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Brainspotting: a neurobiological tool that supports the therapeutic relationship

I recognise I have a naturally skeptical part of me. So when I met with Mark Grixti (Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Systemic Therapist and EMDR Consultant) and he started to talk about Brainspotting, a new approach which he said had transformed his practice, I raised my eyebrows. Brain? Spotting? It was a new therapy discovered by one on the most experienced EMDR practitioners, David Grand, Ph.D, he explained. He had been using it very successfully with his clients. He was one of 9000 practitioners worldwide and he was now the UK trainer. I listened to him go on to describe how it worked with great enthusiasm. 

He suggested the best way to understand how it worked, was to experience it first hand and come to the next training. Since luckily I also have a very curious part, I signed up straight away. I bought David Grand’s book and I set off to London with a slight sense of trepidation. I read it acted in deep and primitive areas of the brain. That it provided direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems of the central nervous system. I knew it was going to be different to my previous training. Thankfully, there was an excited part of me that was very keen to experience this new approach for myself and learn it so I could also use it with my clients.

The training was very intense. I, and a group of other highly experienced psychologists, psychiatrists, EMDR practitioners and psychotherapists, all went through the training and practiced Brainspotting on each other. We all experienced the power of this approach. This was beyond EMDR, a proven evidence based technique already used within the NHS. It followed the client, it worked in a very focused way with the field of vision and the body via the limbic and deep brain; our “unconscious processes” in the language I was more familiar with. It stressed what had been told to me by Mark; that where we look changes how we feel. 

I will admit to having a profound experience. I had a shift in an issue I had previously worked on for several years in therapy. The shift happened over the course of the training and I noticed it consolidating in the weeks that followed as the processing continued. I felt differently. As I kept bringing the issue to mind, there seemed to be less of a reaction in my mind and body than there had been.

I went back to my practice and began to notice how my clients seemed to focus on one spot as they spoke; “gaze spotting” as David Grand, the founder described it. So I used the technique with my clients, I worked with these “Brainspots”. I followed their process, through the body. I have since been privileged to witness some powerful experiences and results. 

Let me be clear, I don’t believe in magical cures and this is not, as no therapy approach can be, a cure all, quick fix to every problem with every person. What it can offer is a different, deeper, often faster way of processing a range of issues within a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship. It offers the potential to access the unconscious or “out of awareness” deeply held thoughts and feelings. Such processing, or as Freud called it ‘working through’ can take longer with purely talking therapies that work with and process more directly through the Neo-Cortical, analytical, or conscious parts of the brain. It is a different way to get in touch with our feelings in an embodied way; a deep and focused means of accessing emotions safely within the therapeutic relationship. It can also help to promote self regulation through working at the edges of the “Window of Tolerance” (as described by Daniel Siegel). 

I invite clients to experience this technique and use it when I feel that perhaps a person feels stuck or when they find it hard to be in their bodies and access deeper, unconscious feelings. 

If you are interested to find out more or experience Brainspotting, please get in touch. I’d be very happy to discuss it further and/or to give a demonstration during an initial session.

claire@brightontalktherapy.com

+44 7557 656960

What is Group Therapy?

Group psychotherapy, like Individual therapy,  can help with a wide range of emotional difficulties. It is however particularly suited to anyone wishing to gain insight and improve the way they relate to others. Being in a therapy group offers an opportunity to explore the types of interaction we may tend to get into with other people. It offers the chance to find out how we are seen by others through receiving feedback from the group. A therapy group can be seen as a microcosm of society.  It can not only help us to learn how we relate to others, it can offer an opportunity to examine and understand the impact upon us of the relationships we have with each of the groups we find ourselves in such as our families, work, organisations and the wider community.

 
Group Therapy: Frequently Asked Questions

 

Is group therapy suitable for the difficulties I am facing? 

Group Therapy can help people with a wide variety of difficulties and problems ranging from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or just feeling stuck. Groups are particularly helpful for addressing interpersonal difficulties with, for example, family members, friends, in intimate relationships and in social groups.

How might a group help me?

Many people find the group a source of support as they come to realise that they are not alone with their problems. People discover their strengths as they find they can help, as well as be helped, by others. Each group member can learn from the number of different perspectives and personal experiences available within the group. Over time, greater awareness of oneself and others develop through group interaction. All these things can provide the basis for long-term change in how one thinks, feels and behaves in life.

Group therapy sounds interesting but the idea scares me. Does this rule me out?

Not at all. The idea feels daunting to most people initially. Your individual appointment with the group therapist will help you work out whether your fears are likely to be overwhelming and whether they are balanced by some hope and interest in what a group can offer.

How is group therapy different from support groups and self-help groups?

Therapy groups are different from support and self-help groups in that they not only help people cope with their problems, but also provide for change and growth. Support groups help people cope with difficult situations at various times but are usually geared toward alleviating symptoms. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist.

It’s hard to imagine what a group would be like. Can you give me an idea?

The groups meet weekly in the group therapy room. Each group meets for one-and-a-half hours. There are a maximum of eight people and a minimum of three people in each group, a mixture of men and women, with a variety of problems.

We sit together in a circle of chairs. There is no agenda or structure for each meeting. People do not take turns. Group members are encouraged to put into words their thoughts and feelings at their own pace. Usually common themes develop as one person’s issues will set off thoughts and ideas in others. The focus shifts between talking about particular problems outside the group, problems in the past, to interpersonal issues in relation to the group and between group members.

What is the group therapist’s role?

It is the responsibility of the therapist to ensure the safe and therapeutic facilitation of the group. The main focus is on building safety and trust in the group. The therapist will also help people work through difficulties with other members, which do occur from time to time. The group therapists role may be more active or may take more of a back seat depending on the needs of a particular group or individual.

