What Is Brainspotting Therapy?
My friend and colleague, Lorren Siu, is a Brainspotting therapist. Sometimes when I feel like talk therapy alone isn’t enough to help my clients, I work with Lorren collaboratively and simultaneously using Brainspotting to work through some of the issues that are difficult to make conscious and talk about. Here, Lorren goes more in depth into what Brainspotting is and you can find more info on her website: lorrensiucounseling.com
What Is Brainspotting Therapy?
How Trauma Affects Us
We experience trauma when we are subjected to something our nervous system finds overwhelming. When overwhelmed, our nervous system signals other parts of our brains and bodies to shut down and go offline. This is a normal reaction that keeps us alive during these situations. When our body cannot fight off what is happening or run away from the danger, it freezes. To minimize damage, our brain turns off or slows down various functions for a time. Ideally, once we are safe, all of our brain comes back online again, and we can move forward with life.
The problem comes when we are subjected to overwhelming experiences over and over again, we do not have safety to return to, or we do not have the chance to process the trauma safely afterward. When one or more of the above is true, our nervous system can get stuck in freeze mode and become overactive, watching for reasons to go to freeze mode. Our nervous system works hard to keep us safe. However, when we become stuck in the trauma(s) that we have experienced, our world is no longer safe. Our nervous system does the best it can with what it knows, but if too much of what it knows is feeling unsafe, its efforts to achieve safety can leave us like zombies who are a shell of what we once were.
Why Brainspotting Works
This is where Brainspotting comes in. Brainspotting allows your nervous system to process what it went through in a safe environment. It gives your brain and body the signal that they are safe again and gives your nervous system the ok to stop watching so closely for danger. Essentially, it is a chance for your nervous system to reset – to get unstuck. Talking about what happened will not help us move back into normal functioning when we become stuck in freeze mode. Brainspotting goes deeper than the cognitive part of your brain (where speech comes from) and taps into the part of the nervous system that stores trauma memories and our automatic reactions. This allows those memories and our responses to be released from the hold they have been stuck in.
An essential piece of Brainspotting, and any trauma therapy, is a relationship of safety that the therapist offers you. Without being and feeling safe, you will be unable to rewrite the parts of your nervous system that need to come out of freeze and into healthy functioning. We constantly take in signals of safety and danger, and one way our brains assess safety is through our interactions with those around us. When we are stuck in “the world is unsafe, and I am in danger,” having someone not in that mode helps our brains start to relax. We call this co-regulation. When working through past traumas, it is vital that you feel safe with your therapist.
.Along with co-regulation, where you look during Brainspotting is also crucial. Because of the way our bodies and brains hold onto trauma memories, when we are in the right state of mind looking at a particular spot can help our brains access those memories. So, finding specific places to look as your therapist guides you and helping your nervous system remember that it is safe helps your nervous system begin to let go of being stuck in freeze and start to remember the feeling of being safe instead. This is how we reset our nervous systems and bring them back into healthy functioning.
What Brainspotting Therapy Looks Like
Brainspotting is unique because there is no exact formula for how to do it. There are no rigid steps the therapist has to walk you through to start healing your nervous system. Instead, Brainspotting utilizes the opportunity for co-regulation between you and the therapist and the guidance of your therapist to help you process trauma in a way that gives your body and brain the chance to connect their experiences and align their current mode back to safety. All that to say, it is impossible to tell you here exactly what a Brainspotting session will look like, but I can tell you a few things that might occur.
Once you feel safe and are ready to begin the Brainspotting, your therapist will determine which type of Brainspotting is best for you that day. You may listen to bilateral music during the session to help you connect with the parts of your nervous system that hold the trauma. Your therapist may use a pointer to help you find a spot to look at as you process, or you may just look around the space you are in. Your therapist will help you identify what to focus on in that session and help you notice and connect with what you are experiencing in your body in response to your identified focus. From there, you will work with your therapist to find the spot to look at, and they will guide you through processing, being mindful of how you are experiencing the processing and any need for changes and adjustments along the way. Once you are done processing, or when the session time is coming to a close, your therapist will help you wrap up your Brainspotting session and prepare for returning to your everyday life.
Who Brainspotting Helps
If you suspect you may be stuck in freeze mode or know you have past experiences that continue to affect you in unhealthy ways, Brainspotting may be an effective way to move forward. Along with being a powerfully effective way to heal from trauma, Brainspotting is also effective for treating anxiety, constant overthinking, negative thinking patterns, unhealthy relationship patterns, and creative blocks.