What is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting (BSP) is an innovative psychotherapy & coaching approach based on the concept that brain activity organises itself around fixed eye positions (brain spots).
Brainspotting is a neuro-physiological therapeutic approach with psychological consequences.
This method was developed by an American psychotherapist Dr David Grand by adapting and fine-tuning established treatment methods such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing (SE). It is a relational focused mindfulness practice that identifies, processes and releases core neurophysiological sources of pain, trauma, anxiety, dissociation and other challenging emotional or body symptoms. This article from the Medical Hypotheses journal explains the neurophysiological aspect of BSP.
Brain-based therapy is the fastest growing area of psychological health because of its proven ability to address issues that pure talking therapy can take years to resolve. It uniquely combines brain-based and talking therapies in what is called 'dual attunement'. In doing so, this therapy engages both hemispheres of the brain for a deeper, more intuitive and accelerated healing process.
For more information on how I use Brainspotting to work with anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, grief, self-esteem, relocation and relationship issues, please have a look at those specific pages.
How does Brainspotting work?
The concept of Brainspotting can be described by the key discovery made by Dr Grand: “Where you look affects how you feel”.
Brain activity, especially in the subcortical brain, organises itself around that fixed eye position. BSP integrates this neurobiological knowledge about the body’s central nervous system into therapy. This is crucial, because it means that the problem the client faces is in their brain and neural system, but so is the solution. Brainspotting locates points in the client’s visual field that help to access unprocessed trauma deep in the brain and help to focus, process and release experiences and symptoms that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind. BSP promotes self-regulation of the nervous system and neuroplasticity by re-organising neural networks in the brain.
Here is a short video from Brainspotting UK explaining why you may want to try this therapy as a client: https://www.bspuk.co.uk/why-choose-brainspotting/
BSP is a flexible therapeutic tool so working with every client will look a little different. Some clients like to engage in talking to the therapist and some prefer to be more focused on their internal process. However, as a guidance, this is what a client can expect in a Brainspotting therapy session:
After some initial relaxation, the client will be asked to think about the problem they want to work with. They will be encouraged to notice where in their body they feel sensations around that issue and to rate the intensity of those feelings on a scale of 1 to 10. This is the activation stage.
With the help of the Brainspotting practitioner, the client will look for their brain spot. To do so, the client will be focusing on various points in their visual field indicated by the therapist’s pointer. Depending on the model of work chosen in the session, this could be a spot where those feelings are the strongest or where the client feels the calmest.
Once the brain spot is located, the client will be encouraged to remain in that spot and to allow material to come up in their mind. This can include experiencing emotions, memories, images, sounds or bodily sensations that come and go. Where the mind goes may make sense to the client or not, but it doesn't matter. Simply allowing the process to happen is healing.
As the client processes, the practitioner follows their lead. Some clients will prefer to remain quiet, with occasional check-ins from their therapist, and some will prefer to continue talking throughout their session.
At the end of the session the client will be asked to rate their activation level again. Typically, the score will be lower than at the beginning of the session.
Most clients find working with brain spots intuitive and natural. For some, there is a bit of a learning curve - this usually means gradually letting go of expectations and performance anxiety (“Am I doing it right?”) and trusting their inner process. This is perfectly natural too, the practitioner is there to observe, to guide and to help clients fully embrace their experience of Brainspotting.
In short, yes.
Brainspotting is a relatively new therapy developed 20 years ago, however we already have a few well-documented studies with compelling findings. For example, this research published in the Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology found Brainspotting to be more effective than either EMDR or CBT. Interestingly, study participants continued to report improvements in their wellbeing even after their treatment was over, while other modalities showed symptoms returning at the 6-month follow-up. A more recent pilot study from 2021 showed BSP to be more effective than Body Scan Meditation in reducing memory-related distress. The efficacy of this treatment was supported by both self-reported participant evaluation and psychophysiological measures.
Importantly, those measurable results seem to objectively confirm that Brainspotting helps to down-regulate the amygdala and promotes coherence between Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System activity. Those positive findings also align with the experience of survivors of Sandy Hook school shooting in the USA. A study carried out in 2016 showed that BSP was self-reported by the participants to be a more effective therapeutic intervention than e.g. EMDR, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, CBT or Neurofeedback.
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