I’m worried that I might meet someone I know in the group. Is that a problem?

The group therapist tries to ensure that group members do not know each other. Although group members often form close relationships during their time in the group, everyone makes a commitment not to develop friendships or intimate relationships outside the group while they are attending therapy. This is important for therapeutic safety, to avoid subgroups or breaching the confidentiality of the group setting, which is very important. However, inevitably members may bump into each other or see each other around and group members are encouraged to bring such incidents back to the group for discussion.

Are there any eligibility criteria?

Some problems are not suitable for group treatment, but its best to talk this through with a therapist or the group therapist.

What commitment is required from me?

Joining a group is a commitment, with members needing to take responsibility for attending the group each week and being on time. As sometimes happens in individual therapy, group therapy can be uncomfortable or challenging at times and sometimes leads to thoughts of dropping out or leaving. However, being able to talk about frustrations and stick with the group through such difficult times can be very beneficial

How do I go about joining a group and how much does it cost?

Each group therapy session costs £20 and the initial half hour meeting would be charged at £10.

If you are interested to find out more, please do get in touch.

 

What is Brainspotting?

Norman Doidge, MD. FRCPC, author of “The Brain That Changes Itself”:

“David Grand is one of the most important and effective psychological trauma therapists now practicing, and his development of Brainspotting is a very important leap forward in helping people resolve trauma. Brainspotting is a remarkable, sophisticated, flexible addition to the therapeutic toolkit of any psychotherapist. I know because I use it regularly and find that, combined with the psychoanalytic approaches I normally practice, the results are astonishingly helpful. Using it, one becomes amazed at the extent to which our traumas can be detected in our ordinary facial and eye reflexes and how, by using these windows to inner mental states, many traumas and symptoms can be rapidly relieved. Grand writes clearly, and the cases, dramatic as they are, are not exaggerated.”

From the founder of Brainspotting, David Grand, Psychotherapist:

the mind

Multiplicity of the Mind – part 1

The idea that our minds are made up of many different distinct feeling states referred to as parts, internal objects or sub-personalities has been around for a long time in many psychological and spiritual schools of thought. I think we can all identify with the fact that we can sometimes feel conflicted inside; one ‘part’ of us wants to do something while another holds us back. We can feel as though we have a committee in our heads between two opposing voices. These voices, if we listen to them through techniques such as mindfulness and inner witnessing, can appear to be like personalities; like an internal family of parts within.

One of the definitions of a subpersonality is;

“a complex of thoughts, feelings and even body sensations which is capable of acting as a complete person for shorter or longer periods of time”. 

It is important to remember that all of these subpersonalities or parts of our personalities have developed for good reasons; they are personality structures we developed to cope with the situations we found ourselves in as infants, small children and young adults. They helped us survive in our family of origin and in our culture and society.

Viewing ourselves from this perspective, and letting go of the concept of ourselves as one unitary state, reinforces the fact that our minds are are made up of multiple and dynamic forces (the fundamental belief of the psychodynamic approach). The mind can be viewed as consisting of ever changing and shifting feeling states responding to the external world; to the environment, to other people – and to our inner world; somatic cues, our senses, perceptions, thoughts and feelings. The growth of neuroscience and neurobiology only reinforces the complexity of the human body/brain which shapes the concepts of mind, self and helps to address the even bigger question of consciousness.

Thinking of ourselves as being made up of ‘parts’ can make us feel less identified with any one state over another at any given time and help us not to be totally hijacked by any given feeling or emotional state. For example, if we are feeling really angry, instead of saying “I am angry” we can say “a part of me is angry” and recognise that there are other parts, if we stepped back to notice them, that are not angry. And if we step back from all our parts altogether, we can perhaps make contact with the true witness of all of the parts that form us; our “true” or “higher” selves.

Working in this way, in therapy, can be very empowering. It helps to promote self knowledge and self regulation. The idea is that as self energy, or in psychodynamic terms, “ego strength or awareness” is built up and reinforced, people can carry their own “therapist” around with them. People can become more aware or their internal landscape and build up healthy ways to self soothe as opposed to engaging in thoughts and behaviours that create more inner conflict and anxiety, causing parts of themselves to become even more polarised and exiled.

In order to get in touch with some of the parts straight away, it can help to bring to mind a person or situation which brings up strong emotions. As you close your eyes and bring the person or situation to mind, notice the feelings, emotions, sensations in the body that arise. Name them. Then perhaps give a title to that set of emotions and feelings – the feeling state or the ‘part’ or sub-personality. You may want to give it a name, a title (Know-it-all, Judge, Critic, Caretaker, Pleaser). Ask yourself how old that part is? What is its role? What does it believe? Is there another part it relates to? What does it want for you? What does it need?

As you begin to identify these distinct feelings states, personalities or parts that arise regularly through observing repetitive internal conflicts and defeating patterns of behaviour,  you can begin to get curious about whether the roles or strategies  that various parts seem to carry out our are still helpful or beneficial. Are some parts too strong and overpowering? Do they need to relax a little? If they are protecting against difficult feelings emerging, what might they be and what or who is that part or us?

The most important thing to hold in mind at all times when working in this way and identifying self states, or subpersonalities is that all parts are welcome and at first, the primary task is to be curious and compassionate. Observe, witness, notice without judgement. The next step is to pay attention and work with parts individually; to begin to update their roles and their relationships to other parts. In the analogy of the committee meeting in your head, some of the members around the table may need to change and adopt a different strategy that may have dated back to a previous period of life (such as childhood or adolescence). All ‘members’ will have to try and work together. The chair or facilitator again will be the Self; the objective, impartial witness who, when parts step back and allow it, will take the lead.

Give it a go. And if you do make any discoveries, let me know.