When I first heard about brainspotting I’ll be honest… I thought it was a kind of surgery. Not the case! In spite of the creepy sounding title – brainspotting is actually very gentle and totally non-invasive. It’s a relatively new type of therapeutic intervention that was created out of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The creator David Grand was trained in EMDR and started to notice that clients would often look off to certain spots while they spoke about the issues they were facing. He started to play with that observation and birthed a whole new kind of therapy.
Brainspotting works with the gaze of clients, either their natural gaze or by getting them to focus on a particular spot. In most cases the therapist will have the client find a spot to look at on their own, but some folks struggle with that process and the therapist can help them find a spot. Once the client has their spot, the client just simply takes the time to notice what their physical response is – the different sensations in their body. The therapist may also pair this with having the client listen to bilateral music using headphones. Bilateral music is the kind of music that moves from one ear to the other throughout the song. This bilateral process helps the client move into a deeper emotional space for processing. We call that space the mid-brain. The mid-brain is the place where we store memories, trauma, addictions and emotionally charged experiences. So to re-cap! While the client listens to the music, looks at a spot, and notices what is happening in their body, the client is moving into the mid-brain. Once the client is in this space, they are better able to process emotional blockages. I know… it sounds like voodoo.
But it works! There is a ton of research about the validity and scientific findings of brainspotting therapy. EMDR uses similar principles which is also highly researched. Brainspotting works in-depths with the mind-body connection. So you might notice a tightening in your chest while you think about the problem that brought you in, and then suddenly you’re noticing a memory from childhood, and then you notice a twinge in your back, and then you think about an upcoming work issue, and then you feel your foot twitching. On and on. Back and forth. It might sound a little scary or unnerving to have your body reacting in ways you are not feeling in control of, but if it’s ever too much, you just say so. You just look away. You just take the headphones off. The entire model is based on being client-led so that you feel comfortable and in control. The therapist won’t “push” you to go to places or memories you don’t want to go to.
So what’s the catch? You just look at a spot, listen to some music and wait to see what happens and then suddenly you’re healed?! Maybe not quite. Everyone responds differently to all forms of therapy so of course there are no guarantees. Primarily someone has to be willing to engage in the experience and can’t be actively shutting down the natural process that is occurring. Just like all therapy, you have to be open to change. Some people are more prone to it’s kind of magic, while others aren’t. Some people struggle to engage in this kind of process. And all of those are okay. No aspect of therapy is “one size fits all”.
Some folks may experience some adverse affects. There are a range of affects it can have – twitching or tics, worse sleep for the next few days, fatigue, feeling “out of it”, delayed speech, emotional or increased physical activation. This is all a way of your body working out the brain’s processing. Some folks notice more/less symptoms and to varying degrees. It’s a lot of work for our brains to create new neural pathways.
But! With all that processing that is happening after session many clients report a lessening of the intensity of the initial issue that they were brainspotting. Some people even report not feeling activated by the issue after just one session. This is why I call it magic and voodoo! Yes there is science to explain it, but it’s just a bit phenomenal. The brain creates new pathways for you to see, understand and feel things differently. It really all depends on you, your brain, and your body. But as someone who has experienced and practiced its power, I am a believer! If you feel like it might be something you’re interested in trying, get in touch with a brainspotting therapist to chat about readiness and appropriateness.
Natalie Koleric, MA, MMFT