Brainspotting is an innovative therapy that combines aspects of EMDR, mindfulness, and brain and body-based therapies. It’s based on the belief that certain eye positions can evoke emotions, sensations and memories because they access specific ‘brainspots’ where traumatic memories are stored.1,2,3,4,5 Brainspotting therapy involves one to three sessions of using eye position, mind-body awareness, and mindfulness exercises to help clients overcome issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.2,3,4
What Is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting is a new form of therapy that aims to help clients process through difficult emotions or traumatic experiences. In brainspotting, different eye positions are used to help identify “brainspots” linked to certain experiences, emotions, or sources of distress.2,3,4,5 Once identified, brainspotting therapists use mindfulness techniques to help the client access, experience and process through the thoughts and feelings stored in this brainspot.1,2,4,7
How Does Brainspotting Work?
Researchers don’t fully understand exactly why or how brainspotting is able to help people heal from trauma quickly, but they do have some theories. The developer of brainspotting, Dr. David Grand, believes that eye position and movement correlate to certain places or ‘spots’ in the brain that store traumatic memories.1,5,7 Each person’s brainspot may be different, so the therapist needs to first identify the spot by using a set of eye movement exercises with each client.2
It’s possible that therapies like brainspotting help to access parts of the brain that are difficult to reach through conventional therapy methods. For example, some researchers believe that traumatic memories are stored in the midbrain, a region of the brain that lies beneath the areas related to language and conscious thoughts.4,5,7 While eye position is used to access the traumatic memory, brainspotting also involves using mindful awareness to process these memories and emotions in the body.2,3,8,9
How Is Brainspotting Different From EMDR?
While brainspotting originated from EMDR, it is considered a separate practice. For both brainspotting and EMDR, the eye is used as the access point for trauma and difficult emotions. Brainspotting actually developed out of an EMDR session in 2003, when Dr. David Grand noticed his client’s trauma emerged when their eye position was fixed in a specific position. Curious, Dr. Grand looked for this pattern with other EMDR clients and found that each patient had a specific spot where they could fix their eyes and more easily access traumatic memories and emotions.1,2
Some of the key differences between brainspotting and EMDR are:2,3,5
- Brainspotting involves keeping the eye in a fixed position to focus on one spot of the brain, while EMDR involves side-to-side eye movement to stimulate both sides of the brain
- Brainspotting is a newer therapy and has less research than EMDR to prove it is effective, but some recent studies comparing the two showed similar rates of improvement for adults with PTSD symptoms
- EMDR and brainspotting are both effective short term therapies (1-3 sessions) for trauma, but one study found brainspotting treated clients improved on their own in 6 month period after their final session
- There are more EMDR trained therapists (since brainspotting is a newer type of trauma therapy), making it easier to find EMDR treatment
What Can Brainspotting Help With?
Originally, brainspotting was developed as a trauma treatment, but has since been expanded to be used for depression and anxiety disorders.2,6
More research needs to be conducted to fully understand the benefits and uses of brainspotting therapy, but early research indicates that it can help people struggling with:1,2,3,5,6
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex trauma
- Attachment issues stemming from childhood trauma
- Dissociative disorders
- Emotion regulation problems including anger issues or mood swings
- Symptoms of depression or sadness
- Anxiety disorders or phobias
- Substance use disorders or addictions
Risks & Dangers of Brainspotting
One of the upsides of brainspotting is that there aren’t any major risks associated with it. Unlike medications, brainspotting is unlikely to cause any adverse effects on your body, brain, or mental health. The main risk of brainspotting is that during sessions, it is likely that you will experience intense, difficult, and unpleasant emotions related to traumatic memories or experiences.2
Is Brainspotting Effective?
Alternative mind and body trauma therapies like EMDR, EFT, somatic experiencing, and brainspotting were once viewed as “fringe,” but more research has been done to suggest that these treatments are effective. In fact, most of these therapies are even listed as “Evidence Based Practices” for trauma by the APA, but there isn’t currently enough research about brainspotting to include it on this list.8,9
Brainspotting was developed in 2003, so more research is still needed to fully understand its effectiveness for treating trauma and other mental health disorders.1,2 Still, early studies have found that brainspotting is as effective as EMDR in treating PTSD, and can also help some people struggling with anxiety or depression.1,3,4,5
Studies have also found that clients with these disorders can make significant progress in just 1-3 brainspotting sessions, similar to EMDR.3 Other proven trauma therapies like CPT, CBT, and prolonged exposure therapy involve 12 or more sessions.3,8 Also, one study found that people with PTSD who received 3 brainspotting sessions continued to improve in a 6 month follow up period, suggesting long term benefits.3
What To Expect in a Brainspotting Session
Usually, brainspotting is used as a short-term treatment that involves 1-3 sessions that last approximately 60-90 minutes each.2,3 The purpose of a brainspotting session is often to process through difficult memories and emotions, often related to traumatic experiences. Some therapists may combine brainspotting with other types of therapy, or offer to continue long-term talk therapy after brainspotting is completed.2 Still, a brainspotting session with a therapist is often quite different than a ‘traditional’ talk therapy session.
