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What Is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a new, but increasingly popular therapy for the treatment of chronic pain, negative emotions and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Developed by David Grand Ph.D. from his extensive clinical experience using Eye-Movement Desensitization (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing with his clients, Brainspotting is a brain-based technique that integrates these two forms of therapy. Brainspotting works by gently guiding a client’s awareness to a physical sensation, emotion, or thought in the presence of a caring, attuned observer, allowing it to be safely explored and effectively released. There is increasing evidence that trauma affects not just our thoughts and emotions, but also how the nervous system functions. Brainspotting seeks to activate the body’s natural ability to heal from trauma, thereby improving the nervous system’s capacity to self-regulate, promoting both mental and physical health.

When Is Brainspotting Useful?

Traditional talk therapy often relies on narrative, or a person’s ability to identify and talk about a specific traumatic event or series of events. In many cases, however, traumatic experiences can be elusive, inaccessible (such as pre-verbal trauma), or simply too painful to discuss. Because Brainspotting works with subjective somatic sensations or objective reflexive cues in the client, it does not require a narrative, and is often successful at healing issues that traditional talk therapy can take years to uncover or process. 

Brainspotting is an effective treatment for those experiencing:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Unexplained chronic or localized pain

The Process and What to Expect

Brainspotting is client-centered, and client-driven. By design, the therapist intervenes very little throughout the whole process. Before we begin each brainspotting session, the client identifies what issue they would like to address (this may be an unsettling emotion, recurrent thought, or physical sensation such as pain). Sometimes, clients are able to identify a bodily sensation that is associated with their issue. For example, anxiety is often accompanied by the sensation of “butterflies” in the stomach. The process of Brainspotting begins by identifying a spot in the client’s field of vision where the issue feels the most activated. In the “butterflies in the stomach” example, we try to find the eye position where the client feels those butterflies the most. This is the “Brainspot”. For people who do not have an associated body sensation, I am able to identify the “Brainspot” by looking for autonomic reflexes, such as eye blinking, grimacing, coughing, or swallowing. Once the Brainspot is identified, the client is encouraged to pay attention to whatever comes up for them while their eyes remain fixed on that position. This is when processing occurs, which can take anywhere from 10-minutes to 45-minutes depending on the client.  During this time, I remain attuned with my client and anything that arises for them. Providing a safe environment with attuned support is critical for a successful Brainspotting session.

After a Brainspotting Session

Some people feel tired or drained after a Brainspotting session. This is entirely normal. In some cases, processing may continue for 48-72 hours after a Brainspotting session, so it is important to pay attention to anything else that may come up during that time. This may include an emotional release, a dream, or a change in perspective. These are all natural responses to a successful Brainspotting session. Other times, the shifts can be more subtle. It is important to honor the natural healing process of each person and their nervous system, and to suspend any judgments or agendas for how that process will unfold.

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“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

-Viktor Frankl
Austrian Neurologist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning