Brainspotting Therapy for High Performance and Trauma
- Brainspotting is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation and a variety of other challenging symptoms.
What if I haven't had a traumatic experience?
Trauma is a big word. We tend to associate trauma only with life-threatening events, but this is not true. Trauma can cover experiences that threaten one's wellbeing, sense of safety in the world or reliance on the reliability or predictability of others.
People are often traumatised by events that are sudden or out of their control (e.g., their partner or a parent up and leaves with no explanation) or by events that threaten their belief in human nature (e.g., a stranger starts verbally abusing them or accusing them of something they didn't do or say). This other persons' irrational behaviour is confusing and can threatens one's sense of people as being predictable and safe.
- A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
- Psychological or emotional injury caused by a deeply disturbing experience.
There aren't many people in this world who haven't experienced some event that is deeply distressing or disturbing. They might have been involved in an accident, seen their parent have a serious medical event or been subject to subtle or overt abuse as a child. They may have lost a sibling or close loved one and at some level blamed themselves.
What is Brainspotting?
“'Where we look affects how we feel.' BSP (BrainSpotting) makes use of this natural phenomenon through its use of relevant eye positions. This helps the BSP therapist to locate, focus, process and release a wide range of emotionally and bodily-based conditions. BSP is also a brain-based tool to support the therapy relationship. We believe that BSP taps into and harnesses the body’s natural self-scanning, self-healing ability. When a Brainspot is stimulated, the deep brain appears to reflexively signal the therapist that the source of the problem has been found. BSP can also be used to find and strengthen our natural resources and resilience. BSP is designed as a therapeutic tool that can be integrated into many healing modalities. BSP can also be used with performance and creativity enhancement. BSP is even more powerful when used with the enhancement of BioLateral Sound CDs." (1)
Brainspotting was Developed by Dr. David Grand and grew from work with slow state EMDR. EMDR is a powerful proven method of dealing with trauma that has much research behind it. While brainspotting is a new innovation, it is possible that the research on EMDR could extend to include the steady eye direction of brain spotting as well.
How does Brainspotting work?
Your therapist will establish an eye direction that is associated with your current issue, emotional problem or past trauma (when you are activated around this issue). This eye spot is very specific and once found in your activated state it will correspond with a neural network associated with that particular issue.
Some people may feel sensations in their body, process emotions or see a reel of memories associated with the particular issue or emotional situation. This is not aimed to be painful but instead can be enlightening and releasing. It is about 'processing' traumas/painful situations in order to move forward.
The problem with past traumas (which often underlie present emotional upsets) is that the original issue is long buried, often isolated in the brain and therefore un-integrated. Dan Seigal has researched and written extensively on the effect of neural disintegration and the way toward a more integrated way of living. (3)
Practitioners of Gestalt therapy have known about the need for an integrated self for many years; we call disintegration and the fragmentation of self and mind 'unfinished business.' That is, there is a lack of resolution, and this can manifest in various ways.
When situations are unfinished (and pains are unresolved), they sit like a lump in the psyche (brain/body) but can be reactivated by similar events or triggers. Dr. Robert Scaer describes unintegrated or un-processed trauma as being held in capsules in the brain. (2) The eye location of a brainspot correlates with the physiological capsule that holds traumatic experience in memory form. (1)
Daniel Seigal speaks at length of the need for neural integration as a prerequisite for healthy growth and development. (3) The un-integrated mind tends toward chaos or rigidity (often flipping from one to another) as it struggles to maintain some form of homeostasis. By their nature traumatic events or experiences are encoded differently than normal events. Trauma becomes lodged in implicit memory (bodily memory) and fails to be included in the normal narrative memory, so reconstructing a new narrative from trauma is the only way to integrate what is otherwise unassimilated.
Will I have to feel the pain again?
Brainspotting is completely non-invasive and safe. Your experienced therapist will structure things in a way that feels comfortable. You do not need to re-live an event that is distressing (and therefore re-traumatising) to you. Brainspotting can be private: you process memories that are connected to each other and don't necessarily have to share all the details with your therapist.
What are the results of Brainspotting Therapy?
The aim of any therapy is to lead the person toward greater levels of integration. Brainspotting can be a way of accessing the layers around trauma so that it can be integrated in the present. Following Brainspotting Therapy, people often feel the charge has gone out of what they were feeling about certain things, or that they can now 'get over' or move past issues that previously upset them. They often gain insight into previously puzzling symptoms or feelings and find they can approach similar situations in the future with less stress and difficulty.
Brainspotting was developed as part of David Grand's work with elite athletes. It has been used to unleash creativity in actors and dancers and to unblock writers. Brainspotting can also work on what may seem to be 'everyday' issues that, more often than not, have their roots in childhood experiences that may not in themselves have been traumatic but still have shaped the way a person sees and reacts to the world.
How Brainspotting Works
Brainspotting is a psychotherapy based in the observation that the body activation experienced when describing a traumatic event has a resonating spot in the visual field. Holding the attention on that brainspotting allows processing of the traumatic event to flow until the body activation has cleared. This is facilitated by a therapist focused on the client and monitoring with attunement. Testable hypotheses have been presented for this clinical innovation in the treatment of the residues of traumatic experiences. The primary hypothesis is that focusing on the brainspot engages a retinocollicular pathway to the medial pulvinar, the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, and the intraparietal sulcus, which has connectivity with the insula. While the linkage of memory, emotion, and body sensation may require the parietal and frontal interconnections--and resolution in the prefrontal cortex--it is proposed that the capacity for healing of the altered feeling about the self occurs in the midbrain at the level of the superior colliculi and the periaqueductal gray.