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Are there Any Risks or Side Effects for Brainspotting?

Learn about the logistics of brainspotting, relevant side effects, and potential brainspotting risks here.


Article Contents

What is Brainspotting?

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.

How is Brainspotting Used and Identified?

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.”

Inside Windows

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.

Outside Windows

Outside windows are observable changes in the patient during eye movement. This can be subtle, like blinking or eye twitching, or more notable, like changes in breathing patterns. However subtle these changes are, however, they can offer a greater indication of a person’s overall feelings and emotional state.

How is Brainspotting Different from EMDR?

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.

What is Brainspotting Used to Treat?

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As of now, brainspotting is used to process trauma. It relies on the relationship between physical movement, brain activity, and emotions to help the individual treat the symptoms of their trauma. Brainspotting may be useful to an individual if they have:
  • Struggled to have a breakthrough through traditional or conventional therapy methods.
  • Been overwhelmed with the emotional effects of traditional psychotherapy.
  • Relapsed or otherwise struggled to overcome milestones in their therapy journey.
Brainspotting may be the most useful with a combination of other types of treatment, including other forms of therapy.

What Disorders May Brainspotting Be Utilized to Treat?

While the foundation of brainspotting and studies surrounding it are focused on trauma, it may be useful in treating other specific disorders as well. Some of the most common include:
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
Brainspotting may also be beneficial in treating symptoms or conditions without a direct cause, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or even anger issues.

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects for Brainspotting?

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.

Brainspotting Risks and Side Effects

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.

Brainspotting at Iris Healing®

At Iris Healing®, we understand that each individual has their own unique experiences and needs to consider. We take each patient’s history into account and offer them the most specialized treatment plan to align with their circumstances and goals for recovery. Brainspotting is a great option to consider, and we’d be happy to talk to you – obligation free – about your options and work with you to accomplish mental wellness.

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