Brainspotting: Healing Trauma Though the Mind’s Eye
If you previously participated in therapy and did not see the results you were looking for, it is important to know that the field of psychology is always advancing. Sometimes those advancements allow for new forms of therapy to emerge. One relatively new form of therapy is called brainspotting (abbreviated as BSP). Learn all about brainspotting and decide whether this therapy approach may be helpful for you:
Brainspotting: What is it?
One of the newest forms of therapy, brainspotting was designed to help people work through experiences of trauma, often seen in post-traumatic stress disorder. This recovery occurs in therapy by helping the person to access the painful memories, process the associated negative emotions, and overcome any lingering psychological pain that might otherwise cause mental health symptoms.
Some psychologists and mental health practitioners view brainspotting as a neurobiological tool for diagnosis and treatment. It can be used to access, diagnose, and treat emotional and somatic conditions. It is theorized that brainspotting may almost act as a stimulant to promote activity in the brain and body. It is further thought that this will promote the body’s natural healing processes.
The theory behind brainspotting grew out of the work of David Grand starting in 2003. Like other psychologists who put forth new theories and approaches, Grand was seeing in his psychotherapy patients a need for more help. Through observation and research, he was able to identify a new way to help. Grand, in particular, was working with survivors of trauma. However, since the initial development of the theory, it has also been successfully applied to assist with other various mental health concerns.
Grand based some of his theory on other similar approaches. One of these is somatic experiencing (SE) and the other is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). At the core of Grand’s theory is a belief that the direction a person looks or gazes will affect the way they feel. Further, Grand believes the therapist can help people position their eyes in certain ways that will allow them to directly target any sources of negative emotion for a cathartic expression of that emotion.
How Does Brainspotting Suggest the Mind Works?
As noted, Grand believed that a person’s eye movements and the direction they look will play a big part in determining their mood. Essentially, where you look affects your feelings. The term brainspot is used to represent the correlation between an eye position and the part of the brain that holds some negative memory. Brainspotters believe that the negative memory is fixed in some part of the brain, which is typically harmful for a person’s mood and well-being.
Important Practitioners in Brainspotting
David Grand is the developer and most well-known practitioner of the brainspotting approach. He defined the term brainspot as “the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain.” This definition formed the base of the theory and the techniques that are used by brainspotting practitioners.
How Does Brainspotting Cause Change?
Brainspotting therapy sessions occur in one-on-one settings, similar to traditional therapy. The sessions involve a specially trained therapist assisting the client in repositioning their eyes in ways that will allow them to target (and reduce) their sources of negative emotion. This is done with the use of a pointer.
The brainspotting therapist will use the pointer to slowly guide the eyes of the client through their field of vision. It is thought that during this, the client and therapist can identify “brainspots,” which are eye positions that activate particularly traumatic memories and the associated emotions.
According to brainspotting practitioners, it is thought that this process will allow access to emotions on a deep level and that even the physical effects of trauma can be targeted. The latter of these benefits is in line with recent research that suggests trauma may be “stored” in the body, even altering the way that the brain works. It is thought that brainspotting essentially helps the body to heal itself from trauma.
In particular, some evidence suggests that brainspotting works to alter the limbic system of the brain. This is a collection of brain structures that play important roles in emotion, cognition, memory, motivation, and impulse control, along with other psychological factors.
What Happens in a Brainspotting Session?
In a brainspotting session, the therapist helps the client to identify and then access negative memories of trauma experiences, so they can then release those memories from the brain. This is done with the pointer device and the process of guiding the client’s eye movements. Certain reflexive signals may reveal a brainspot. These can include primarily facial expressions. An eye twitch, brow furrow, facial tic, pupil dilation/construction, yawn, cough, and movement can also be revealing. When brainspots are discovered, the therapist will help the person focus on that spot to work through the negative memory.
Techniques Used in Brainspotting
When a brainspotting practitioner attempts to access the emotional and physical locations of negative emotions they aim to trigger somatosensory experiences. The client and therapist work together in this process to identify the brainspots and then decide how to address them.
One technique that is frequently used is called “dual attunement.” In this case, the two processes being attuned to includes the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist and the brain-body response of the client. Other techniques that may be used include: integrative model, neurophysiology, bilateral sound, one eye, and outside/inside window.
Notably, it is considered very important for the client to feel safe in the brainspotting process. If a client does not feel comfortable, they may not be able to do this work. Finally, also notable, is the fact that clients can use other adjunct treatments along with brainspotting. Some clients may find additional value in receiving acupuncture, physical therapy, or chiropractic services.
