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  • Elizabeth Collins

Heal Your Brain and Master Your Mind with Brainspotting


At Ananda, most clients will have regular brainspotting sessions included in their therapy program. Brainspotting is a powerful and efficient tool which works with the brain’s natural healing processes. It holds a space where the mind can reorganize itself in relation to a client’s identified problems. The process itself appears simple to the outside observer, but the internal effects are profound. In the brainspotting process, the brain literally restructures itself as it revisits life experiences from a current adult perspective.


The process was discovered by David Grand PhD, an early practitioner of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). While experimenting with the EMDR protocols, he discovered that where we look affects how we feel. In other words, the position of our eyes affects what we feel in our body (called somatic sensations). These somatic ‘feelings’ or emotions are actually our memories and are the entry point of all brainspotting sessions.


This is radically different from traditional therapy. The starting point for talk therapy is the gathering of a detailed account of a client’s past. Effective talk therapy relies heavily on 1) the client being a reliable reporter, 2) the client having access to memories, and 3) a skilled, competent therapist. The ingredients required for effective brainspotting therapy are easier to gather together. Effective brainspotting requires 1) a client 2) an emotion 3) a therapist who can keep their mouth shut.


In brainspotting, many are surprised to discover that an effective brainspotting session sometimes proceeds with minimal talking -- indeed many sessions proceed silently. Talking can only get us so far, as it engages only the region of the brain that is uniquely human and responsible for executive planning, analysis, and conscious thought. This region of the brain does not have access to life experiences prior to the formation of memories. Unlike talk therapy, brainspotting bypasses the frontal lobes of the brain responsible for executive functioning and engages the mid-region of our brain (known as the mammalian brain, responsible for subconscious emotions & memory) and the lowest region of our brain (known as the reptilian brain, responsible for basic bodily functions such as heart rate & breathing). It is in these nonverbal regions where relational attachment, emotional bonding, impulse, and the instinct to survive and reproduce lives. In essence, brainspotting has access to the core operating system of our being. When our operating system heals, change is effortless because our mind is no longer fighting against itself. What we know to be true is also felt to be true: our impulse is now in line with our intent.


WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A BRAINSPOTTING SESSION


An outline of a brainspotting session is as follows. The client reports to the therapist how they felt the previous week in relation to their therapy goals. For example, a client may say “I’ve just been really worried and stressed about how things are going." The client is then guided by a trained therapist in activating and locating the physical sensations (somatic target) of worry and stress. Is it a tightness in their shoulders? A knot in their stomach? Racing thoughts? For this example, let’s say the client reports tightness in his shoulders when thinking about the worries and stress. Next the client is asked to rate the intensity of that emotional activation in his shoulders on a scale of 0-10. Let’s say the client scores it as a 5. Then, by skillfully manipulating the client’s eye positions, the therapist helps the client locate eye positions that both increase and decrease the activation level of the somatic target. One or more eye positions (brainspots) are then chosen to work with, at which point the therapist then guides the client into the Brainspotting process.


It is here where words are unnecessary. The client is encouraged to place himself in the observer seat and just notice what happens as he hovers on the chosen brainspots. In doing so the client has bypassed the intellectual and analytical regions of the brain where traditional talk therapy lives and is now experiencing the reorganization of the brain in relation to stress and worry. It is a bit like going on a roller coaster ride. The client will experience periods of increased activation of emotion, and periods of calm. Physical sensations may come up. Memories may come up. Thoughts and questions may come up, but none are entertained intellectually. The therapist simply continues to encourage the client to remain in this semi-altered space, watching the landscape pass. In doing so, the therapist is holding a space where the client’s mind can efficiently reorganize the mid and lower regions of the brain around optimal functioning.


HOW DO WE KNOW THE BRAIN WILL REORGANIZE ITSELF IN A HELPFUL WAY?


Your body and its various organs and systems know how to regulate and heal themselves. Consider your skin. If it gets cut, it knows how to heal itself. It does not require analysis, insight, rehashing of the original injury, or a clever therapist. It needs to be left alone in a protected space under a bandage, where it can work its miracle. Brainspotting is like a bandage for the brain. It provides the space and time that the mind needs in order to engage in its natural healing processes. "Healed" in brain terms means optimal functioning in support of the brain's two prime directives: survive and reproduce. That is what your brain evolved to do. It does a lot of other cool stuff, but all is in service of the two original directives.


When our brain is functioning optimally, we experience a state of calm awareness. This is the goal of brainspotting -- to move away from the fight (anger and rage), flight (anxiety, panic, and chronic pain) and freeze (depression, numbness, and fatigue) of a triggered false alarm caused by past experiences, and move toward the calm awareness of a mind grounded in, and attending to, only what exists in the present.




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