Healing is not imposed by technique but is liberated. — David Grand, Psychotherapist

When EMDR is a therapy too intense for dealing with PTSD, brainspotting is often recommended as the ideal substitute. Although the initial stages of therapy with brainspotting are very similar to EMDR, the technique itself is distinctly different and the associated side effects are generally milder. Instead of relying on rapid, alternating eye movements, brain-spotting identifies a specific location in the visual field associated with a traumatic memory.

Similarities Between Brainspotting and EMDR

Here are some of the similarities between brainspotting and EMDR:

  • The patient and therapist establish a rapport.
  • Treatment goals are set.
  • The nature of the trauma is identified.
  • Coping mechanisms for dealing with negative memories are introduced and taught.
  • Understanding the connection between the eyes and stored memory is important.

Since both therapies are designed to desensitize the brain to negative memories and emotions, these initial steps are critical for successful treatment.

Where Brainspotting is Different from EMDR

Brainspotting generally takes fewer sessions to deal with a specific trauma or set of linked traumas. While EMDR acquires 8 to 10 appointments from start to finish, brainspotting typically occurs over a course of 6 sessions.

During EMDR, patients are directed in a series of bilateral eye movements while relating the memory of a trauma. In brainspotting, the patient visually focuses on a specific location in their field of vision. This location, or brainspot, is identified with the help of the therapist. While fixated on this spot, the patient relates or relives the memory of a traumatic event. As with EMDR, this process encourages the brain to undergo a natural desensitization to the trauma.

How Do We Find My Brainspot?

The method of brainspotting developed out of psychiatric observations during EMDR sessions. It was noticed that some patients resisted the rapid eye movements at a specific spot while recalling traumatic memories. For some patients, this location in the field of view is connected to the actual location in the sightline where a traumatic event was seen. The brainspot may also be unrelated to any physical location, but is instead where the patient consistently gazes when revisualizing or re-experiencing a memory or trauma.

To discover the brainspot, the therapist closely observes the patient’s eyes during the review of a memory. Three different methods may be employed:

  • The Outside Window: the patient moves their eyes In a back and forth sweep while the therapist closely observes their eye movement, watching for locations where the eyes resist continuing the movement.
  • The Inside Window: Instead of finding the brainspot based on the therapist’s observations, the patient sweeps their gaze in a methodical way, self-identifying the point in their field of vision where the traumatic memories feel most prominent.
  • Gazespotting: the client already fixates, consciously or unconsciously, on a specific spot when relating or revisiting a negative memory.

Theoretically, the brainspot is the location in the visual memory or sensation of an event that is most closely connected to it. By fixating on this spot, the brain’s connection to that moment is more readily accessed. Reviewing the event and the negative emotions associated with it in a safe environment promotes the ordinary brain processes of desensitization that should have occurred shortly after the trauma took place. The therapy is believed to allow the brain to “unpackage” or “squeeze” the event and to deal with it appropriately by pointing to its exact location in the neural network. To quote the originator of the brainspotting technique: “Healing is not imposed by technique but is liberated.”

If you would like to begin or continue brainspotting therapy for PTSD and related psychiatric disorders, or want more information, please contact us by phone or online at Sacramento’s Brain Health Clinic.
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