Brainspotting (BSP) is a form of alternative therapy used in the treatment of mental disorders, specifically those stemming from trauma. It was discovered in 2003 by psychotherapist David Grand and is based on observations about certain areas of the brain activating in the instance of trauma.
As technology continues to advance, so does our access to information. This can include innovations in healthcare, such as new and emerging therapy treatments. With that, brainspotting has emerged as an innovation in the field of mental health treatment.
While brainspotting therapy has been around for nearly two decades, it still provides a new and unique method of treatment through psychophysiology. It can help target disorders or illnesses that other treatment methods may not be beneficial in treating.
The key idea of BSP is that trauma is both a mental and physical pathology that can be witnessed not only through behaviors, but through the physical makeup of the brain. For BSP in particular, this form of alternative therapy stems from the idea that trauma is connected to the position of the eye – more specifically, where the individual is looking.1
Many studies demonstrate how the eyes and their movement are connected to the brain and its
function, including cognitive processes. Dr. Grand expanded on this topic and connected it to mental disorders that form as the result of trauma. As a result, he was able to observe how utilizing different eye movements or focusing on certain areas in the field of vision can access the subcortical part of the brain, which helps to access unprocessed trauma.2
Because BSP relies on a medical professional to be able to find the specific eye positions that best connect to unprocessed trauma, it is important to be able to identify the brainspots. There are two methods used to help identify these areas of connection: “inside windows” and “outside windows.”3
Inside windows rely on the patient to explain how they feel during the preliminary assessment. The medical professional conducting BSP may ask the patient questions while paying attention to the movement of one or both eyes. At certain times, especially if a change is noticed in the patient’s demeanor, the medical professional guiding the session may ask the patient to describe how they’re feeling.
At a glance, there are many similarities between brainspotting and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Both rely on eye movements in the alternative treatment of trauma and anxiety.4
However, the two therapies aren’t the same. While EMDR focuses on doctor-guided movements, brainspotting is more organic in that the patient moves their eyes naturally, with the medical professional taking notes and making connections through the inside and outside windows.
While brainspotting isn’t necessarily harmful in a way that a patient would experience physical side effects as they do with medication, it’s much like any other form of therapy in that it is not without its risks.
There are two main risks when it comes to brainspotting: relapse and rapid onset of mental disorders.
Since brainspotting taps into the portion of the brain where unprocessed trauma may be, it can result in some strong emotions that may be overwhelming for some patients.
This can be especially dangerous for those working through recovery from substance use disorders or similar conditions, as it can lead to relapse, which is why BSP isn’t often the first step in recovery from trauma. Instead, it is most often used after other methods have reached a plateau in healing or in combination with other treatment methods after some healing has been achieved by the patient.
However, this sudden surge of distressing emotions can also result in the rapid onset of mental disorders. Oftentimes, with intense trauma, the mind is able to suppress the full effects of undergoing such a distressing event. However, BSP can cause these memories to resurface vividly, which acts much like a fresh wound. Patients may experience increased anxiety or depression.
While this can be unsettling, continued therapy can help alleviate these new symptoms and result in an overall greater breakthrough in processing unresolved trauma.