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Trauma is something that impacts approximately 70% of all Americans. When we experience a traumatic event, our brains quickly become highly disorganized. The regular brain function we are used to is interrupted and we transform into survival mode. Going into survival mode refers to more than just fight or flight, as it occurs when areas of the brain that are responsible for reasoning freeze up. That stress response can change the overall function of the brain for the rest of our lives. This is what happens when we experience trauma.

How Brainspotting Can Help With Trauma

Having one or more trauma events occur within your lifetime can complicate your life in a number of ways. You may begin to develop symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, or of other anxiety disorders. People who have lived through trauma often have symptoms such as hypervigilance, panic, excessive worrying, and problems sleeping. These symptoms, plus others, can make living that day-to-day life much more difficult that it has to be. Of course, trauma can be treated and has been for decades, but with the expansion of more specific techniques, more people can benefit and begin healing. One of those techniques is brainspotting.

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a type of psychotherapy where a therapist utilizes fixed eye positions to help clients process deep-seeded trauma. The process of conducting a brainspotting sessions includes the following steps:

  • The client’s concern is brought to the forefront
  • The therapist helps the client identify physical feelings related to the concern
  • The therapist leads by guiding the client’s thoughts
  • The client shares when they experience increased or decreased negative feelings
  • The therapist has the client focus their vision on stimuli when they are experiencing their most upsetting thoughts and emotions
  • The client shares when they experience increased or decreased negative feelings
  • The therapist has the client focus their vision on stimuli when they are experiencing their most upsetting thoughts and emotions
Brainspotting is conducted in this one-on-one setting while the therapist utilizes only one stable form of stimuli to help guide the client through the traumatic experience.

Is Brainspotting Effective?

Brainspotting, which is similar in many ways to somatic experiencing (where individuals focus on recalling their trauma in an effort to alter their physical responses to it rather than their emotional responses), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and hypnosis, has been studied and proven to be highly effective in treating symptoms related to trauma. 

This specific type of trauma treatment has been proven effective by helping reduce the following issues in clients:

  • Difficulty with experiencing a “breakthrough” in other forms of therapy
  • Active substance use disorders
  • Issues regarding feeling intense depression or anxiety that have not been resolved
  • A history of relapsing in the face of stressful or overwhelming situations

Brainspotting has been as effective as it has been because it combines elements from somatic experiencing and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Somatic experiencing, in short, utilizes triggers to help clients work through their trauma, while EMDR utilizes rapid light, sound, and touch.

What Happens After Brainspotting?

It is common for people to participate in 2-3 brainspotting sessions, but some engage in many more. Once sessions are complete, however, clients have likely gained many new skills that benefit them in their everyday lives. 

When brainspotting has commenced, some of the skills that have been most sharply developed include the following:

  • Lack of fear of vulnerability
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Improving self-confidence and awareness
  • Learning how to emotionally release in a healthy way
  • Embracing change

Individuals who have completed brainspotting and who have established these skills can continue to work on them by remaining involved in regular psychotherapy. And, should the need ever arise, brainspotting sessions can be participated in again.

Brainspotting vs. EMDR

Brainspotting and EMDR are similar in a number of ways. In fact, they are more similar than different. Both forms of trauma therapy utilize external stimuli to help recall trauma and address it in the present moment. But the primary difference between the two is the stimuli that is used and in what manner it is used. 

EMDR uses lights, sounds, and tapping to help recall trauma. For example, clients may engage in an EMDR session where they follow a bar of lights as they quickly move from one side to the next, all while recalling trauma. Brainspotting, as mentioned before, utilizes one steady source of stimuli.

The overarching goal of brainspotting is to help clients unlock their subconscious, which is why it is so highly effective in targeting deep-rooted trauma. EMDR works to help alleviate the emotional toll that trauma takes on a person.

Brainspotting Side Effects

Many people can relate to the feeling of being completely exhausted after a regular therapy session. That is because we are working to dredge up issues that influence us in negative ways. Well, brainspotting is not much different in that respect. Clients who participate in brainspotting can feel the same level of being emotionally exhausted as post-therapy, but even more so. It is also common to have a sense of mental fog, delayed speech, and even lightheadedness. Most notably, however, is that those who complete a brainspotting session tend to be emotional afterward, which can make them more sensitive to their surroundings.

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