Trained Brainspotting Therapist

BSP for Healing Trauma and Emotional Distress

This is a long read full of information. At the bottom you will find some public posted youtube testimonials and issues BSP can be used to heal.

Brainspotting (BSP) is a brain-body therapy which focuses on identifying, processing, and releasing imbalances, trauma, and ongoing emotional stress. It is based on the premise that ‘where you look affects how you feel’ and finds that eye positions correlate with unconscious, emotional experiences. It unlocks parts of the brain that are not generally accessed through traditional talk therapy approaches.

Similar to Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) , BSP supports the reprocessing of negative experiences and retrains emotional reactions. I use BSP on its own and in addition to other therapeutic modalities and interventions to meet the clients' needs.

History of Brainspotting

BSP was discovered by Dr. David Grand in 2003. Grand developed the Natural Flow EMDR based on his work with EMDR trauma therapy, somatic experiencing, relational and insight-oriented therapy. BSP is an evolution of his original work that he discovered by accident. While Grand was conducting an EMDR session with a professional athlete focusing on an area she had been previously stuck, she held an eye position instead of moving back and forth as is common in EMDR. The maintenance of her eye position helped her go deeper than she had before and revealed new information to be processed. Following this she had a breakthrough in her mindset and her performance.

BSP combines body-oriented approaches, the power of the therapeutic relationship and psycho-neurobiological processing. According to Grand, “Brainspotting works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems. Brainspotting is accordingly a physiological approach with psychological consequences.”

How it Works?….

Together we will identify an issue that you want to work through and heal. As you focus on this issue we will identify how your mind and body respond to it. We will then identify an eye position or ‘brainspot’ associated with this issue. A brainspot is not just one spot in the brain but rather an active network in the brain where the issues is connected and/ or stored in the mind and body.

The brainspot acts like a doorway connecting to unprocessed emotions and traumas. The focused eye position further allows the brain to stop scanning externally for threats and instead internally self-scan to identify and maintain its presence on the deeper unresolved issue.

The therapy itself follows a strategy to locate the brainspot while working with a dual attunement (more on this later) frame. When a brainspot is activated, reflexive movements can be observed by the therapist that provide valuable access to healing. These movements come from deep regions of the brain, outside of a client’s conscious, cognitive, and verbal awareness.

For individuals who feel like they have plateaued in their healing or those who are not finding relief in more traditional approaches, BSP offers new possibilities for breakthrough and healing. BSP is a newer mind-body therapy that is showing a lot of promise in its ability to provide relief for trauma, anxiety, depression, and daily stressors especially for people of color.

Good Ole' Dual Attunement

Dual Attunement is a primary component of BSP in that the attunement of the therapist activates brain pathways associated with safety, support, and connection. Through a mindful, compassionate presence of the therapist, a space is formed that allows the client to explore uncomfortable and distressing issues. BSP focuses on the attunement of the therapist to the client as well as to the client’s neurobiology. Thus, it is a combined relational and neurobiological connection happening at the same time. This supports a sense of trust that allows the nervous system to feel seen and come on board with information to process. Attunement acts as a gateway to the deep centers of the brain giving them permission to safely release pent up residual energy. Attunement is highly stabilizing to brain pathways.

BSP success hinges upon the client experiencing the safe, mindful attention of the practitioner. This attention is a necessary ingredient for accessing implicit memories. This process is a goal of most therapeutic approaches given it is crucial to letting go, moving on and dealing with any issues.

After all, "Trauma is relational, so should the healing be."

Why does BSP work?...

Trauma lives in the experience (not the event). When trauma occurs, it overwhelms the system and we are not able to process everything that happened. Our primitive brain takes over and if we are unable to fight or flee to escape the situation, we shut down to survive. Once here, our nervous system makes it difficult to get out. We lose track of the details making it challenging to recall what happened later. Traumatic experiences get stored at a sensory, visceral, and often nonverbal level in our implicit memory. It puts a lot of stress on the mind-body system, it is exhausting and inevitably is not sustainable.

These stresses often show themselves in the form of:

  • Nightmares

  • Flashbacks

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Irritability

  • Phobias

  • Panic Attacks

  • Isolation

It is often difficult to connect these symptoms back to the original trauma, which can be confusing as to where they are coming from.

Adding to that, the outside world is generally obsessed with what happened and constantly looking for details of the events, But trauma lives in the response not the event, in the sensory/ somatic experience not our verbalized thoughts. Which often triggers feelings of shame, isolation, confusion and even make one feel crazy following trauma. So, simply talking about it won’t make it go away. As long as the memories or experiences are suspended in implicit memory they cannot be fully let go.

