Brainspotting Therapy - All You Need to Know: What Is It? How to Choose? How It Works? Best for Who?

Brainspotting for Addiction Treatment: Everything You Need To Know

Brainspotting can unpack deep traumas linked to the root of your addiction. If you’ve felt at a standstill with your progress in other therapies, brainspotting can dig deeper.  For others, you may find other issues you’ve never confronted before. In this article, we’ll guide you on the role of brainspotting in addiction recovery care. Along the way, we will cover important questions like:
  • What is brainspotting?
  • Is brainspotting the same as EMDR?
  • Is brainspotting a hypnosis?
  • How does brainspotting help in addiction recovery?
  • In what ways does brainspotting relate to the continuum of addiction care?
  • What should I know before starting brainspotting for addiction?
To start you off, we’ll focus on the basics.

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting (BSP) is a talk therapy that reveals a client’s unprocessed traumas through fixed eye positions.  Specific eye positions each link to their own “brainspot,” an area of the mind that retains thoughts and emotions.  Clients fixate on troubling brainspots to uncover hidden mental challenges. Brainspotting a relatively new way to treat many traumas and mental challenges. In addictions, brainspotting is used to expose hidden wounds that trigger the habit. For this article, we’ll highlight the role of brainspotting in addiction recovery. Brainspotting might be a good fit to work in tandem with your other therapies.  In some programs, you might find yourself in BSP as you engage in CBT or DBT. Brainspotting can help recovering individuals if they:
  • Had trouble reaching a significant breakthrough in previous therapies.
  • Are entering addiction therapy for the first time.
  • Feel intense anxiety, depression, or other emotions that don’t improve.
  • Have relapsed on multiple occasions due to overwhelming situations.
Before we continue, let’s clear some misconceptions about brainspotting.

Difference Between Brainspotting, EMDR, Hypnosis, and SE

Brainspotting, EMDR, SE, and hypnosis cause similar brain states in clients.  However, each method specializes differently for each client’s unique needs. Brainspotting (BSP) allows clients to guide themselves through their own subconscious.  They choose what issue they’d like to start with.  Then, they explore in and around it with only light guidance by their therapist.  This method uses fixated, steady eye positions. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) also tackles client’s deep traumas.  The therapist over stimulates the client’s senses to reduce the emotional weight of the chosen issue.  EMDR usually uses rapid, repetitive eye motions. Hypnosis again takes on the powerful issues stored in a client’s mind.  However, the therapist has a more active role by creating the hypnotic state for the client.  They tell the client what to focus on, acting as the main direction for sessions. Somatic experiencing (SE) uses small doses of trauma-related triggers to guide the client’s journey.  The therapist guides the client by alternating between comforting and triggering experiences.  This process trains a healthier mind-body response. EMDR, SE, and hypnosis each tend to be more structured types of mind-body therapy.  These are great for clients who feel comfort from using very specific steps. BSP programs are ideal in addiction treatment when a client needs more freedom to confront their traumas.  You may find that with more control over your own therapy, you’ll have a more meaningful and rewarding experience.

Brainspotting Therapy for Addiction Care Explained

Brainspotting for addiction treatment lets clients dive into their deeper burdens. BSP therapy is based largely on modified methods from two other therapies:
  • Somatic Experiencing (SE)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Together, these work to diagnose and treat potential roots of your addiction. The basic process of brainspotting distills down to:
  • Revealing repressed traumas via guided brainspot-searching sessions.
  • Physical and mental healing by allowing unprocessed trauma to be released.
In some programs, additional methods might also be applied to assist your healing.  You might reform your thoughts and behaviors via CBT-based therapy methods. All clients in brainspotting therapy programs receive a similar core treatment system. Format is based in psychotherapy, aka talk therapy.  The therapist primes the client to explore their subconscious, then guides them to sort and mend any baggage. Structure is led by the client.  While the client’s vision is directed into a challenging brainspot, they are allowed to fixate and dive into this mental area as much as they choose to. Length can sometimes range from 2 or 3 sessions to many more.  This depends on the severity of one’s mental trauma.  Resolving issues with CBT-based methods may extend the program length. As with any therapy, the skills you learn will determine much of your success.

