How Does Brainspotting Heal Trauma? A Guide to Recovery

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

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How Does Brainspotting Heal Trauma? A Guide to Recovery

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Brainspotting (BSP) is a relatively new alternative therapy. It was developed in 2003 by Dr David Grand, an EMDR therapist and relational analyst. He observed that his clients were sometimes “stuck” in a certain spot which he later called a “brain spot”.

Brainspotting was first used to treat people who had experienced PTSD during 9/11. Since then, it has been applied to other types of trauma and mental health issues. Many people report improvement in symptoms after only one or a few BSP sessions. 

In this article, I’ll briefly explain what BSP is, how it helps with trauma and other mental health issues and what a session is like, followed by some FAQs. 

What is Brainspotting and How Does it Work?

It can be difficult to resolve the deep emotions that trauma causes. Left untreated, they can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety. BSP is a technique used within a positive clinical relationship with a trained therapist. It works to reprocess negative unprocessed experiences (trauma) that are stored in the memory. It helps reduce even extreme symptoms of trauma.

BSP uses the brain’s and body’s natural ability to self-scan and to self-heal, or move back to a state of equilibrium. By using spots in the client’s visual field, BSP assists them in processing trauma trapped in the subcortical brain. That is the area responsible for motion, consciousness, emotions and learning. “Where you look affects how you feel” is a core concept of Brainspotting. It is both diagnosis and treatment. With trauma, this part of the brain typically goes into freeze mode to conserve resources for the body to be in defense mode.

BSP is a brain/body treatment tool to neurobiologically identify, process and release experiences and symptoms that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind and its cognitive and language capacity. These may include:

  • Emotional/body pain
  • Trauma
  • Dissociation 
  • A variety of other challenging symptoms

Brainspotting directly accesses the autonomic and limbic systems within the central nervous system. By doing so it works on the deep brain and body. It is a physiological tool and treatment that has profound psychological, emotional and physical consequences.

BSP uses relevant eye positions, somatic awareness, focused mindfulness and the therapist’s attunement to the client.  In a BSP session, a therapist guides the client’s eyes across a field of vision with a pointer while the client shares a memory of an event. The “brainspot” is a visual point at which the client has a strong emotional reaction while bringing up a traumatic memory or triggering uncomfortable somatic responses. 

Brainspotting is often used with sound that alternates between left and right ears. This balances the activation of each brain hemisphere. As well, it activates the parasympathetic, or calming, part of the nervous system. 

How Does Brainspotting Therapy Help With Trauma?

Trauma can be reprocessed while connecting to either distressed or calm areas of the body. BSP Therapy can enable a client to quickly process trauma in a contained and supported way. Since this happens largely in the subcortical brain, it may take much less talking than in traditional talk therapy. Clients often experience both rapid relief of distress and profound insights.

It is typical for clients to feel a shift in their emotions and body during and after a brainspotting session. These may continue for several months.

What Else Can Brainspotting Do For You?

There is still little research into the effectiveness of Brainspotting. However there are about 13,000 certified therapists practicing worldwide. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that BPS can help not only with trauma but with these conditions as well:

  • Anxiety
  • Attachment issues 
  • Chronic pain
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Substance use 

Other benefits of Brainspotting include:

  • Less feelings of distress
  • Lowered stress 
  • Lowered anxiety 
  • Less negative thinking
  • Healing from stored trauma
  • Improved emotion regulation
  • Heightened self-awareness
  • Reduced physical pain
  • Better sleep
  • More energy
  • No fear
  • Long-lasting benefits

One of the most important benefits is that BPS is short, often 1-3 90-minute sessions. As such there is a significant cost benefit. Additionally, not having to talk about painful memories is a real benefit as they can be triggering.

In one small study, participants experienced a reduction in PTSD, anxiety, and depression symptoms within a few sessions. Other benefits:

  • Reduction in pain
  • Memories become less painful
  • Negative thought patterns are reduced
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy

What To Expect From Brainspotting Therapy?

Brainspotting is largely self-directed, with the therapist as guide.  A session begins with relaxing breathing and music, possibly with bilateral sound. Once you feel more mindful, you identify the place on your body with most distress and rank it on a scale of 1 to then. 

Guided by the therapist, you then locate your “brain spot” where your eyes naturally focus on when the physical discomfort is the strongest. You’ll be guided by a pointer or the therapist’s hand. They will help you focus on where you are most stuck and ask if you wish to work on it.

The therapist and client then decide who will use the pointer and carry on the process accordingly. The focus then shifts to processing the session. Powerful emotions may emerge from the client and a feeling of relief, or they may have creative insights about their issues.

Brainspotting FAQs

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. David gran that helps people access, process, and overcome trauma, emotional pain and other negative experiences. It involves focusing on specific points in the visual field to release unprocessed trauma stored in the brain.

How Does Brainspotting Work?

Brainspotting works by identifying and processing specific points in a person’s visual field that correlate with unprocessed trauma or emotional distress. The therapist guides the client to find these “brainspots” while focusing on their emotional or physical sensations. This process helps to release and integrate the stored trauma, leading to healing and emotional relief.

Who is Brainspotting suitable for?

Brainspotting can benefit individuals experiencing various issues such as trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and performance anxiety. It is effective for people of all ages, including children. It can be used to address a wide range of psychological and emotional conditions.

What can I expect during a Brainspotting session?

During a Brainspotter session, the therapist will help you identify a specific issue you want to address. You will then follow the therapist’s pointer  or gaze to find a “brainspot”. In your visual field while focusing on the sensations and emotions that arise. The therapist will provide a supportive environment as you process and release the trauma associated with that brainspot.

How many sessions of Brainspotting are usually required?

The number of sessions needed varies depending on the individual and the complexity of the issues being addressed. Some people may experience significant relief in just a few sessions,, while others may require ongoing therapy to fully process and heal from their trauma.

Is Brainspotting a safe therapeutic approach?

Yes, Brainspotting is considered a safe and effective therapeutic approach when conducted by a trained and certified therapist. It is a gentle method that allows individuals to process trauma at their own pace, making it suitable for those who may find other forms of trauma therapy overwhelming or intrusive.

Hildebrand A et al. Brainspotting – the efficacy of a new therapy approach for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in comparison to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology. Vol 5, No 1 (2017)

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.