When talk isn’t enough
Brainspotting is a method of healing trauma that works directly with how the trauma is being held in a person’s nervous system as a “stuck” neurological distress pattern.
David Grand, the founder of Brainspotting, discovered that there are places in a person’s visual field that directly connect to these neurological patterns. He found that by 1) remembering a traumatic memory, 2) noticing where you feel it most in your body, 3) finding out where in your visual field you feel most connected to the experience, and then 4) mindfully focusing on the physical sensations of the body, that Brainspotting will activate your bodies natural capacity to process and heal trauma.
Brainspotting, thus, allows you to go beyond symptom management. It allows you to process through the “non-cognitive” components of the traumatic memory and completely heal the root of your trauma.
Brainspotting: Healing trauma with eye positions
Working with eye position and traumatic memory way sound a bit strange at first.
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about it until I received my first Brainspotting session.
Then I understood!
The general idea behind Brainspotting is that “where you look affects how you feel.”
In hindsight, I realized that eye position and brain functioning was something that I had heard about for decades. Looking up and to the right means you are visually remembering something. Looking down and to the left means you are kinesthetically checking out physical or emotional feelings.
Brainspotting is simply a more advanced version of this phenomenon. It allows people to directly access how their trauma is stored in their body-brain memory system. (Body-brain memory is synonymous with implicit memory, experiential memory, procedural memory, and body memory. It’s what we know on a non-cognitive level. For example, we don’t remember how to ride a bike cognitively, our bodies just know.)
What type of therapy is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting is described as a brain-body-relational-based therapy.
A Brain-Based Therapy:
“Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event”
Traumatic experiences are too intense and happen too fast for our nervous systems to process. The traumatic experience overwhelms the brain, leaving experiential material unprocessed in the subconscious. Additionally, the subconscious often creates dissociative barriers, protecting us from feelings of overwhelm from these experiences, as well as, making it more difficult to connect to the memories in our cognitive awareness. The body-mind may also manifest fear and avoidance strategies. Or, it may generate feelings of urgency and desperation to “get rid of” trauma symptoms.
Brainspotting is an extremely powerful tool in that it allows a client to bypass the dissociative barriers and the compensatory thought patterns, and in doing so allows them to connect directly to the subcortical parts of the brain where the trauma is stored.
A Body-Based Therapy:
Experience is first composed of our senses – our direct experience. These can be manifest externally or internally. (What we see in the world vs images we imagine in our minds.) These direct experiences can be visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory (taste), or tactile.
Experience is secondarily composed of the words we use to label, interpret, and make meaning of our direct experiences. This is called interpretive experience. Meaning making is the job of the neocortex.
Talk therapy works mainly with interpretive experience. Brainspotting, on the other hand, focuses on direct present moment experience in the body. Remember, trauma “lives in the body.” Trauma is thus best processed by the body. Brainspotting utilizes this body-brain connection between our mind and our felt sense experiences to access, process, and release trauma at the brain-body level. Or, the level of direct experience.
A Mindfulness-Based Therapy:
Mindfulness has become an important tool in both psychotherapy as well as our daily lives. There is a saying that “slower is faster.” This is particularly useful in working with trauma (which is experienced as too fast, overwhelming and oftentimes disorienting). Brainspotting uses mindfulness to slow everything down and pay particular attention to the bodily sensations and movement impulse, as well as spontaneous occurrences of imagery or insight emerging from the subconscious. By following these body-brain experiences, brainspotting activates what is called “subcortical processing”, allowing the body-brain to resolve itself of traumatic charge.
A Relational-Based Therapy:
The foundation of Brainspotting is Relationship.
Diana Foshe says that painful events don’t cause psychological wounding. She tells us that when painful events are met with punishment, humiliation, and neglect (versus a caring attuned other), that the person experiences an existential alone-ness. It is this aloneness with the pain that leads to psychological wounding.
Brainspotting utilizes this relational dynamic in the healing process. While the therapist will guide the client into accessing the memories and monitor the process to ensure safety, the role of the compassionate companion cannot be underestimated.
We are herd animals. Yet, in our society we are taught to believe in “survival of the fittest” and “rugged individualism.” The truth is that connection and cooperation is what truly makes us strong. As individualistic as our culture encourages us to be, we are biologically designed to experience the joys, fears and sorrows of life together. Brainspotting uses the strength of this relational interconnection as a resource to face and process that which was overwhelming when we first experienced it.
Darwin mentions “love” 95 times in The Descent of Man. Only twice does he mention “Survival of the Fittest.”
Accessing the Inner Healer
Brainspotting puts the clients in control and honors the clients’ inner wisdom on discovering what is best for them.
Within us all is a natural capacity to heal. We know this on a physical level, for example, if our skin gets cut, the body will heal. Brainspotting shows us that this capacity is also true of the psyche. It utilizes mindfulness, sensate focus and relational holding to invite forth this inner wisdom, allowing clients to heal from the inside.
This is a key component to what makes Brainspotting different from most other psychotherapy modalities. Additionally, by relying on this inner wisdom, Brainspotting helps clients learn to trust their inner experience, their intuition, their imagination, and their ability to discern what they need to heal and thrive.
Brainspotting & Performance
Brainspotting is useful for working with goals beyond trauma or PTSD. It can be used to improve performance, well-being, and expansive states of consciousness. Whether it’s public speaking, athletic performance, creativity, artistic endeavors, or simply engaging life in a more fulfilling way, Brainspotting can help unlock the blockades to our peak performance. It can help us regain a sense of freedom, joy, mastery and flow, allowing us to more fully answer the question posed by Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
For more information on Brainspotting, David Grand has multiple videos posted on youtube describing the process and science behind the modality.
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