Skills Learned in Brainspotting

Few direct skills are learned from brainspotting alone.  Its focus is primarily revealing hard-to-access feelings and thoughts.  True processing may involve other therapies. However, some skills learned in BSP might include:
  • Overcoming fears of vulnerability
  • Embracing change to thoughts and feelings
  • Becoming more self-aware and confident
  • Familiarity with the power of emotional release
  • Becoming mindful of how you hold stress in your body
Beyond brainspotting, you as a client might also engage in traditional therapy. Skills gained from CBT methods can include:
  • Identifying and discussing problem areas in a goal-oriented way.
  • Targeting and breaking down unhealthy beliefs and their triggers.
  • Embracing the permanence of your past to focus on bettering your “present.”
  • Getting down to the roots of your reactive behaviors to change them.
As the discoveries in brainspotting tap into your problem areas, you begin to understand yourself better.  This is the ideal foundation for change in recovery. Repeated engagement in brainspotting sessions is the key to honest progress.

Brainspotting Sessions Explained

Brainspotting sessions familiarize clients with the mind-body relationship to trauma. You, as a client, are given a safe space to explore overwhelming experiences.  Your therapist gives you a simple toolset to start the journey, then helps process what you discover. An initial session usually takes place, then the true work begins shortly after. Brainspotting is driven by the saying, “where you look affects how you feel.” Steps of the brainspotting process usually are:
  1. Client brings up a troubling issue they’d like to explore.
  2. Therapist helps them pinpoint physical feelings attached to the issue.
  3. Client locates the negative feelings in their body.
  4. Therapist guides the client’s vision into different areas with a pointing rod.
  5. Client notes increased or decreased negative feelings in eye positions.
  6. Therapist notes unsteady eye movements in specific eye positions.
  7. Client is allowed to fixate their vision in the most troubling, unsteady spots.
  8. Client shares related thoughts, feelings, and memories that can be recalled.
  9. Therapist helps the client process and sift through the information.
While the client guides much of this exploration, the therapist has an important role. The therapist sets up a session around a dual attunement. This helps the client:
  • Be in-tune with their own mind-body connection.
  • Be in-tune with their connection to the therapist.
This awareness helps you—as a client—to be open with yourself and your therapist.

How Brainspotting Works

Client focuses vision on a physical point that is moved by the therapist.  This might be the end of a pointer rod or the therapist’s finger. The therapist moves this point-of-focus to lead the client into “brainspots.” Once the therapist recognizes a spot that causes an irregularity in the client’s eye movement, the therapist allows the client to stay in that spot. It’s up to the client to explore any feelings or thoughts attached to this mental space. They are free to go as deeply or as shallow as they’d like. However, the emotions in these affected brainspots tend to take hold and spontaneously get the client to speak freely. As a client, you may uncover truths that you may not realize you had within yourself. By nature, some of these thoughts might be intense and difficult to face.  You should feel you are in a safe space to confide any burden as you move towards recovery. Signs of progress might be changes that are felt both physically and mentally.  As you release and process, you may feel various shifts in your thoughts or emotions. Post-session processing still continues long after emotional discoveries are made. In fact, brainspotting can cause healing in other parts of your life beyond addiction.

Other Conditions Treatable by Brainspotting

As you explore brainspots, you might see addiction as a symptom of other problems. Troubling thoughts and behaviors can have similar root traumas and triggers.  Especially in dual diagnosis, you may find progress across multiple conditions. In addition to addiction, these conditions are treatable by BSP:
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anger
  • Chronic pain
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Phobias
  • Impulsive behavior disorders
  • Depression
Revealing underlying traumas may just be the beginning of long-term care.  Brainspotting can serve as an initiation into a greater care plan for your addiction.

How Brainspotting Relates to the Continuum of Addictions Care

Continuum of Care InfographicWhen you begin recovery, you are entering a lifelong commitment to sobriety. The continuum of addiction care (CoC) serves as connective tissue for lasting recovery.  This continuous system of treatment programs prevents gaps in care that could result in relapse. Starting with detoxification, you would be “stepped-down” through addiction care.  This chain of treatment programs move all the way into fully independent sobriety. NCBI says that the stages of the continuum of addiction care are:
  • Level 0.5: early intervention services
  • Level 1: outpatient services
  • Level 2: intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization services
  • Level 3: residential or inpatient treatment services
  • Level 4: medically managed intensive inpatient treatment services
Brainspotting therapy fits as an intensive intervention.  Clients might need protective care and stabilizing first, but can engage in BSP at many points along the continuum. Treatments before therapy almost always include detox.  BSP treatments can begin once you are in sobriety. You might also partake in sessions that complement BSP, like cognitive-behavioral therapy. Most clients in BSP are already on the road to sobriety and stable enough for therapy.  They may return to it if they run into struggles or relapse.