Below is a breakdown of what you might expect during a brainspotting therapy appointment.1,2,4
1. The therapist will build rapport with you before doing brainspotting
Therapists trained in brainspotting are always encouraged to spend time ‘attuning’ to their clients to develop a sense of trust and safety. This may involve talking for the first session or part of the session to get to know you better, answer your questions, and help you feel more at ease.
2. The therapist may use relaxation techniques or guided imagery
Many brainspotting therapists use relaxation techniques like guided imagery or meditations before beginning brainspotting. These exercises are designed to help you feel more at ease and prepared for the difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories that may arise during the session.
3. You will be asked to talk about something that’s upsetting you
While brainspotting uses mind-body interventions, there’s still a component of the treatment that involves talking about what’s upsetting you. This is necessary in order to focus you on a particular problem, issue, or traumatic event you want to resolve.
4. The therapist will ask you to “find” the feelings in your body
Mind-body therapies like brainspotting always work to enhance the mind-body connection by helping clients become more aware of the way their body responds to certain memories. This is why you can expect a brainspotting therapist to ask you to ‘locate’ different emotions in your body and describe what they feel like, and to ‘track’ these inner sensations during the session.
5. The therapist may use a pointer or pencil to help you find your brainspot
The next step in a brainspotting session is often to begin the work of finding your brainspot. The therapist often uses a pointer, pencil, or object and moves it slowly in front of you, asking you to track the object with your eyes. As you do, they will ask you to stop when you notice a strong emotion or difficult memory, and they will also help to monitor your body language to help you find this spot.
6. You will be asked to hold your eyes at this spot and focus inward
Once you find a specific eye position or direction that evokes a strong emotional response or traumatic memory, you will be asked to hold your eyes in that spot. The therapist will ask you to again focus inward on your bodily sensations, as well as any emotions, thoughts, and memories that arise. You can hold the position with your eyes open or closed, and the therapist may instruct you to do both.
7. You will be encouraged to accept, allow, and observe what comes up
Brainspotting involves the use of mindfulness, which means bringing your full awareness to what you’re experiencing in the present moment, even when it’s uncomfortable. The therapist may coach you through this by asking you to open up, make space, or allow these thoughts and feelings to come up.
8. You will be encouraged to let your body process the trauma
Once you find and fixate on a brainspot, it’s normal to experience distress, discomfort, and sensations in your body. A brainspotting therapist will encourage and coach you to fully experience these sensations and feelings, as this is how they believe the trauma can be processed.
9. The therapist will help you process the thoughts and feelings that come up
Many brainspotting therapists reserve time near the end of the session to talk through the experiences you had, including the thoughts, feelings and memories that came up. This time can be used to integrate and make sense of what happened in the session, including any shifts in the way you feel or think about the traumatic or upsetting event you processed.
10. You and the therapist will discuss further treatment (if needed)
Since brainspotting therapy usually only involves 1-3 sessions, many brainspotting therapists end sessions by discussing next steps. They may recommend another brainspotting session or not, but either way you should advocate for what you want. In some instances, treatment will stop after brainspotting and in others, it may continue with the same therapist or a different therapist.
How to Find a Therapist Who Practices Brainspotting
According to the official Brainspotting Training institute, there are currently 13,000 therapists who are trained in this technique. While this might seem like a lot, it may be difficult to find a therapist who specializes in this kind of treatment. Using an online therapist directory to search for therapists with this training can be a good place to start your search.
The Brainspotting Training institute also has a free directory service to help link people to trained brainspotting credentialed therapists. This means that they have gone through the official training to become certified in this technique.2 The cost of sessions varies depending on where you live and the particular costs of the provider, but some therapists will accept insurance to cover some of the costs of brainspotting.
Questions to Ask a brainspotting Therapist Before Scheduling an Appointment
If you’re interested in getting brainspotting therapy, finding a trained or credentialed brainspotting therapist is important, but it’s also essential that the therapist is a good match for you. Most therapists offer free consultation calls or will answer questions via email before scheduling a first appointment. If they do, this can be an excellent time to ask questions and get more information to determine if they are a good fit for your needs.
Some questions you may consider asking a brainspotting therapist include:
- What kind of training or credentialing have you received in brainspotting?
- Do you think brainspotting would be effective for my particular issue or problem?
- Do you integrate other kinds of therapeutic approaches besides brainspotting?
- How many sessions are typically needed and what is the cost (including insurance coverage, if applicable)?
- Do you offer long-term therapy as well after completing brainspotting?
Final Thoughts on Brainspotting
Compared to other trauma therapies, brainspotting is a relatively new mind-body trauma treatment that focuses on eye movement and position, similar to EMDR.1,2,4 More research needs to be conducted to fully understand the effectiveness of brainspotting, but early studies have shown promising results in treating symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression.2,3,5 One major advantage to brainspotting is that it often involves only 1-3 sessions, which is much shorter than other types of therapy used to treat trauma.2
For Further Reading
For those interested in learning more about brainspotting, resources and information can be found at the sites below.
- Learn more about brainspotting on the official website: https://brainspotting.com/
- Read the original book on brainspotting written by the developed Dr. David Grand https://www.amazon.com/Brainspotting-Revolutionary-Therapy-Effective-Change/dp/1604078901
- Watch a Youtube interview with Dr. David Grand on brainspotting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm3Plvaf3UE
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health