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Brainspotting

Meet Think Happy Live Healthy’s brainspotting-trained expert therapist, Aspen Starbird, a social work resident therapist who works predominantly with anxiety and trauma.

Brainspotting is a focused-mindfulness approach to trauma therapy that uses neurological connections between the patient’s visual field and powerful emotions & traumas stored in the subconscious to help process these unresolved experiences.

What is brainspotting?  

Unlike traditional talk therapy, brainspotting ‘locates’ the patient’s unprocessed trauma through different eye positions in one’s visual field and then helps clear, or process, this trauma. Developments in neuroscience suggest trauma creates “brainspots” in our vision that are connected to deeper, inner emotional experiences that can impact our own emotional regulation. Brainspotting may be groundbreaking for individuals who haven’t been able to find success in other forms of therapy because brainspotting can easily access trauma stored in all areas of the brain, while talk therapies can only impact trauma stored in specific areas of the brain. Brainspotting also allows individuals to process all types of trauma within a short time frame because it is a fast-paced modality that holds long-term results. 

Who can benefit from brainspotting?

 

Brainspotting has shown to impact:

·  All types of trauma

·  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

·  Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

·  Depressive Syndromes

·  Addiction

·  Chronic Pain

·  Emotional Dysregulation (ex: anger problems)

·  Persistent Fatigue

·  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

·  Pre-verbal attachment issues

 

 Brainspotting can also work with broader issues impacting your life. This includes low motivation, a lack of self-worth, and shame. Brainspotting may be more profound for individuals who struggle to verbally describe their trauma/negative emotions because brainspotting incorporates a “free form” format in which patients are not required to talk about an issue in order to process it.  In other words, for brainspotting you do not need to outwardly disclose details about the event or issue in order for this technique to work. 

 

 What does a brainspotting session look like? 

 

Think Happy Live Healthy’s current brainspotting-trained expert therapist is Aspen Starbird, a social work resident therapist who works predominantly with anxiety and trauma. When you first come into the session, Aspen will ask you what issue you want to work on. You, as the client, can share as little or as much as you wish. As Aspen better understands the general issue, she will ask where in your body you feel this issue. For example: “do you feel it in your stomach? Does your chest get tight? Do you feel your jaw get tense?” As you connect the physical sensations to the emotional problem, you will be asked from a level of 0-10, how intense these sensations are. 

 

Next, Aspen will find the brainspot in your vision where you feel this sensation the most intensely. Aspen will do this by using a pointer across your visual field horizontally, and ask you when these activations feel more intense as your eyes follow the pointer. After you indicate what area in the horizontal field you feel the sensations the most, she will take the pointer “up and down” and try to find it on your vertical field. Once the most intense spot is located on both the horizontal and vertical axis, you will focus on this spot for a long time. As you focus on this spot in your vision, it is your choice if you wish for Aspen to talk to you during this process or if you would rather process this spot in silence. Aspen may check in with you occasionally by asking how you are and ask you how intensely you are feeling while staring on the spot. Towards the end of the process, she will ask you to check in with you in order to bring you back into the present. 

 

While you’re focusing on your spot after identifying it, it may be recommended to listen to bilateral music to better “attune” to the process. This music is not required, but it may be recommended if you struggle to get deeper into the process.

 

If you are still unsure of how this process may work, you can find a demonstration here (by 

The UPsychle):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FO_udVWkqA


 

Who qualifies for brainspotting?

 

Brainspotting can be used on both adolescents and adults. The only requirement for brainspotting is for you to be in knowledge of the feelings occurring in your body when you think of the issue that is bothering you. Does your stomach get twisted? Does your chest get tight? Do you feel your body get tense? We call these symptoms “activations” and they’re necessary for the brainspotting process. 

 

Brainspotting may not be recommended for individuals diagnosed with personality disorders diagnosed by a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. If you experience a diagnosed personality disorder, this procedure may not be recommended for you.

 

Do you have to be in-person?

 

Brainspotting can be done virtually just as easily as in person. If you prefer a virtual session, you will need a room to yourself for the session to take place in without any interruptions. You will also need a laptop with Zoom and a well-lit space to sit in where the therapist can easily observe your eye movements. If you are in a home where there may be disruptions, it’s recommended to schedule your session during a quiet time for the rest of the household and to make it a priority to minimize the noises around you during your session in order to reduce distractions and increase the mindfulness in the session.

 

How many sessions does it take?

 

Brainspotting normally only requires 1-3 sessions for an issue to be processed. Unlike other modalities, brainspotting is a fairly fast treatment process. Additionally, the processing of the issue doesn’t just occur during the session time – some individuals have noted that they continue to process their item throughout the following days, increasing the efficacy of brainspotting.  

 

 While brainspotting may allow you to obtain the emotional regulation needed to overcome fears and negative emotions blocking you from your ultimate potential, brainspotting does not give you new concrete skills to solve problems. After brainspotting treatment, it may still be recommended for you to seek a regular psychotherapist that can teach you solution-oriented or skill-oriented practices that helps you solve future problems. This often entails cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. 

 

Are there any negative consequences to doing brainspotting?

 

The long-term effects of brainspotting are still at this time being learned by researchers and therapists; however, brainspotting is often preferred by patients due to the low frequency of reported side effects. No severe side effects have been documented to date associated with brainspotting, and individuals concerned by the possibility of re-traumatization find brainspotting to be easier due to the fluidity of this practice, especially if they haven’t found previous success in practices such as EMDR or talk therapy.

How much do sessions cost?

 

A brainspotting session ranges from $175-$195. 

 

Okay. But where is the peer-reviewed research that concludes that brainspotting is a successful treatment long-term? 

 

Brainspotting was found to be the most long-term effective treatment for Sandy Hook Survivors and was the most effective treatment compared to other trauma-based treatments (ex: EMDR, MNRI, Somatic Experiences, traditional talk therapy, etc.):

http://www.nshcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016-NSHCF-Community-Assessment-Report.pdf

 

Brainspotting has also been superior with PTSD-diagnosed patients or patients who indicate having trauma, compared to modalities like EMDR or reprocessing. It also showed to reduce anxiety and depression:

 http://cab.unime.it/journals/index.php/MJCP/article/viewFile/1376/pdf_2

 

Brainspotting has also been shown to reduce anger problems: 

https://www.proquest.com/docview/2478071393?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true

 

For more developing research on brainspotting, you can find other peer-reviewed articles on the Brainspotting website:

https://brainspotting.com/about-bsp/research-and-case-studies/