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What is Brainspotting?


“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.

Today, in addition to trauma, it’s useful for anyone looking to overcome negative thoughts that are obstacles to their daily lives.

Unlike talk therapy, which relies on the brain’s cognitive understanding to process its experiences through language, Brainspotting primarily engages the “deep brain” and its unconscious processes.

What is Brainspotting therapy?

Brainspotting is a focused treatment method that aims to alleviate symptoms caused by traumatic memories. Treatment involves:

Identifying triggers, or stimuli that remind the client of their trauma, perhaps unconsciously, and upset them as a result.

Exploring why these triggers produce the result they do, by thinking through the significance they hold to past traumas.

Releasing the trigger by reprocessing the trauma memory and allowing for a new, less upsetting understanding in its place.

Brainspotting can be used as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other forms of treatment. (It’s often used in conjunction with chiropractic, acupuncture, and physical therapy, for example.)

What can Brainspotting help with?

Brainspotting was originally developed for work with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but has been used for the treatment of a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD and ADD, substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders.

In addition to the treatment of psychiatric conditions, Brainspotting has been used to improve athletic and academic performance, increase creativity, and improve public speaking skills.

Does Brainspotting work?

Yes. While Brainspotting is relatively new (it was developed in 2003), and the body of research studying its efficacy is still growing, it has been found to be effective. It uses similar nonverbal trauma-processing techniques as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is older, more established, and more backed by scientific research.

Plus, unlike other trauma therapies that rely on crafting trauma narratives and revisiting the trauma, Brainspotting is designed to allow the client to process painful traumatic memories without feeling highly aroused; indeed, many report that Brainspotting can feel calming, rather than distressing.

How does Brainspotting work?

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
  • Swallows
  • 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.

Length of Brainspotting treatment

Brainspotting is typically a short-term therapy. 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.

Whatever the client was experiencing changed. Images and memories came more quickly. Emotions and body experience went deeper and moved on more rapidly and easily. Clients also got to observe the process while they were in it. The process was fascinating and still is.

David Grand, Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change

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