thinking called the neocortex or granular isocortex which is not associated with regulation. Question asking, processing, and analyzing are part of the executive processing systems of the neocortex. Although these functions have their place in therapy, Brainspotting is concerned with information found in the midbrain and nervous system. This is where trauma, emotional stress, habits, repetitive patterns and sensory experiences are stored.

The midbrain, in fact, drives the frontal lobes or the neocortex and is at the root of why we do what we do as well as our overall health. Like a tree, unresolved trauma stresses the roots and dramatically impacts the health of the trunk, branches, and leaves. If you pull all the leaves off or chop the branches down, it will not stop the tree from growing back from its trauma infused roots. It is thus vital to access the roots of the tree to stop its growth.

The midbrain is the seat of changing any habits, patterns, and traumatic experiences. This is especially important given 80% of the information coming into the brain is sensory or rooted in our five senses and void of language, cognition, and verbalized experience. Only 20% is based on what is already stored in our brain and able to be processed with our thoughts and cognition. This is one reason cognitive approaches are limiting and why mind-body or brain-body based approaches are vital to healing. Cognitive approaches do not allow us to access the majority of what is happening in the brain and how we store our experience.

There are over 10,000 practitioners trained in Brainspotting worldwide and the numbers are growing every year. Further research is needed to explore, understand, and validate the effectiveness of Brainspotting application.

Many traditional therapies work from a top-down model where thoughts are used to change feelings, behaviors, and experiences. This model relies on the upper part of the brain (neocortex) which is also the newest part in our evolution, to manage and alter the inner and more primitive parts of the brain. As a result, the success of a top-down approach is contingent upon an individual’s ability to analyze, narrate, and verbally process their thoughts and feelings.

Brainspotting follows the bottom-up model where the inner brain sends information and experiences up through the limbic system for release and into the neocortex for processing. Given that stressful and traumatic experiences are stored through our sensory, nonverbal experience a bottom-up model is essential in the healing process. Brainspotting engages our innate drive to release sensory, residue or unresolved experiences and opens us up to new insights, equilibrium, regulation, and improved overall health. As more information comes up and out, more room is created for new insights and expansion. Brainspotting has a reputation for offering swift and often rapid relief to longstanding challenges.

How to prepare for Brainspotting therapy?

Brainspotting allows you to process unresolved issues, transform unwanted habits, breakthrough addictions, heal pain, forgive and release hurts, regulate your nervous system and let go of unwanted patterns. It can be helpful to identify areas you would like to work on and heal. You do not have to have specific memories or incidents in mind, yet be aware of the patterns or issues you want to work on. Your practitioner will help you to clarify what’s important for Brainspotting at the beginning of your session.

What to expect during and after Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a powerful therapy that helps process and unravel stuck and unresolved issues. It can bring up feelings to express, sensations to release and sometimes memories to process. It often leads to powerful insights, revelations and new perspectives on old issues. It is not a therapy that one does on their own. In fact, it works because of the compassionate support and presence of the Brainspotting practitioner. After Brainspotting the therapy continues to work during the hours, days and weeks to follow. Expect to continue to feel the unwinding and unfolding of the process as the mind and body integrate the experience. Many people notice key insights coming through in the days following that they bring to the next session for processing.

How effective is Brainspotting online?

Brainspotting is very effective online over the telephone or video session. There are many benefits to doing online Brainspotting such as:
  • The convenience and comfort of being in your own space
  • The flexibility to work with a specialist certified in Brainspotting that may not be in your area
  • The ability to work with a Brainspotting practitioner of your choice that has been referred
  • Saving time and energy traveling to and from appointments

History of Brainspotting

Brainspotting was discovered by Dr. David Grand in 2003. Grand developed the Natural Flow EMDR based on his work with EMDR trauma therapy, somatic experiencing, relational and insight-oriented therapy. Brainspotting is an evolution of his original work that he discovered by accident. While Grand was conducting an EMDR session with a professional athlete focusing on an area she had been previously stuck, she held an eye position instead of moving back and forth as is common in EMDR. The maintenance of her eye position helped her go deeper than she had before and revealed new information to be processed. Following this she had a breakthrough in her mindset and her performance.

Brainspotting combines body-oriented approaches, the power of the therapeutic relationship and psycho-neurobiological processing. According to Grand, “Brainspotting works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems. Brainspotting is accordingly a physiological approach with psychological consequences.”

Somatic therapy involves releasing the build-up of stress in the body and mind. It is the process of connection with a felt sense or body sensations that store and carry emotional energy. As sensations of contraction, tension or residue stress are felt and experienced they tend to unwind and release pent-up emotional stress. This results in regulating the nervous system and an expanded state of openness, energy, vitality and healing. Somatic therapy is a foundational tool we use during Brainspotting or as a stand-alone approach.

Mindfulness is a core component of Brainspotting. It provides the basis of being in the present moment, aware and connected. From this place Brainspotting therapy is highly effective.

According to Matthew Lieberman author of the book, Social, our need for connection is said to be even more important than our need for food and shelter. This notion echoes early studies in psychology showing that social isolation and neglect cause significant mental and physical decompensation and mortality risk.

Polyvagal Theory, based on the work of neuroscientist Steven Porges, demonstrates that as evolved mammals our ability to engage socially shifts our physiology and allows for processing of traumatic energy and memories. Social connection activates the healing power of our vagus nerve to repair from the residue of trauma especially as related to the fight, flight, freeze, collapse, or appease nervous system responses.

The understanding that trauma happens inside of a relationship causing a break in attachment and trust, means healing involves reviving the attachment pathway. The power of attunement and compassionate presence are at the heart of Polyvagal Theory and interpersonal neurobiology. Brainspotting’s success hinges upon an individual experiencing the safe, mindful attention of the practitioner.

According to Robert Scaer, author of The Trauma Spectrum, “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].”

Brainspotting References Resources

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html

Brainspotting: Recruiting the midbrain for accessing and healing sensorimotor memories of traumatic activation

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030698771300114X?via%3Dihub

Brainspotting: Sustained attention, spinothalamic tracts, thalamocortical processing, and the healing of adaptive orientation truncated by traumatic experience

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987715000493

Polyvagal Theory

https://www.stephenporges.com/articles

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Contact us to learn more about
how Brainspotting can help you heal.
Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 25 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness.

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