This type of therapy was discovered in 2003 by David Grand, PhD, as an advancement of his work in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Grand had observed a client getting “stuck” in one spot. While staying in this one spot, Grand observed her going deeper than ever before and Brainspotting was born.1
One of the purported benefits of Brainspotting therapy over EMDR is that one does not need to “relive” the trauma in order to facilitate its release from the body.
HOW DOES BRAINSPOTTING WORK?
According to therapist and creator David Grand, the direction in which people look or gaze can affect the way they feel. During brainspotting, therapists help people position their eyes in ways that enable them to target sources of negative emotion. With the aid of a pointer, trained brainspotting therapists slowly guide the eyes of people in therapy across their field of vision to find appropriate “brainspots,” with a brainspot being an eye position that activates a traumatic memory or painful emotion. Practitioners of the procedure believe it allows therapists to access emotions on a deeper level and target the physical effects of trauma.
There is increasing evidence that trauma is “stored” in the body and that it can alter the way the brain works. Trauma can, for example, have an effect on emotions, memory, and physical health. Brainspotting seems to activate the body’s innate ability to heal itself from trauma.While a therapist may attempt to access both the physical and emotional “locations” of negative emotions, brainspotting therapists use something called “dual attunement,” a process through which the therapist simultaneously attunes to the therapeutic relationship as well as the brain-body response of the person in therapy. There is some evidence that brainspotting works primarily on the limbic system, a collection of brain structures that play a role in emotion, long-term memory, cognition, motivation, impulse control, and several other psychological factors that can affect well-being.
Although Brainspotting therapy is a bit more fluid and doesn’t have a set standard protocol, most sessions follow at least a general blueprint. Here’s how you might expect a session to go.
What a Brainspotting Therapy Session May Look Like
- Although there is a therapist there guiding you, much of this is self-directed. You will start with some relaxing breathing and possibly listening to bilateral sound (music designed to move from one ear to the other) in headphones.
- Once you have settled into a more mindful state, you will identify a place in your body where you feel the most distress and rank it on a scale of one to 10.
- With the therapist’s help, you will then find your “brain spot,” or, where your eyes naturally focus on when the physical discomfort is the strongest. You will be guided to focus on this point by a pointer rod or the therapist’s finger, and they will help you identify the spot where you are becoming “stuck” and would like to work on it.
- The therapist may take either an “Outside Window” or “Inside Window” approach.3 In the “Outside Window” approach, the therapist observes the client’s gaze and recommends a point; in the “Inside Window” approach, the client is the one identifying the point to process.
- From here, you and the therapist will hone in on the feelings coming up, as you stick with this one area of the body.
- You will then take some time to process the whole experience of what came up and what it may mean.
At the end of the session, you will again rate your level of distress—typically it will be lower than it was when you started. Some people report feeling a sense of release either mentally or even physically, through a mild tingling sensation or mild shaking as though you have the chills.
Following the session, you may feel exhausted or more emotional than usual. Additionally, more difficult feelings may continue to surface. This is all part of the process, but if the feelings become too much to handle, reach out to your therapist or a crisis hotline if necessary.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF BRAINSPOTTING
Through his work applying somatic experiencing (SE) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), Grand eventually developed what he called Natural Flow EMDR, a technique that integrated these two types of therapy. Grand’s use of Natural Flow EMDR proved beneficial to some of those he was treating, and he used it as part of the trauma therapy he conducted with more than a hundred 9/11 survivors. He took this form of therapy further after one individual dealing with both physical and emotional symptoms of trauma experienced significant, rapid improvement following a session in which a locked eye position enabled a cathartic expression of memory and emotion. Grand eventually developed a formal training, and today more than 8,000 therapists are trained in the brainspotting approach, which is a fast-growing area in the field of psychology.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS BRAINSPOTTING?
Both brainspotting and EMDR therapies attempt to help those in therapy reprocess negative events and retrain emotional reactions. EMDR, the older of the two therapies, has been more intensively studied, but therapists are increasingly practicing brainspotting and reporting positive results.
Reported to help with a variety of psychological concerns, brainspotting is primarily used in trauma therapy and for the treatment of PTSD. It has also been shown to assist in injury recovery and help treat physical illness, inattention, stress, and low motivation. Some therapists believe psychological issues—such as anger, procrastination, and difficulty concentrating, among others—can be caused by trauma. Therefore, brainspotting might be a particularly effective form of therapy for those individuals who wish to address one or more of these concerns.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM BRAINSPOTTING?
Those who have experienced either physical or emotional trauma may benefit from brainspotting. This form of therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment option for those experiencing:
- All forms of trauma
- Attention issues (ADHD)
- Anger issues
- Substance abuse
- Chronic fatigue and chronic pain
- Impulse control issues
- Sports performance issues
LIMITATIONS OF BRAINSPOTTING
Though a large number of individuals report positive results from brainspotting treatments, this form of therapy is still relatively new, and further research will likely be of benefit. It is difficult to compare the efficacy of brainspotting to other approaches because few studies have been done on this particular approach. Brainspotting is still increasing in popularity among therapists and people seeking treatment, but it is still not as well-known as other treatment approaches.
How to Get Started
Because Brainspotting is a type of therapy requiring specialized training, it is best to find a therapist who is certified in Brainspotting therapy. Brainspotting has a directory of therapists who are certified (which includes completing two courses and at least 50 hours of practicing Brainspotting on clients). Alternatively, you can search online directories of therapists to find ones who specialize in Brainspotting.
Typically, Brainspotting treatment lasts for about six sessions, as opposed to EMDR, which may take up to eight or 10 sessions.
- About BSPI. (n.d.). In Brainspotting International. Retrieved from http://www.brainspottinginternational.org/about-bspi
- Beneficial Uses of BSP. (n.d.). In Brainspotting International. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.brainspottinginternational.org/about-bspi/beneficial-uses-of-bsp
- Grand, D. (2013). Brainspotting: the revolutionary new therapy for rapid and effective change. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.
- Rigley, C. (2009, March 25). Eye see you Brainspotting: a cure-all for psychological trauma or parlor trick? New Times, 23(34). Retrieved from http://www.newtimesslo.com/news/2253/eye-see-you
- Terrell, D. (2009). What is Brainspotting? How does it compare to EMDR therapy?. In San Diego Trauma Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.sandiegotraumatherapy.com/emdr-articles/terrell-brain-spotting.htm
- What is brainspotting? (n.d.). Brainspotting. Retrieved from http://www.brainspotting.pro/page/what-brainspotting