Brainspotting was discovered by David Grand, Ph.D. in 2003 and is a body-based approach to healing trauma and the nervous system. Brainspotting is a “bottom-up” therapeutic approach which means processing starts with where the trauma is held in the body. A “top-down” therapeutic approach means processing starts with cognition. Since trauma negatively impacts the brain and the body, a “bottom-up” approach is often needed to access deeper healing.
Brainspotting locates points in a client’s visual field that help access unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain. The subcortical brain is the most primitive part of the brain and what lights up on a brain scan when the body detects a threat and goes into a stress response of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Since the subcortical brain is lit up during these stress responses, it is crucial to light up this part of the brain again in therapy to help process unhealed trauma. A body-based therapy is often essential when it comes to healing childhood trauma that occurred before language was fully developed and the brain could articulate what was occurring.
Who May Benefit from Brainspotting?
Brainspotting can help heal your nervous system. Your nervous system controls your movements, thoughts, and responses to the world around you. Suppose your nervous system is dysregulated, and symptoms of chronic anxiety, depression, or PTSD make daily functioning challenging. In that case, you may benefit from a body-based modality to help bring your nervous system back to a state of coherence. Suppose you have struggled to progress in therapy or find yourself going from therapist to therapist without getting the desired results. In this case, it may just be that you would benefit more from a body-based approach instead of/in addition to traditional talk therapy approaches.
While brainspotting is primarily used to help treat and heal the negative impacts of trauma on the body and brain, it can also help clients heal from various other symptoms that talk therapy approaches have not been able to address fully. Brainspotting may be an excellent treatment modality if you hope to heal from an addiction or an eating disorder. In addition, brainspotting may help you if you are experiencing somatic symptoms and issues in your body that medical providers cannot diagnose. What is in the brain is also in the body, and vice versa.
Brainspotting pairs well with the other therapeutic approaches I use in treatment: Narrative Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Imago Therapy, and Parts Work Therapy. Brainspotting can help target negative belief systems you hold about yourself and begin to replace these belief systems with more adaptive and flexible ones instead. Your brain is a complex organ, and an adverse event or belief system can create negative neural pathways in your brain. However, due to a fantastic phenomenon called neuroplasticity, your brain can create new neural pathways around positive events and belief systems. With time, practice, and intentionality, these more positive neural networks can become the new programming in your brain.
Expansion brainspotting targets the reforming and reinforcement of positive neural networks in your brain. It can be a transformative therapeutic experience to help heal your sense of self and strengthen your identity. Expansion brainspotting may also help you deepen your spirituality, reclaim lost parts of yourself, increase creativity, and reconnect with lost states of being (peace, trust, joy). Expansion brainspotting may also help you meet performance goals such as moving through your fear of public speaking, improving your skills as an actor/dancer/singer, healing overeating, overcoming mental blocks, and working through the yips (sports performance).
Risks and Benefits of Brainspotting
There are many benefits of brainspotting, as outlined above, and including but not limited to reducing emotional distress around traumatic memories, reducing anxiety and depression symptoms, regulating the nervous system, providing a more adaptive perspective on a difficult problem, improving your relationship with yourself and with others, and creating more helpful and meaningful core beliefs about yourself.
As with other body-based therapeutic approaches used to help clients heal from trauma, there is the possibility that you may feel worse before you feel better. Participation in brainspotting treatment may result in emotional and physical discomfort as challenging topics are processed. Some clients have experienced reactions during the treatment sessions that neither they nor the therapist may have anticipated, including a high level of emotion or physical sensations. The processing of incidents/material may continue, and other dreams, memories, flashbacks, feelings, etc. may surface for two days to two weeks after a brainspotting session. When/if this happens, it is the brainspotting process of releasing stress from the brain and body. Specific or desired outcomes of brainspotting cannot be guaranteed.
1. More information on brainspotting can be found by visiting https://brainspotting.com/
2. Research and case studies on the treatment of brainspotting can be found by visiting https://brainspotting.com/about-bsp/research-and-case-studies/
3. Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change by David Grand, PhD. (2013). Sounds True, Inc. (Book available for purchase on Amazon and wherever books are sold.)
From the desk of Janelle Stepper
Certified Brainspotting Practitioner
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