Brainspotting is a relatively new model of psychotherapy to help individuals overcome trauma.

Dr. David Grand founded brainspotting in 2003 after working with individuals who experienced trauma during Hurricane Katrina and the devastating tragedy at the World Trade Center.

Brainspotting is based on the theory that the brain can heal itself through eye movements.

Sound strange? Well, the eyes are part of the central nervous system.

It is believed that certain eye movements have the potential to release traumatic associations that are stored in the brain.

How Trauma Affects The Brain

Traumatic experiences such as natural disasters, sexual abuse, neglect, war zones, and injuries are stored in the brain.

Over time, we use defense mechanisms to suppress the memories and emotions associated with these traumatic experiences.

However, these emotions and memories may re-surface when we’re reminded of these traumatic events.

These memories can come back as unexpected nightmares or flashbacks, and can greatly influence our quality of life.

What Happens In A Brainspotting Session?

A therapist will use their finger to slowly guide the client’s gaze across the length of their visual field until a brainspot is identified.

This eye position will produce traumatic or emotional memories that will present with slight physical reflexes.

These include blinking, changes in facial expression, pupillary changes, foot movement, yawning, or coughing.

These physical reflexes alert the therapist that their client is having a somatosensory experience related to their past traumatic event.

The therapist will then ask the client to hold that eye position while asking them about their current emotional state.

The goal is to be able to openly feel and discuss the spontaneous emotions associated with the traumatic event in a safe space.

When these emotions are worked through, the brain will no longer connect the overwhelming emotions with past traumatic events.

Can Brainspotting Help Me?

Brainspotting can be used to treat individuals with a history of trauma who struggle with the following disorders:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders (including GAD)
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Chronic pain disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Phobias

EMDR Versus Brainspotting

Brainspotting is similar to a technique founded in 1989, known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR, similar to brainspotting, is a trauma therapy approach that uses bilateral (side-to-side) eye movements to target negative emotions in the brain associated with past traumatic experiences.

The client will experience the emotions associated with a traumatic memory as the therapist uses an external stimulus to elicit bilateral eye movement in the client.

After each set of bilateral eye movements, the therapist will ask the client how they feel and work through the negative emotions.

Eventually, they will be less powerfully associated with the past traumatic event.

Both brainspotting and EMDR use eye movements to re-process negative emotions associated with trauma and to retrain these emotions into neutral or positive thoughts.

Both of these trauma-focused therapy interventions work to access deeply rooted somatic and emotional traumatic memories that are often stored in the subconscious.

The main difference between the two techniques is the specific procedure. Brainspotting allows the client to discover the specific eye position that induces negative emotions and memories.

Once the client has discovered this brainspot, the therapist will encourage them to process and release these negative emotions.

In a sense, the client initiates these memories and emotions, while the therapist activates the brain pathways to recovery.

In EMDR, the therapist guides the client through a series of repetitive steps to re-experience the negative memories and emotions.

While undergoing these repetitive steps, the therapist uses bilateral eye stimulation as a way to re-process these memories.

EMDR is a more structured and focused therapy compared to brainspotting. Brainspotting is more fluid and adaptable, and each technique may have different results, depending on the client.

The Bottom Line

Both EMDR and brainspotting are extremely useful in addressing trauma. If PTSD is taking over your life, AKUA can design a treatment program specifically for you and your needs.

Call 888-336-7510 any time to speak with an admissions counsellor about your individual situation.

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