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.
- 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 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:
- What is Brainspotting?
- Who Developed Brainspotting?
- What is the Brainspot?
- What issues does Brainspotting treat?
- How and why does Brainspotting work?
- How effective is Brainspotting?
What is Brainspotting and Brainspotting Therapy?
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 supports the reprocessing of negative experiences and retrains emotional reactions. Both approaches include bilateral stimulation, compassionate attunement and brain-body processing.
David Grand Developed Brainspotting
Brainspotting, developed by David Grand, has roots in EMDR, somatic experiencing, relational and insight-oriented therapy. It 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 (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 Therapy Helps Trauma
Brainspotting has been shown to be highly effective in a wide range of settings and issues both personally and professionally.
How Brainspotting Therapy Works...
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.
Why it Brainspotting Works...
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:
- Panic Attacks
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.
Attachment and Coregulation
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.
Stop Hypervigilance and Hyper-Scanning
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.
Cognitive Therapy: Why Talking About Issues Does Not Resolve Issues
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.
Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Approach
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
What is the difference between somatic therapy and Brainspotting?
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.
What is the difference between mindfulness and Brainspotting?
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.
Mindful Attunement & Polyvagal Theory
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 Risks and Side Effects
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.
How effective is Brainspotting?
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.
Am I supposed to keep focused on the issue during the brainspotting therapy session?
Brainspotting allows for an organic releasing of the emotional and physical stored energy around the issue you begin the session with. You may find that the issue continues to be present throughout the session but often we find that it shifts and moves into deeper layers of releasing and healing. You will not need to focus on the issue throughout the session unless that is where your brain and body continue to bring up sensations, feelings and information to be released. The therapist will guide as needed through the process.
Can I do cognitive therapy and brainspotting therapy at the same time?
Brainspotting can be done at the same time as cognitive therapy. Brainspotting allows for deeper processing of trauma and emotional stress and can enhance the effects of cognitive therapy.
Can brainspotting therapy be done virtually?
Brainspotting can be done effectively via video conference, Skype or Facetime.
Can brainspotting therapy sessions bring up trauma that might upset me?
Brainspotting allows you to access deeply stored mental, emotional and physical trauma. As the Brainspotting therapist we provide a safe, compassionate and mindful attention to allow you to feel completely supported to have your emotional process. You can stop the process at any time you wish. Most people we have worked with find Brainspotting to bring up emotions to be resolved and feel empowered in this process even if it’s challenging.
How many brainspotting sessions will I need?
Clients have reported profound results in one session of Brainspotting but most often it takes several sessions to work through an issue.
How will I know if brainspotting therapy works?
You will feel a shift in your mind and body during the Brainspotting process regarding the issue that you are working on. Most people feel a shift in sensation, emotions, physical charge, thoughts, insights and even memories. We will check in on how you are doing and the shifts that are occurring.
Will medications for depression, anxiety, PTSD, or panic attacks impact the efficacy of brainspotting therapy?
Brainspotting helps to decrease and heal anxiety, depression, panic and PTSD. Medications do not negatively impact Brainspotting efficacy as long as the client is in a conscious state of mind.
What type of brainspotting training do you have?
We are certified in Brainspotting therapy.
Why are you a good choice for brainspotting therapy?
As certified Brainspotting practitioners we have gone through the process to be fully trained to support you in dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression, performance or stress related issue using brainspotting. We’ve conducted 100’s of Brainspotting sessions and it is one of our favorite strategies to use. We have found it works best when combined with other mind body techniques which we are also trained in such as biofeedback, somatic therapy, breathwork and energy psychology.
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.
Brainspotting References Resources
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