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Brainspotting: Connecting the Eyes and the Brain

Everyone’s experiences with trauma are deeply personal, and how you respond to it is unique to you. However, as noted in an article from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), traumatic experiences often negatively impact your physical and behavioral health. Moreover, traumatic experiences highlight the brain-body connection in which the psychological distress of trauma manifests itself physically. Therefore, therapeutic modalities like brainspotting (BSP) work on connecting the eyes to the brain to address the pain body of trauma.

At The Guest House, we know that the burden of carrying trauma often manifests itself outwardly as self-defeating behaviors. However, it can be difficult to address self-defeating behaviors when trauma become stuck in your body. Therefore, focusing on that brain-body connection can help you find that stuck point to reset the brain and body. Thus, we believe in connecting the eyes to the brain with BSP to enact the brain-body connection for recovery.

What Is Brainspotting?

According to the article “Brainspotting: Recruiting the Midbrain for Accessing and Healing Sensorimotor Memories of Traumatic Activation” by Frank Corrigan and David Grand, BSP is a body-based psychotherapy. In particular, BSP focuses on observing the body’s activation or response when a traumatic event is described. Moreover, BSP observes a specific or resonating spot within your visual field. That resonating spot is connected to your trauma as it reflects the stuck point in the body.

By connecting the eyes stuck point in your visual field, BSP can access the trapped trauma. Then, with some guidance from your therapist, you can process that felt trauma and integrate it properly into your memory. Moreover, you can deepen your understanding of BSP by looking at its relationship with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

The BSP and EMDR Connection

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), EMDR is a talk therapy that focuses on treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, as noted in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, EMDR has evolved as a therapeutic tool, now supporting a wide variety of conditions like phobias, anxiety, dermatological disorders, and pain. Moreover, EMDR is often utilized to help process distressing memories, thoughts, and feelings that are born out of trauma, as the memories associated with trauma have not been processed properly.

Unprocessed memories leave room for you to engage in maladaptive coping strategies as means of dealing with the trauma. Thus, EMDR teaches you how to pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound to desensitize you from the intensity of the traumatic memory. For example, in EMDR, you may be probed to focus on the movement of a finger, a flashing light, or a tone that beeps can be a focus point. While focusing on the back-and-forth movement or sound, you will be asked to recall the distressing memory until there is a shift in the way you experience the memory.

Moreover, you can understand the process of EMDR through its eight phases:

#1. The first phase is client history-taking and treatment planning.

  • Helps the therapist identify your readiness for this depth of processing
  • The therapist is able to identify the target for the treatment

#2. The second phase involves preparation.

  • You and the therapist work together to build a therapeutic relationship
  • During this time a reasonable level of expectations is set
  • To support stability between sessions, the therapist will teach you self-control techniques
  • The therapist will provide metaphors and stop signals to give you a sense of control during the sessions
  • During the sessions, the therapist will help you understand the active processing of trauma

#3. The third phase is the assessment.

  • Together, you and the therapist will identify the target memory for that session
  • You identify the irrationality of the event through the negative beliefs associated with the most notable image from the memory
  • During the session, positive beliefs will be introduced to the target memory to contradict the emotional experience

#4. The fourth phase is desensitization.

  • Focuses on increasing your self-efficacy and elicitation to deepen your insight into your memories

#5. The fifth phase is the installation.

  • During this phase, the therapist focuses on increasing the strength of positive cognition or positive thoughts and beliefs
  • The goal as positive beliefs increase is to replace the negative cognition or negative thoughts and beliefs

#6. The sixth phase is the body scan.

  • A body scan is used to determine if there are still residues of tension remaining in the body
  • The body scan looks at your somatic response to your body sensations
  • If residues of tension are still in the body, the therapist will target those body sensations for further processing

#7. The seventh phase is the closure

  • If reprocessing has not been completed, self-control techniques are used
  • The self-control techniques help restore balance
  • Through this phase, the therapist preps you on what disturbance you may experience between sessions

#8. Lastly, the eighth phase is reevaluation.

