Why Brainspotting is Effective

by Jen Delaney, MA, NCC, http://owlhearthealingarts.com/

Brainspotting (BSP) effectively treats all forms of trauma, anxiety, complex PTSD, phobias, ADHD, anger issues, addiction, chronic fatigue, chronic pain and sports performance issues. It has also been used to enhance both athletic and artistic performance.

People often ask if I can summarize BSP in a couple of sentences. While I can’t quite fit it into two sentences, I can give you a simple map of the three main components (five words!) that create the space for healing. They are: Attunement, Bilateral Sounds and Bodily Awareness.

I sit relatively close to a client, and I am completely focused on and present to him or her. Even if I don’t use the word “safe,” because safety is threatening to a client who has experienced trauma, still, the client has a sense of being held in a safe or unconditionally accepting space. I might use the words “calm” or “resourced.” I become the anchor parallel to or within the memories of turbulence.

Bilateral Sounds
Here is an excellent description I found online: “One of the most powerful healing, focusing, and performance enhancement tools known today… bilateral sound is a form of bilateral stimulation… [which] has been demonstrated extensively in studies to create a greater connection between your mind and your body. Bilateral stimulation is any action that alternately stimulates one side of the body, then the other. For example, natural bilateral stimulation activities include walking, running, dancing, biking and drumming, etc. So, bilateral sound is an auditory form of bilateral stimulation. It is created when a recording is moved from one ear to the other.” Click HERE to read the full article.

Photo by Gavin Whitner

Summarizing the effects, bilateral sounds are known to be effective because imaging studies show, naturally, that the limbic or emotional regions of the brain become more active when you are triggered. The bilateral sounds serve to create balance between the right and left hemispheres, which creates calm parallel to the activation of distressing memories. This results in a change in brain wiring related to the memory. People report feeling less activated by the memories.

In some techniques the bilateral sound is a “boop” or “beep” that alternates between the two ears, however, in BSP we use nature sounds that gently travel from the right to left side. Both are equally effective, but I find the latter to be less distracting and more soothing.

For more information about bilateral sounds, click HERE.

Bodily Awareness
Dr. Grand explains, “It is theorized that Brainspotting taps into and harnesses the body’s innate self-scanning capacity to process and release focused areas (systems) which are in a maladaptive homeostasis (frozen primitive survival modes). This may also explain the ability of Brainspotting to often reduce and eliminate body pain and tension associated with physical conditions.”

What Does a Session Look Like?
Usually, I have clients put on the headphones as soon as they walk in. (And, if sound is an issue, the volume can be turned all the way down, because the vibrations are still effective.) Next, the client identifies what they want to work on. Sometimes it’s a specific fear or memory and other times it’s not planned so much as it is discovered as they begin talking. Then we move to the bodily awareness. I ask what they are noticing in their bodies and where they are feeling it. The result of this part of the session is the hardest to explain, because each session looks very different, and the direction of the session is always led by the client. Dr. Grand describes it as “being in the tail of the comet.” We are following the client’s innate, nonverbal knowing towards healing. And, that can’t all be done in the language centers of the neocortex.

I’ve Seen it All
By following what the body is feeling and doing – just noticing that – permits a release. What was held during traumatic events, such as when someone froze, gets released and the memory loses the physiological hold over the person. For example, a client might physically reenact, in slow motion, the motions of what they experienced in a car crash. Or they may need to visualize walking (seated with feet “walking”) out of a frightening situation, or they may need to raise their hands and shout “stop” to a perpetrator. But none of this is initiated or suggested by me. They just trust that I’ve seen everything! And, they listen to what their body is asking of them. A session might be quite still, but a client will notice tingling or pain or nausea. They learn to trust that we are not creating problems in the session, but allowing the body to finish and release what got held or repressed.

The Benefits of Brainspotting
As a result, chronic pain lightens up or people walk differently, having released held tension in their back or chest. Almost always, the memories are less disturbing to them. Sometimes when a client experiences a distinct physical pain or sensation, he or she will remember something from their early years that they never thought of since then, and it too will get released. Once I had a client who was feeling a sensation of tightness in his throat, and he suddenly remembered getting swept off of his feet and down a river, and may have drowned if it weren’t for a cousin who ran after him and pulled him out. He had not thought of that incident since it occurred when he was 4.

Okay so that was not anywhere NEAR two sentences, but now you know the five keywords/three components: Attunement/Bilateral Sounds/Bodily Awareness!

More often than not, I refer people to the Youtube video that Dr. Grand created to explain the process and why it works. Click HERE if you’d like to watch it.

Here are a couple of definitions by the masters:

“Brainspotting is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation and a variety of other challenging symptoms. Brainspotting is a simultaneous form of diagnosis and treatment, enhanced with Biolateral sound, which is deep, direct, and powerful yet focused and containing.” Dr. David Grand

“Brainspotting is based on the profound attunement of the therapist with the patient, finding a somatic cue and extinguishing it by down-regulating the amygdala. It isn’t just PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) activation that is facilitated, it is homeostasis.” Robert Scaer, MD, The Trauma Spectrum


About Jen:

Over the years, I have engaged in several forms of meditation and studied with many mentors. Ultimately, while therapy is client led, the teacher or counselor helps to unlock the innate wisdom as the client learns and discovers the tools that work particular to his or her unique issues. My personal journey of healing and joy launched me into the counseling field. I hope to pay it forward by helping individuals discover freedom and meaning, the truth of their feelings and the power of presence.  A deep appreciation for people’s capacity to triumph, called me to this profession. We are all graced with innate “knowing” to transcend obstacles.  I am a Registered Psychotherapist on the Licensed Professional Counselor track, with a Masters degree in counseling from Regis University. A published author, I received a Masters in English/creative writing from The University of Colorado, Boulder, and bachelors degrees in English and dance from the University of Santa Barbara, CA.

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The Rocky Mountain Brainspotting Institute (RMBI) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that was created to promote and advance the use of Brainspotting, a brain-body treatment approach.

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