the evolution of brainspotting

June 12th, 2018

When I finished graduate school in the early 90’s, there was a shortage of clinical tools to effectively treat trauma. Many times, clients would share their stories of anguish, and instead of feeling better, they would end up feeling worse. As a newer therapist, I felt helpless alongside my clients as we often hit a wall together.

Most of my clients came to my office with a history of some type of trauma, whether they knew it or not. Sometimes they would experience relief, but more times than not, we would end up feeling stuck. In the 90’s, a tremendous paradigm shift began that changed the way many therapists now look at trauma. With the introduction of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) developed by Francine Shapiro and SE (Somatic Experiencing) created by Peter Levine, trauma healing and the regulation of the nervous system became center stage.

In 2003, a New York psychologist named David Grand founded Brainspotting, and this brain-body approach added a brand-new dimension to the trauma healing community. Because I come from a “talk therapy” background, I never envisioned myself doing “somatic therapy”, but for my clients and my practice, it’s been transformative.

Several years ago, some of my favorite colleagues completed the SE training, and I witnessed their practices and their nervous systems change. So I registered for the first weekend module, and three years later, I became certified in SE and finally felt more equipped to effectively work with the nervous systems of my clients.

More recently, Brainspotting was strongly recommended to me so I added this to my somatic toolbox. On a flight to the East Coast, I read the book Brainspotting written by Dr. Grand, and I was convinced. He was an early proponent of EMDR until he stumbled upon Brainspotting which utilizes a fixed point of processing rather than eye movement. For more information, visit www.brainspottinglosangeles.org. Dr. Grand found out that “where you look affects how you feel,” and his approach utilizing the visual field created an exciting, new tool to complement SE.

Brainspotting, a user-friendly book by Dr. Grand, is recommended for both therapists and clients. Now that I’ve been utilizing Brainspotting with my clients for a few years, I see the tremendous healing my clients experience. So what exactly is Brainspotting?

With brain-body based therapies, you’ll find an opportunity to build somatic awareness and to regulate your nervous system. As a result, you’ll gain greater capacity to feel more like yourself more of the time and address all kinds of mental health challenges.

Talk therapy engages your neocortex–your thinking, conscious brain–while somatic therapy (e.g. Brainspotting and SE) accesses your subcortical system where trauma and distress is often stored. Current research in neuroscience reveals that painful memories can get stuck in the non-verbal, non-cognitive subcortical brain which gets in the way of living fully in the here and now. In other words, if an event is too much to process at the time, it gets shelved in the subcortex. Brainspotting harnesses the brain’s natural healing process by utilizing the visual field to accelerate healing.

In addition to specific and developmental trauma, Brainspotting has also shown effectiveness with issues such as:
• anxiety — including OCD, panic attacks and phobias
• depression
• addictive & compulsive behaviors
• unprocessed grief
• chronic pain and injuries
• creativity and performance blocks

Dysregulation describes the disruption of the nervous system: up-regulation refers to internal states such as panic attacks or rage, and down-regulation refers to internal states such as depression or dissociation. Either way, it’s an imbalance in the nervous system, one of the greatest challenges in our culture because dysregulation often becomes the norm.

Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing and author of Waking the Tiger reminds us that any disturbance to the nervous system requires focused attention to regulate once again. When you’re dysregulated most of the time, you’re more likely to develop persistent, systemic symptoms such as fibromyalgia, migraines or irritable bowel syndrome.

Somatic therapies offer portable tools such as tracking sensations, grounding and orienting to help you build nervous system awareness. The nervous system is divided into two parts —the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch tells you when to fight, flee or freeze, and the parasympathetic system focuses on resting and digesting.

When your nervous system becomes over-activated or under-activated, your inner state tries to find its equilibrium. When you feel dysregulated, it’s understandable that you want to do anything to get out of emotional pain. You’ll start to look for more ways to escape painful feelings, and the cycle continues.
In order for balance and regulation to become a safe, productive choice, you’ll need to experience resiliency and buoyancy as pleasurable, and it needs to become a daily self-regulation practice. You might begin with meditation, journaling or spending quality time with your pet.

Finding your way back to a regulated state more efficiently is a powerful antidote to dysregulation. From a regulated state, you’ll experience deeper contact with yourself and others. On the other hand, dysregulation results in isolation and disconnection. Because humans are biologically-wired for connection, regular contact with emotionally-dependable people is a key toward intimacy, deeper connection and mutual regulation.

If you’re interested in more detailed information about SE or Brainspotting, visit www.brainspotting.com or www.traumahealing.com. On these websites, you’ll find directories with certified practitioners in your area. And you’ll be on your way to a cutting-edge approach to trauma healing and more.

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