Does Brainspotting Work?
As noted, the development of brainspotting was inspired by the EMDR approach. EMDR has been extensively studied to ensure its efficacy for helping clients. Brainspotting has similarly shown favorable results and it is becoming increasingly more popular. Grand used brainspotting to successfully help survivors of natural disasters, 9/11 survivors, and combat veterans. Practitioners of brainspotting argue that the results of this approach emerge at a fast pace, which allows healing to happen more quickly.
One research study did examine the effects of brainspotting for treating PTSD. The brainspotting approach was compared to an alternative treatment approach. The researchers did find that the positive effects of brainspotting occurred in a short period with a rapid decrease in symptoms.
What Kinds of Concerns is Brainspotting Best For?
Although brainspotting has been reported to help with many different psychological symptoms, it is primarily used as a part of trauma therapy. This includes using brainspotting to treat PTSD. Other concerns that have been effectively helped with brainspotting include: inattention, motivation, procrastination, stress, anger, and injury recovery. Interestingly, many of these concerns are directly related to trauma or at least appear to be a result of the effects of trauma.
It does appear that anyone who has experienced some form of emotional or physical trauma could benefit from the brainspotting approach. It has also been used to effectively treat the following separate conditions: anxiety, ADHD, phobias, substance use, and sports-related performance. In fact, it is reported that athletes may particularly benefit from this approach.
How Are Brainspotting Specialists Trained?
Most brainspotting practitioners will first obtain education and training to become a general mental health provider. The training will involve learning how to form a rapport with clients, how to assess for presenting concerns, and how to address mental health problems (such as trauma). Providers who have a special interest in working with trauma survivors may elect to receive special training in brainspotting.
The developer of brainspotting, Grand, has also defined an approach to training providers of the brainspotting approach. Interested mental health providers can participate in that training to become more adept at working with clients on trauma recovery. Today, many providers do seek that training.
Concerns/Limitations of Brainspotting
Although many individuals do report positive results from participating in brainspotting treatments, the approach is still new. More research is needed to further understand the approach and its benefits. At this time, it is difficult to determine whether it is more helpful than other approaches due to the limited body of research. As the brainspotting approach grows in popularity, more research will be conducted.
How to Find a Therapist
If you are interested in receiving brainspotting as a part of your therapy process, then you may want to seek out a mental health provider that practices from this approach. To find a brainspotting practitioner, you will want to research for nearby licensed mental health providers that use the approach. You can just research online for potential providers who practice this approach. You may also ask your other existing medical providers and friends or family for their recommendations of good providers.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
When you seek out a licensed mental health professional (commonly abbreviated as LMHP) your first concern should be to work with someone who is appropriately trained and adequately experienced in the field of therapy. To know whether this is the case, look for a provider that is licensed. When a provider holds a license, it is an endorsement of their training background.
To participate in brainspotting, you do need to look for a practitioner who has specialized training in this technique. Currently, there are over 13,000 trained and certified brainspotting providers all over the world. You may be able to find a trained provider near you with the official brainspotting website search tools. This formal training is necessary to make sure the therapist can be in complete attunement with clients. Otherwise the use of the approach will not be effective. Generally, you also want to feel comfortable working with your therapist.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
When you choose to pursue counseling, ask your potential provider some important questions. Ask about their previous experience and their general approach to treatment. If you have an interest in participating in the brainspotting approach, then you will want to ask about their training in the use of this approach. It is generally helpful to ask what approach your potential provider will take to work with your particular concerns. Finally, you should ask how your provider will monitor your progress towards the symptom relief that you want to achieve.
Finally, many people find they feel most productive in therapy when they feel comfortable with their therapist. This becomes even more important if you are doing particularly difficult therapy work, such as addressing unresolved trauma. Therefore, to make your therapy more productive, ask questions of your therapist that will help you discern whether you will feel comfortable.
Find a Therapist Now
If you choose to seek out therapy, there are two websites to locate nearby providers. One online search site is Psychology Today. The SAMSHA website also has an online locator to assist in finding nearby low-cost options. Today, many people also choose to obtain their therapy online.
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Final Thoughts on Brainspotting
The brainspotting approach is one way to address mental health counseling. It can be used to help with trauma recovery and other mental health concerns. Participating in brainspotting may assist you in improving your mental health, daily functioning, and your overall quality of life.