Treatment for substance addiction, co-occurring disorders, process addictions, and mood conditions might not be effective without taking into account an individual’s full life and experiences. One aspect often overlooked in cookie-cutter approaches is the impact of trauma. Many therapeutic approaches can effectively address trauma, including a relatively new application: brainspotting.
How Trauma Affects the Brain
Even if someone has been in counseling before, they’ve likely not had a chance to work with a psychologist or psychiatrist skilled in the treatment modality of brainspotting. To understand why it might be helpful, we first have to familiarize ourselves with how trauma affects the brain.
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that “proximity to high-intensity traumas can have long lasting effects on the brain and behavior of healthy people without causing a current clinical disorder. But these subtle changes could increase susceptibility to mental health problems later on.”
People who experience sexual abuse, childhood abuse, natural and man-made disasters, and PTSD often suffer with unresolved emotions, negative influences, triggers, and other issues. Trauma affects their whole-being health, especially mental and emotional wellness.
When someone experiences trauma, they often develop a condition called dysregulation, which compromises metabolic, physiological, or psychological process regulation. It’s also one reason why a person struggling with trauma might choose unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as self-medicating, engaging in risky behaviors, avoiding therapeutic care, and others.
What Is Brainspotting?
Developer and psychotherapist David Grand describes the modality this way: “Brainspotting works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems within the body’s central nervous system. Brainspotting is accordingly a physiological tool/treatment which has profound psychological, emotional, and physical consequences.”
In his books, Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change and Emotional Healing at Warp Speed, Grand describes how he developed the treatment from his work with the therapeutic tool of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to incorporate a similar form of a brain-based approach combined with talk therapy.
Expanding on EMDR, brainspotting uses eye focusing to reprogram neural responses to aspects of anxiety, addiction, chronic pain, depression, PTSD, and trauma. Think of the effects of these conditions like a car on an endless loop of a racetrack: a person’s brain will follow the same track repeatedly unless given an opportunity to switch.
Grand trains therapists to help clients with the process of self-scanning to “activate, locate, and process the sources of trauma and distress in the body.” This helps deescalate the effects and symptoms of the condition and allows an individual more control over reactions.
How Brainspotting Works
Considered one of “power therapies” that tap into aspects of somatic experiencing, brainspotting has been used with survivors of the 9/11 attacks, with military personnel returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with individuals in conflict areas such as Israel, Northern Ireland, and other regions.
According to Grand, a “brain spot” is “the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain, most likely in the amygdala, the hippocampus, or the orbitofrontal cortex of the limbic system. Located by eye position, paired with externally-observed and internally-experienced reflexive responses, a brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem holding emotional experience in memory form.”
Each of these areas of the brain is connected to emotions, memories, and behaviors, so, going back to our analogy, brainspotting helps the race car jump from the typical repetitive track and onto a new one to provide a conduit toward healing.
A therapist might lead a client through a brainspotting session in this way:
- An individual is helped to find a “spot” that increases the “felt sense” of an experience (or a spot that reduces over-arousal).
- Then, they’re asked to process those sensations with a dual focus on the spot and body sensations.
- After arousing/processing sensations tied to an event a few times, clients discover new ways to view them.
Again, similar to EMDR, brainspotting preps an individual to break patterns of behavior associated with their present condition, become more resilient to its effects or symptoms, and create a stronger—perhaps even more rapid—response to therapy and healing.
Individualized Care at Cottonwood Tucson
While talk therapy is an exceptional tool for progressive wellness, it’s not the only method. At Cottonwood Tucson in Arizona, our skilled medical team relies on a wide range of therapeutic applications to help an individual experience notable breakthroughs in ways that support their unique and long-lasting recovery journey. To learn more about our multi-level approach, please contact us today.