BSP and Counseling Goals

A primary goal of counseling is to support clients to move from dysregulation to regulation, from imbalance to homeostasis, from emotional stress to emotional healing. When mapping regulation in the brain and body, it appears the process of Brainspotting directly accesses the parts of the brain associated with regulation including the agranular isocortex (ventromedial, orbitofrontal, and anterior prefrontal cortex) and the limbic cortex or allocortex.

To this end, in the process of regulation and healing, Brainspotting accesses the:

  • subcortical regions of the brain

  • right brain

  • limbic system

  • brain stem (midbrain)

It allows for processing down in the reflexive core of the brain stem and spine reaching into the deepest subcortical regions of the brain. In doing so it combines physiological sensory activation with emotional processing. It reaches deep down where the heart of trauma is stored in the unconscious. It is not focused on thoughts, thinking, or analyzing as all of this inhibits flow of deep limbic, brainstem experiences and are not involved in regulation.

Another way it helps move from dysregulation to regulation is through the mindful presence of the therapist. Research shows that the safe, caring support of another person moves us into the part of our brain-body connection for healing. The BSP dual attunement frame activates regulation by supporting clients to re-consolidate traumatic energy and memory and move into greater homeostasis. It is through the safety and compassionate presence of the therapist that implicit memory becomes activated and can be moved into explicit memory.

It is further theorized that through the use of the pointer, traveling down the optic nerves, clients access the visual layer of the superior colliculi in the midbrain. The pointer becomes a resource anchor that provides a sense of stabilization and safety and allows the brain to stop scanning the room.

As part of our survival instinct, our brain is constantly scanning our environment and adjusting accordingly to ensure our safety and equilibrium. The pointer along with the presence of the therapist refocus this self-scanning tendency from external to internal. From here the client can use the massive power of their brain to self-scan, identify, and heal unresolved imbalances.

Beyond Traditional Talk Therapy

**warning: a lot of neuroscience below 😊**

Conversely, cognitive based approaches activate the part of the brain associated with higher order thinking called the neocortex or granular isocortex which is not associated with regulation. Question asking, processing, and analyzing are part of the executive processing systems of the neocortex. These functions do have their place in therapy, BSP is concerned with information found in the midbrain and nervous system. This is where trauma, emotional stress, habits, repetitive patterns, sensory experiences are stored. These are not easily reached through cognitive processing alone.

The midbrain, in fact, drives the frontal lobes or the neocortex and is at the root of why we do what we do and our overall health. Like a tree, unresolved trauma lives in the roots and dramatically impacts the overall health of the tree. If you pull all the leaves off or chop the branches down, it will not stop the tree from growing back especially given the right circumstances that allow the tree to grow but its health and ability to thrive will always be in question until the roots are treated.

The midbrain is the seat of changing any habits, patterns, and traumatic experiences. This is especially important given 80% of the information coming into the brain is sensory or rooted in our five senses and void of language, cognition, and verbalized experience. Only 20% is based on what is already stored in our brain and able to be processed with our thoughts and cognition. Thus traditional talk therapy does not allow us to access the majority of what is happening in the brain and how we store our experience.

Though I would love to have a client provide insight to their experience it is legally prohibited. However, here is a young woman who experienced BSP to address her past childhood abuse. Here is her experience...

Here is one more testimonial from a male experiencing PTSD and Depression. His experience is raw and he talks about the difficulty it is to travel into those uncharted territories of your brain. Though difficult, he express the his gratitude and thirst for the benefits.

To Sum it ALL Up!

Many traditional therapies work from a top-down where thoughts are used to change feelings, behaviors, and experiences. Which rely on the upper part of the brain (neocortex) which you could consider is the youngest part of your brain as it is the last to fully mature, to manage and alter the inner and more primitive parts of the brain. As a result, the success of a top-down approach depends upon a client’s ability to analyze, narrate, and verbally process their thoughts and feelings. (Basically it depends on you to already be connected in someway with your thoughts and emotions.)

BSP, however; follows the bottom-up model where the inner brain sends information and experiences up through the limbic system for release and into the neocortex for processing. Given that stressful and traumatic experiences are stored through our sensory, nonverbal experience a this model is essential in the healing process. Brainspotting engages our innate drive to release sensory, residue or unresolved experiences and opens us up to new insights, equilibrium, regulation, and improved overall wellness. As more information comes up and out, more room is created for new insights and expansion. BSP has a reputation for offering swift and often rapid relief to longstanding challenges.

The following is a list of issues that I have experiences with treating and BSP has been proven effective with. This is not a complete list and only reflects my areas of expertise as a practicing therapist.

  • PTSD and Complex trauma

  • Developmental trauma

  • Self-sabotage

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • ADHD

  • Relationship issues

  • Anger and emotional regulation

  • History of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

  • Low self-esteem

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