What to Know Before Starting Brainspotting Therapy

Brainspotting treatment may not be ideal for everyone, so take care in your decision. You might consider the following before starting: Painful revelations can be essential to progress.  Sometimes, you have to be willing to go to places of hurt to see yourself recover.  Be sure that you are prepared to embrace the full therapy experience, even if it gets a bit rough. Repressed experiences can overwhelm you.  If you have any deep emotional instability, you should be sure that your therapist is aware.  BSP discoveries may rapidly trigger mental disorders, so these should be considered for everyone’s safety. For deep trauma, do not practice brainspotting alone.  This type of therapy requires a safe, controlled space for you to unpack your emotions.  Stimulating deeply painful areas may make your condition worse if you cannot process it safely. Since brainspotting is a fairly new practice, your local area may not offer a program.

When Might You Consider an Out-of-State Brainspotting Program

Going out-of-state for a brainspotting program can be more than just access to services that are locally unavailable. OoS brainspotting therapy also helps with:
  • Better program quality with more specialized training
  • Commitment to treatment due to being involved more deeply in recovery
  • Time away from your addiction triggers to help you reset your mind
  • Intimacy of a face-to-face connection for a more meaningful experience
Out-of-state brainspotting sessions might be part of a larger recovery program.  Many clients find the additional care of a sober living or IOP to be helpful. However, longer-term care can mean being away from home for a while. For clients who might not be able to step away from caretaking responsibilities, local might be a better option.  Some programs offer caretaking to watch over children. Out-of-state clients can usually find it difficult to leave their commitments for a number of weeks.  You should be mindful that caring for yourself is important too. As an alternative, some brainspotting providers may offer online video chat sessions.  This therapy can be provided remotely while you are still living at home. You should always consider your options to find the best program for you.  Whether in-state or otherwise, treatment may be essential for the wellbeing of you and your loved ones. Before starting, a brainspotting client should choose a therapist that’s right for them. In your search, be sure to ask some of these questions: Are you a certified brainspotting practitioner?  Certification can demonstrate that your therapist is adequately trained in BSP.  This requires therapists to undergo a period of practicing, studying, and being supervised in BSP methods. Are you trained in other cognitive or behavioral therapies?  Brainspotting can reveal buried points of trauma, but other therapies can help you make life changes.  CBT-trained therapists can help you reform maladaptive behaviors or thoughts discovered in BSP. How long have you practiced brainspotting?  Beyond certification, this question might help you see exactly how much experience they’ve had in BSP client work.   Usually therapists with more time under their belt will be able to help you better. Do I feel comfortable with this therapist?  It’s not easy grappling with the thoughts and feelings revealed in BSP.  Progress comes from feeling safe enough to confide in and learn from your therapist.  Be open about any concerns before starting.

Takeaways on Brainspotting

In summary, you’ll find that brainspotting tackles many issues linked to addiction. You’ve already taken the first step towards getting the most out of your BSP sessions.  To recap, you’ve learned:
  • Brainspotting is a mind-body talk therapy used to process deep mental challenges.
  • BSP puts clients in a similar state, but is more fluid and client-driven than EMDR and hypnosis.
  • BSP helps addiction clients release repressed and unprocessed traumas that feed their habit.
  • Brainspotting can serve as a core therapy in your continuum of addiction care.
  • Your therapist should be certified, experienced, and make you comfortable.
Ultimately, brainspotting can be the change you need to avoid relapse and achieve lasting sobriety. Know someone who could benefit from learning about brainspotting?  Please like and share this post with them.  Or, leave your questions or comments about this relatively new therapy below!  We’re always looking for ways to keep the conversation about recovery going.  Education is one of the most powerful tools we have to fight addiction.

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