Brainspotting can take you to the next level.
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.
We will answer questions to help you better understand Brainspotting such as:
Brainspotting is defined as 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 in traditional talk therapy and most other types of therapy.
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.
Brainspotting, developed by David Grand, has roots in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic experiencing, relational and insight-oriented therapy. Similar to EMDR it supports the reprocessing of negative experiences and retrains emotional reactions. Both approaches include bilateral stimulation, compassionate attunement and brain-body processing.
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 (unconscious) memories are brought up into explicit (conscious) awareness they can be dealt with and moved into a part of the brain that allows us to move forward in our lives.
Brainspotting has been shown to be highly effective in a wide range of settings and issues both personally and professionally.
Brainspotting can be used as a primary mode of therapy as well as in conjunction with other types of therapy. 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, healing and improved mental health.
People report having deeper and more profound releases with Brainspotting as compared to other brain-based, body based and traditional types of therapy. 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.
Trauma lives in the experience (not the event). When trauma occurs, it overwhelms the system and we are not able to process everything that happened. The primitive brain takes over and if we are unable to fight or flee to escape the situation, we shut down to survive. Once here, our nervous system makes it difficult to get out. We lose track of the details making it challenging to recall what happened after the fact. The traumatic experiences get stored at a sensory, visceral, and often nonverbal level in our implicit memory. This puts a lot of stress on the mind-body system, is exhausting and inevitably is not sustainable.
Consequently, the following tend to arise:
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 (unconscious) memory they cannot be fully let go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 can lead to powerful emotional, mental and physical healing. During a Brainspotting session sensations, memories, emotions and thoughts may emerge. After sessions people report feeling anywhere from calm and relaxed to tired and emotional. Processing continues after Brainspotting sessions as the doorway to the implicit memories remains open and the mind and body integrate in their own intelligent timing. Aside from the releasing, processing and healing that occurs, there are no known risks or side effects. Unraveling and unwinding may continue well past the Brainspotting session. Individuals regularly report new insights and awareness’s following Brainspotting sessions that allow for ongoing integration, healing and growth.
Brainspotting therapy is a highly effective treatment for a range of emotional, mental and stress related issues such as depression, anxiety, addictions, ADD/ADHD, OCD, phobias, unhealthy habits and performance anxiety. There are a few key reasons why Brainspotting treatment is an effective approach. First, trauma and stress activate the most primitive part of our brain that rely far more on our sensory and emotional experiences than on our rational, cognitive ones. In fact, the primitive brain communicates more through our unconscious mind than it does our conscious mind. This is why we tend to have a hard time letting go of stressful issues just by talking about our them, the most common approach. We have to access our subconscious mind and sensory awareness in order to fully let go of trauma and stress. Brainspotting therapy is a powerful treatment that reaches the primitive part of our brain where trauma is stored. It was identified as the most effective therapy for individuals coping with the trauma of 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. Over 15 different types of therapy known for improving mental health were evaluated including traditional, brain-based, and body-based approaches. Brainspotting was found to be the most helpful and effective therapy for relieving anxiety, stress and trauma.
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.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Brainspotting: Recruiting the midbrain for accessing and healing sensorimotor memories of traumatic activation
Brainspotting: Sustained attention, spinothalamic tracts, thalamocortical processing, and the healing of adaptive orientation truncated by traumatic experience
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