  • In this phase, the sessions are reviewed to consider the impact of the treatment
  • This phase is also used to check potential additional targets

Moreover, understanding how EMDR works can deepen your understanding of BSP, as both modalities are interconnected. As noted in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, BSP was developed by David Grand in 2003 as a result of his work and training in EMDR and somatic experiencing (SE). In addition, the core of therapeutic techniques like BSP, EMDR, and SE is the process of unlocking stuck trauma through the body.

Connecting the Eyes to the Brain

As noted in an article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the target of BSP is to find the visual point of activation. The visual point of activation is the point at which connecting the eyes to the brain happens. Your eyes find a point in your visual field that promotes the processing of the emotional distress or the traumatic experience itself. Moreover, connecting the eyes to the brain focuses on recognizing the stuck trauma through body sensations.

While there are no specific steps to take with BSP, the therapeutic intervention focuses on you and your feelings. Therefore, BSP focuses on the processing of the memory; the trauma by bringing your attention back to your body. By connecting the eyes to the brain, you are able to recognize and address the stuck trauma in your body. Thus, the core of BSP is a sense of mindfulness in which you give attention, understanding, and compassion to your inner experiences.

Yet, you may question how there could be no specific steps to follow. It may feel daunting to enter into a process with no standard protocol for how to do it. However, the benefit of holistic care like BSP is acknowledging and embracing the individualistic nature of experience. Therefore, the way you have experienced and reacted to the traumas of your life is unique to you. While you can share similar experiences with others, how you feel is distinctive to the elements that make up you.

Nevertheless, there are some techniques that you may encounter in a BSP session.

Brainspotting Techniques for Connecting the Eyes to the Brain

As noted in the article “What to Know About Brainspotting Therapy” by Theodora Blanchfield, some BSP techniques you may encounter include:

  • Self-directed with some guidance from your therapist:
    • May include breathing exercises to support relaxation
    • You may continuously listen to bilateral sound with headphones on
  • With your therapist’s support, you will find your brain spot
    • A spot where your eyes naturally focus when you feel the most physical discomfort or distress
    • Your therapist may use a pointer rod or their finger to help you focus on your brain spot
  • Some therapists may take an outside window or inside window approach
    • Outside window approach
      • Your therapist will recognize and note stuck points for you
    • Inside window approach
      • You recognize and note points to process from your inner experiences
  • By connecting the eyes to the brain, you and your therapist can hone in on your physical sensations and feelings
  • You will also have time to fully process the experience and what came out of it

Moreover, understanding what could happen in a BSP session can give you insight into the mind-body relationship in connecting the eyes to your trauma.

Understanding the Mind-Body Relationship

According to the European Molecular Biology Organization Reports, there is no real division between your mind and body. Your brain and the other systems of your body like the immune system share networks of communication with each other. Moreover, as noted in “The Brain-Body Disconnect: A Somatic Sensory Basis for Trauma-Related Disorders” by Breanne E. Kearney and Ruth A. Lanius, your body is connected to your brain through bundles of nerve fibers. These nerve fibers allow for the integration of sensations, emotions, cognition, and actions that are communicated between the brain and body.

Therefore, it is the deep brain-body relationship that speaks to connecting the eyes to the brain to uncover and process trauma. For example, sexual assault or abuse may lead to an aversion to touch as the sensation can trigger thoughts, memories, dreams, and feelings from the trauma. Thus, your body has a deep interoceptive sense of the pains the mind has tried to lock away. Furthermore, as the BJPsych Bulletin notes, “the body keeps score” as trauma leaves residues of its pain in the body to manifest months or years later as disorders like PTSD. Therefore, utilizing therapeutic modalities like BSP can support long-term mental wellness by recognizing the distress in dysfunctional body memories.

Body Memories and Mental Wellness

As noted in an article from Brain Sciences, bodily experiences are deeply emotional and activate your brain network’s perception and processing of those experiences. Whether it is a memory of joy found in the hug of a loved one or fear and anger found in abuse, the body remembers. Thus, body memory is a collection of all your bodily experiences stored as memory deep in the inner self. In addition, these body memories often manifest and influence your behavior in your daily life. Moreover, many self-defeating thoughts and behaviors like mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD) are a reflection of body memories.

