Why use Brainspotting? What does it do?
When we experience an emotionally intense, frightening or traumatic event, it may overwhelm us. If that overwhelm does not naturally resolve, the experience gets ‘stuck’ in the body (the central nervous system) leaving us overly-sensitive and overly-reactive. It also then diminishes or distorts our sense of self.
How does Brainspotting work?
Brainspotting works with those stuck memories so they can resume being naturally processed and it seeks to repair and strengthen our sense of self. In the end, you will still have the memories, but they will no longer be as upsetting; you may still have present-day situations which are challenging, but they will no longer be triggering; rather situations will feel more manageable because you will feel more grounded, balanced and empowered.
How can Brainspotting help?
Although both EMDR and Brainspotting are best known for resolving traumas and addressing PTSD-like symptoms, they are now being applied to ease anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours. Most recently, and in concert with positive psychology, both are being applied to enhance peak performance and boost self-confidence and concentration
What is a “Brainspot?”
A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic or emotionally charged issue within the brain, most likely in the amygdala, the hippocampus, or the orbitofrontal cortex of the limbic system. Located by eye position, paired with externally observed and internally experienced reflexive responses, a Brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem in the body and nervous system holding emotional experience in memory form.
How do therapists Identify “Brainspots”?
Brainspotting is usually done with both eyes but may also be done with one. A therapist identifies a Brainspot by waving a pen-shaped object in a specific pattern in front of the patient’s eyes, and when the pen-like object comes across a Brainspot, the deep brain will reflexively signal to the therapist that a Brainspot has been found. This happens outside of the patient’s consciousness. These reflexive signals can include (all without the patient being aware of these happening) an eye twitch, facial tic, brow furrow, facial tic, pupil dilation/constriction, swallows, yawns, coughs, foot movement or body shifting. Among these signals, facial expressions are the strongest indicators of a Brainspot.
The identification of a reflexive response that indicates a Brainspot hints at the somatosensory experience of the trauma, emotional or somatic problem. By finding these Brainspots, the therapist is triggering these somatosensory experiences in the patient. To access the Brainspot and the emotions that can follow, the therapist holds the patient’s eye position while the patient focuses on the experience of the symptom being accessed by the Brainspotting.
The therapist and patient can also work together to find the Brainspots. The patient participates in this by letting the therapist know, during the Brainspotting scan, when he or she feels any heightened intensity, either physically or emotionally.
How Does Brainspotting Act as A Healing Agent Against Trauma?
The way that Brainspotting heals is that it helps the person process the trauma, or overhwhelm that lies within him or her. When the therapist accesses a Brainspot, the person experiences the distress that is associated with that Brainspot. The person then experiences the physical or emotional pain that presents itself, and the person can experience it in a safe, comfortable setting in the presence of the therapist. Over time, accessing this trauma in a safe environment will help the brain to break away from the associated trauma.
Within the field of psychology, professionals have come to realize that when someone experiences trauma, whether it be emotional or physical, it is held in the body. This trauma, potentially caused by a variety of events, such as a serious physical illness, acute or chronic pain, or life trauma in general, can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and one way that professionals can help to target and locate that pain is through Brainspotting. Therapists use Brainspotting to target these areas of trauma stored in the body from previous traumatic experiences.
These traumatic experiences become stored in the body typically because the traumatized person has not had the means to properly deal with the trauma that he or she has experienced. Because the traumatic experiences have not been properly dealt with, they become a part of the person’s “trauma reservoir”, which can manifest in other physical and emotional symptoms.
How does a typical session go?
Here is a basic description of how Brainspotting works. The therapist acts as a guide, but you are in charge of your own process. You might begin with a few minutes of relaxed breathing and listening with headphones to BioLateral sound. You pay attention to the place in your body where you feel the most distress. You give a ‘0 to 10’ rating for the level of distress you feel, and then the therapist helps you find an eye position (“Brainspot”) – a point in front of you where the eyes naturally focus when your pain feels the strongest.
The therapist acts as a support and facilitator in helping you to slowly and safely move through the awareness that unfolds inside after finding the Brainspot. You and the therapist focus deep moment-to-moment attention on the troubles presented by this one neural pathway. What comes up? This is different for every individual and in every session. It may be visual images, memories, a few words, sensations in the body, forgotten sounds, and various feelings.
The point is to allow and witness these natural “leftover” responses from the trauma to surface. The individual is free to just experience the associations or they can share it in words with the therapist as they go along. You may periodically re-rate the distress and shift to another Brainspot. By the end of the session, your rating of the distressed state is most often lower and your “felt sense” of the suffering is lessened. A gentle release of energy happens with the process, which may be felt physically as tingling, slight shaking (like from a chill), or a need to stretch. This is the body’s natural response to “unfreezing” what was held from the past. You are also likely to experience a lasting mental relief upon realizing that this disturbance from long- go is no longer upsetting to you.
An after-sense of change stays with you outside the session in everyday life. When Brainspotting is facilitated within the context of a caring therapeutic relationship, it feels safe, non invasive and contained.
The Impact of Brainspotting
Brainspotting does not require “reliving the trauma” as much as it “releases the trauma from the memory.” After a number of Brainspotting sessions, it is possible to no longer see the images of any disturbing traumatic memories or feel the pain, upset and distress from the chronic or acute incidents of trauma. As a result, many signs and symptoms of trauma in the system eg. depressed and fluctuating moods, excessive anxiety, flashbacks, and dissociation – gradually became resolved and disappeared.
Afterwards you can learn to practice paying attention to what is happening inside at each moment (called mindfulness) outside of sessions. This gradually helps to end the need for defensive dissociation (cutting off from feelings, emotions, bodily sensations). An ability to safely re-associate thoughts, feelings and sensations becomes more of a continuous state of being.