“Where you look affects how you feel.” So goes the motto of brainspotting, a model of psychotherapy that was created to help individuals overcome trauma. Here's how sessions are structured, as well as an introduction to the science behind the approach.
What happens in brainspotting sessions for trauma
A trained practitioner identifies a “brainspot” – essentially, an eye position related to the activation of a traumatic or (emotionally-charged) issue – by waving a pen-shaped object in a specific pattern in front of the client’s eyes.
The practitioner observes the client closely, watching for various reflexive signals. These reflexive observations indicate to the practitioner that a brainspot has been found.
These reflexive signals can include:
- An eye twitch
- Facial tic
- Brow furrow
- Pupil dilation/constriction
- Yawns, coughs
- Foot movement
- Body shifting
Among these signals, facial expressions are the strongest indicators of a brainspot.
Through the identification of said brainspot, the practitioner and client draw upon their therapeutic relationship and observe and discuss present moment awareness.
Brainspotting works with deep, internal levels to release emotions
Brainspotting works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems within the body’s central nervous system.
Brainspotting works by:
- Identifying core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation, and other challenging symptoms.
- Processing these emotions.
- Working with the client to release them, in order to heal.
Brainspotting was developed for people who experienced trauma – but anyone can go
Though brainspotting was originally designed with people who had experienced traumatic events in mind, today it is widely applicable. In fact, in my experience (as well as the data provided by the Brainspotting Institute), brainspotting can benefit almost everyone.
How is that possible? Well, brainspotting helps individuals with a challenge that almost everyone has: Being human!
Human beings are a highly evolved cognitive species. But it those same cognitions that can become our greatest obstacles. Additionally, it’s usually the ones beyond our conscious mind that can be the source of our most challenging symptoms, patterns, and behaviors.
For exampe, brainspotting has also been shown to be effective in removing performance blocks, encountered by athletes, musicians, artists, and others. The positive experiences I have had with this population, as well as clients struggling with relationship blocks, has been quite profound.
Plus, brainspotting has been shown to positively impact not only a person’s psychological (mental) well-being, but also their physiological (physical) well-being.
2-4 sessions may be enough to see some positive effects
Once a solid therapeutic relationship has been established, generally two to four sessions seem to produce positive effects.
However, due to the uniqueness of each client and their experiences, the number of sessions required varies, meaning as many as eight or more sessions can be necessary.
There are no documented side effects to brainspotting
However, everyone’s brain and body is different, so the after-effects of brainspotting may vary.
Many clients report similar feelings to after an in-depth talk therapy session. It is common to feel a general sense of tiredness and residual waves of emotion, after the session and the days that follow.
Brainspotting may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical medicines
The field of mental health is evolving and expanding. Healing professionals, such as myself, are advocating for a revolution of change.
Our communities are becoming more informed and concerned about the over-reliance on pharmaceuticals to heal physical and emotional pain.
Current research in the area of trauma and how it’s defined has led to a growing recognition that experiences of physical and/or emotional injury, acute and chronic pain, serious physical illness, challenging medical interventions, societal turmoil, environmental disaster, unhealthy relationships, in addition to many other difficult life events, will contribute to the development of a reservoir of life trauma.
That trauma is held in the body. If this reservoir is not emptied, over time, it will be filled beyond capacity – and begin to spill over. This is generally when individuals begin to experience significant issues that impede their ability to thrive and experience joy.
Brainspotting is an alternative, neurobiological tool used within the therapeutic relationship to support clients in overcoming their blocks and emptying their reservoirs.