Brainspotting therapy is a powerful treatment for trauma that uses eye movement and positioning of a person’s gaze to unlock deep trauma-healing processes in the brain.
Brainspotting is one of several methodologies which take advantage of insights related to how the brain and nervous system record memories and release stress after life-threatening events.
Brainspotting evolved in the early 2000s out of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Like EMDR, Brainspotting uses movement of the eyes to therapeutically intervene in the brain’s patterns of mental emotional processing. Brainspotting centers on the observation that “where we look affects how we feel”.
When we are stuck mentally and emotionally, this is visible in the way that our eyes move (or don’t move). Stuckness in eye movement patterns corresponds to mental-emotional stuckness, or traumatic memory.
Through directing a person’s gaze to move or stay with certain sticky spots in one’s field of vision, processes of desensitization, healing and reprocessing can be supported to take place.
How Does Brainspotting Therapy Work?
Brainspotting identifies points in a patient’s visual field which are used to access locations of trauma in the subcortical brain. Through working therapeutically with such spots, trauma-healing processes can be stimulated in the brain in order to heal those wounds. The patient’s memory of a the original incident is believed to be “reset” in the body and brain through Brainspotting.
Brainspotting was discovered by Dr. David Grand in 2003, as a part of his work in the field of EMDR, when he realized that patients’ eyes tend to get stuck in certain positions. He saw that the spots where patients’ eyes get stuck correspond to specific traumatic memories.
Rather than stimulate bilateral movement of the eyes, as is ordinarily done in EMDR, Dr. Grand experimented with what happens if patients are encouraged to deliberately stay in one of the trauma-associated spots for a longer period of time. This approach turned out to be fruitful for releasing traumatic memories.
Dr. Grand’s insights lent further credence to the theory held by a growing number of trauma researchers, which is that memories can be mapped in the brain. According to this perspective, traumatic memories are stored in specific locations in the brain. Due to the connection between the eyes and the brain, it’s possible to stimulate specific memories through directing eye movement.
When focusing on a specific memory, the eyes will naturally move to a certain position. The reverse is also true – when the eyes are stimulated to move to certain positions, the patient will experience sensations, thoughts, and memories.
You can try this out for yourself: see if lightly, softly placing your gaze in different places in your field of vision for some minutes (for example a far corner of the room) creates different feelings and sensations within you. Follow what feels neutral-to-good and don’t linger in places that feel bad or uncomfortable in any way. (For self-exploration purposes, don’t look for trauma zones, as that is to be done only with a brainspotting therapist.)
If you notice a point in your visual field that feels pleasant to fix your eyes on, keep your eyes there for a few moments while you softly observe your whole experience. You may notice images, physical sensations, or emotions building and amplifying as you allow your eyes to rest in this position. These subtle effects are owed to the connection between our eyes and our brain’s generation of our inner world. This whole exercise should not be done for more than 5 minutes if you’re doing this for the first time, so proceed slowly and gently.
What this all points to is that a person’s deep, biological mechanisms for recovering from difficult experiences can be stimulated to start operating again in places where, for whatever the reasons, this processing capacity was interrupted.
What Does Brainspotting Therapy Help With?
Brainspotting is applied effectively to treat a wide variety of conditions. It is especially useful for resolving trauma and the mental, emotional, physical, and behavioral issues that go along with trauma.
Many serious health conditions arise from trauma, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disordered attachment styles, and chronic pain. Most kinds of mental emotional pain and behavioral issues are potentially improved to a significant degree with brainspotting, because of the method’s ability to access fixations and stuck points at deep levels of the brain and body.
Anyone with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder or suffering from complex trauma, as is the case with the majority of people who develop substance abuse problems, would benefit from brainspotting.
What Are the Benefits of Brainspotting Therapy?
Benefits of brainspotting therapy are far-reaching. The first benefit is that when specific traumas are resolved, we then no longer need the adaptations which have been put in our place as a way of coping with the trauma. For example, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dissociation are known to be adaptations to traumatization – with less trauma to contend with, there is less need for these coping mechanisms in the psyche.
Additionally, the resolution of specific trauma-associated spots in the brain teaches the patient how to correctly reprocess and reset other memories. In other words, there are positive snowball effects in terms of healing the psyche, empowering the psyche to heal itself more functionally.
Other specific benefits offered by brainspotting include:
-reduction in symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, tremors, panic, and nightmares
-improved mood stability and reduction in anxiety and depression
-ability to have conscious recall of bad memories without getting triggered or becoming emotionally reactive to them
-restoration of the ability to have a healthy sleep pattern
-higher levels of personal energy
-less physical pain
-change of thought patterns towards more positive ways of looking at self and world
Villa Kali Ma Offers Brainspotting Therapy
Here at Villa Kali Ma we take an active interest in field of trauma recovery, due to our recognition of its all-important role in the lives of women. We know that women who use substances are often doing so because of trauma, and we know how trauma can make life a living nightmare. We understand that the epidemic of mental health disorders we see in front of us today is a manifestation of the deeper pain we all carry. We believe passionately in the importance of healing trauma in the minds, hearts, and bodies of women.
So, we are pleased to be in a position to offer Brainspotting Therapy along with our many other trauma-oriented approaches to healing, which include EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and Internal Family Systems (Parts Work).
Dr. Katie Hirst, MD( Medical Reviewer )
A native Californian, Dr. Hirst grew up in the Bay Area before attending Stanford University for her dual undergraduate degree. After graduation, Dr. Hirst completed a dual residency in Family Medicine and Psychiatry at UC San Diego — and founded the UCSD Maternal Mental Health Clinic during her third year of training. With this combined training, including additional board certification in Addiction Medicine, she is uniquely qualified to attend to both the psychiatric and medical needs of Villa Kali Ma’s patients and enjoys providing care to each patient from a holistic, whole-person perspective.