What is Brainspotting?


By Robert Weisz, PhD. | 30, June, 2008

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 Bilateral Sound, which is deep, direct, and powerful yet focused and containing.

Brainspotting functions as a neurobiological tool to support the clinical healing relationship. There is no replacement for a mature, nurturing therapeutic presence and the ability to engage another suffering human in a safe and trusting relationship where they feel heard, accepted, and understood.

A Neurobiological Tool

Brainspotting gives us a tool, within this clinical relationship, to neurobiologically locate, focus, process, and release experiences and symptoms that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind and its cognitive and language capacity.

Brainspotting works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems within the body’s central nervous system. Brainspotting is accordingly a physiological tool/treatment which has profound psychological, emotional, and physical consequences.

“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”

Traumatic Memory

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.

A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain, most likely in the amygdala, the hippocampus, and/or the orbitofrontal cortex of the limbic system. Located by eye position, paired with externally observed and internally experienced reflexive responses, a Brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem holding emotional experience in memory form.

When a Brainspot is stimulated, the deep brain reflexively signals the therapist that an area of significance has been located. This typically happens out of the client’s conscious awareness. There are a multitude of reflexive responses, including eye twitches, wobbles, freezes, blinks (hard and double blinks) pupil dilation and constriction, narrowing, facial tics, brow furrowing, sniffs, swallows, yawns, coughs, head nods, hand signals, foot movement and body shifting. Reflexive facial expressions are powerful indicators of Brainspots.

The appearance of a reflexive response as the client attends to the somatosensory experience of the trauma, emotional or somatic problem is an indication that a Brainspot has been located and activated. The Brainspot can then be accessed and stimulated by holding the client’s eye position while the client is focused on the somatic/sensory experience of the symptom or problem being addressed in the therapy.

The maintenance of that eye position/Brainspot within the attentional focus on the body’s “felt sense” of that issue or trauma stimulates a deep integrating and healing process within the brain. This processing, which appears to take place at a reflexive or cellular level within the nervous system, brings about a de-conditioning of previously conditioned, maladaptive emotional and physiological responses. Brainspotting appears to stimulate, focus, and activate the body’s inherent capacity to heal itself from trauma.

Inside Window

In “inside window” Brainspotting the therapist and client participate together to locate Brainspots through the client’s felt sense of the experience of the highest intensity of affect/body distress. Brainspotting can be done with one eye or two. Brainspotting can be directed at distress and Brainspotting can be directed at establishing and strengthening resources.

Brainspotting is also very useful to access and develop internal resource states end experiences. These resources allow the therapist and patient, where necessary, to “pendulate” between resource or positive states and trauma states during Brainspotting to enable more gradual, graded processing and desensitization of intensely traumatic and emotionally charged issues and symptoms.

Brainspotting processes down to the reflexive core. Often when it appears one has reached a zero distress level, a new strata or floor is broken through, probing deeper into the brain. The reflexive core is in the deep, unconscious body brain. It is as out of our awareness as respiration, circulation, and digestion. Brainspotting dismantles the trauma, symptom,somatic distress and dysfunctional beliefs at the reflexive core.

A Body to Body Approach

Brainspotting is a “body to body” approach. The distress is activated and located in the body which then leads to the locating of the Brainspot based on eye position. As opposed to EMDR where the traumatic memory is the “target,” in Brainspotting the Brainspot is the target or “focus or activation point.” Everything is aimed at activating, locating, and processing the Brainspot.

Enhanced with Bilateral Sound

Brainspotting is most powerful and effective when done with the enhancement of Bilateral Sound. Bilateral sound enhances the brain’s processing abilities by alternately stimulating each cerebral hemisphere. For highly dissociated or very fragile clients, Brainspotting can be initiated without any bilateral intensification, which can be added later as the client is more integrated and flexible. The healing sound directly enters the brain through the auditory nerves while the eardrums are vibrated bilaterally.

Traumatic Life Events

Any life event which causes significant physical and/or emotional injury and distress, in which the person powerfully experiences being overwhelmed, helpless, or trapped, can become a traumatic experience.

There is growing recognition within the healing professions that experiences of physical and/or emotional injury, acute and chronic pain, serious physical illness, dealing with difficult medical interventions, societal turmoil, environmental disaster, as well as many other problematic life events, will contribute to the development of a substantial reservoir of life trauma. That trauma is held in the body.

The Trauma  Reservoir

In most cases, the traumatized individual does not usually have the opportunity or the support to adequately process and integrate these traumatic life events. The traumatic experience then becomes a part of that individual’s trauma reservoir. The body and the psyche cannot remain unaffected by the physical, energetic and emotional costs extracted by this accumulated trauma load. The medical and psychological literature now acknowledges that approximately 75% of requests for medical care are linked to the actions or consequences of this accumulation of stress and/or trauma upon the systems of the human body.

A Therapeutic Tool

Every health care professional encounters treatment situations in which physical symptoms cannot be separated from their emotional or psychological correlates. Traumatic life experiences, whether physical or emotional, are often significant contributing factors in the development and/or maintenance of most of the symptoms and problems encountered in health care.

Brainspotting is a physiological therapeutic tool which can be integrated into a wide range of healing modalities, including psychological as well as somatic approaches to treatment. Brainspotting can be useful as a complement to various body-based therapies including advanced bodywork, chiropractic, acupuncture, somatic therapies, physical therapy, nursing, medicine, and other specialized approaches to physical healing. It is a valuable resource in the treatment of a wide range of medical, physical, and psycho-emotional issues and symptoms encountered by health professionals.

Brainspotting provides a neurobiological tool for accessing, diagnosing, and treating a wide range of somatic and emotionally-based conditions.

Brainspotting Treats Many Conditions

Brainspotting can be an effective and efficient treatment tool for:

  • Physical and emotional trauma
  • Recovery from injury and accident trauma
  • Trauma resulting from medical interventions and treatment
  • Stress and trauma-related medical illness
  • Performance issues, including sexual dysfunction
  • Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions
  • Addictions (especially cravings)
  • ADD and ADHD
  • Perceptual problems
  • Stuttering
  • Environmental Illness and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Phobias
  • Asthma
  • Preparation and recovery from surgery
  • Trauma resulting from war and natural disasters
  • Anger and rage problems
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Management of major medical illness

Dr. David Grand & Dr. Robert Weisz

David Grand, Ph.D., the developer of Brainspotting, is an internationally recognized trauma expert. He has devoted his life to advancing, expanding and communicating about state-of-the-art tools available for healing trauma and enhancing performance. Dr. Grand trains health care professionals and lectures on trauma healing and enhancing performance around the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and South America. He is the author of Emotional Healing at Warp Speed: the Power of EMDR and  Brainspotting:  The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change (2013).

Robert Weisz, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, life coach, and trainer in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is Director of the Brainspotting and Hypnotherapy Clinic and of the Milton Erickson Institute for Clinical Hypnosis and Behavioral Sciences of New Mexico. Robert has studied extensively with Dr. David Grand and has been authorized to train health care practitioners on the application of Brainspotting in health care settings. Dr. Weisz brings almost 40 years of clinical experience into the practice of Brainspotting and other therapeutic modalities.