Furthermore, maladaptive means for coping with psychological distress are often born out of implicit body memories. Consequently, the implicit nature of these negative bodily experiences is difficult to access and consciously reflect on. Therefore, the body and mind find unhealthy coping mechanisms to ignore and or manage the trauma. The expression of emotion in the body, then, highlights the importance of the body and mind for long-term wellness. In addition, the insights you can gain from understanding body memories can support therapeutic interventions like BSP to restore physical and mental well-being.

Listed below are some of the types of body memories that can manifest from bodily experiences:

  • Trauma memory: A representation of traumatic life events
    • Typically involves events that involve fear of death and serious bodily threats
    • Often manifests as PTSD
    • Intrusive re-experiencing of the trauma
      • Somatic flashbacks
      • Physical sensations
        • Smells
        • Tastes
        • Pain
        • Touch
        • Sweating
    • The trauma is re-enacted somatically as bodily experiences
  • Pain memory: A chronic pain response that surfaces long after the original cause of the pain has passed
    • Or you experience a pain response when there is no clear physiological reason for it to exist
    • Chronic pain often co-occurs with depression and anxiety
    • Past experiences with pain are stored in the memory, heightening your pain perception
  • Dissociative symptoms: Physical symptoms reflect a bodily disconnection or detachment from your body
    • This can include engrossment in activities or retreat into daydreams
    • More severe cases may include feeling unreal, numb, or robotic
    • Difficulty integrating declarative or long-term memories can cause implicit body memories
      • Which can cause things like intrusive flashbacks or fragmented memory recall
    • The dissociation can increase physical bodily symptoms in which specific sensory features disappear
    • Sensory symptoms in dissociation can be an expression of repressed body memories
  • Somatic symptoms: Bodily experiences with no known cause
    • With no clear diagnosis, the symptoms are often overlooked
    • It is suggested that your brain interprets signals from introspective predictions of discomfort based on past experiences
    • Research also suggests an association between somatic symptoms and mental health disorders like depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms

Moreover, the way memories and the body interconnects showcases the value of connecting the eyes to the brain in BSP. Connecting the eyes to the brain presents an opportunity to address unprocessed trauma in more direct ways.

Benefits of Connecting the Eyes to Well-Being at the Guest House

According to Brain Sciences, interventions to address self-defeating behaviors can be found in deepening awareness and introspective skills. Thus, BSP’s focus on connecting the eyes to the brain considers the inner world of your memories as physical reactions to your traumatic life experiences. When you utilize therapeutic modalities in which connecting the eyes is a foundational piece of the therapeutic process, connection and healing can start.

At The Guest House, we know that SUD and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are a manifestation of deeper pain. Therefore, in our work, we have committed ourselves to providing care that gives you the space to truly process your trauma. Thus, as there is not a singular path to recovery, connecting the eyes to the brain with therapeutic modalities like BSP gives us the ability to meet you where you are on your recovery journey.

For instance, connecting the eyes in BSP is a support tool born out of another technique. BSP was not developed because EMDR was ineffective, but rather because everyone’s needs are unique to them. Thus, connecting the eyes to the brain in BSP opens another path toward healing and long-term recovery for more people. Therefore, by offering a wide variety of therapeutic modalities, we can work together to create an individualized recovery plan that makes sense for you.

The psychological distress of trauma often manifests itself in your physical and behavioral health as trauma gets stuck in the body. Thus, unprocessed memories of your trauma are connected to your physical reactions as body memories. For example, experiences with sexual abuse may result in an aversion to touch as the body remembers the traumatic event. Therefore, therapeutic modalities like brainspotting (BSP) can address the brain-body relationship by connecting the eyes to the brain to address stuck trauma. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of modalities to give you the tools for deeper awareness and interoception of your inner experiences on your recovery journey. To learn more about BSP call us at (855) 483-7800.