20 Years of Brainspotting: A Revolutionary Discovery
On the cusp of its 20-year anniversary since its discovery, Brainspotting has been making waves in many arenas. Discovered 20 years ago by Dr. David Grand, a psychologist and EMDR-trained therapist, he noticed that EMDR was too aggressive for some of his clients. He developed a technique called Natural Flow EMDR, which he began to use with his clients, which slowed down the process and added music during the processing.
When working with one of his clients he noticed an eye wobble and held his hand still. Curious about what was happening, he held his client’s gaze. When she returned the next session she reported that she had overcome the challenges they had been working on for the last several months in just that one session and was able to perform the routine for her figure skating that she was struggling with.
Again, curiosity grabbed his attention, and he tried it again with another client. He began to tell his colleagues, and they, too, began to observe. 20 years later, we have a technique that has become well known for its ability to get to the root causes of emotions and behaviors and “reprogram” the challenges quickly. For more information on this, visit Brainspotting.com.
Brainspotting in 2020: Adapting to a Changing World
Enter 2020. A world in peril that we’ve never known. The brainspotting community took their trainings online for the very first time since its birth. Understanding the importance of getting individuals trained in such a time was so important. This allowed many more to access the education that did not have the opportunity, time, or money to travel for the training. Myself included.
That year, the PT I was working with watched a webinar on this technique, and she was adamant that I learn more about this, knowing that it would benefit and pair with the work I was already doing as an NLP-trained Life Coach and Physical Therapist Assistant.
I was captivated right away. In February, there was a training, the first of its kind, called “From Freeze to Thaw. Unlocking Trauma in the Body.” This training was taught by Serene Calkins, PT, and Mary Jane O’Rourke, LCSW. Due to my background in PT, Serene encouraged me right away to get into the phase one training so that I would be eligible to take the class From Freeze to Thaw.
A remarkable training, my worlds of PT and all I was seeing as a Life Coach collided. The depth of understanding of what I had been witnessing the last 20 years of doing physical therapy was confirmed. Many times over in my career, I had someone in a treatment room, and all I did was put my hands on them, helping them through their physical pain while they shared their story with me.
Hearing someone tell me, “I have NEVER had such relief from my pain in all my years wasn’t uncommon.” Many times I would just chuckle inside, thinking I hadn’t really done anything. But as the years moved on and I gained more knowledge, it was clear to me there was much more going on. It also sheds light on the “mystery” as to why so many would return to PT time and time again and never really be any better. It became obvious that their physical pain was only a manifestation of their emotional distress.
The Brain-Body Connection: A Deeper Dive
Education on the brain and body connection continued to gain momentum rapidly. So much so, that at that same time in 2020, the International Association for Pain (ISAP) redefined the definition of pain for the first time since the 1970s.
On a global scale, they had evidence that pain was not only a physical injury but an unpleasant sensory AND emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. We now had a deeper understanding of the components of the brain that would trigger a physical response in the body. If this response continues time and after time (ie: bad relationships, work, kids, you name it), the body’s alert network (the nervous system) begins to become hyperactive, thus creating a continuum of chronic pain from overworked tissues over an extended period of time. Headaches, back pain, gut pain, acid reflux, you name it. What’s in the brain is in the body, and what’s in the body is in the brain!
The Limbic System: The Brain’s Emotional Center
So why does this feel out of control in so many, and what can we do to stop it? The answer comes with understanding the Limbic System in the brain. This system is located deep in the center of the brain and has all control of our emotions. It is also responsible for our survival. It has the ability to secrete stress hormones in the body and active and “all alert” response at the snap of a finger at an unconscious level.
When the brain is at attention it then recruits tissues in the body to prepare if for the next steps of “survival”. It could be a loud voice, crying, clenched muscles at the ready for you to walk away or defend, rolling your eyes, laughing out loud to divert attention from your pain, I could go on and on and on. The situations are too numerous. With that, however, comes the knowledge that the connection of the brain and body is always communicating 24/7. Here is the interesting part: the Limbic System doesn’t have language. That lives on the outer parts of the brain. So, this system is rapidly communicating information to the body on an unconscious level from memory. Pulling these memories facilitates this response again and again. It needs language to update the outdated programs it’s running.
We know that not all of our responses are the most appropriate ones we should have. At age 10 when you were bullied, you may have yelled, run, or avoided, and it worked! Your body and brain then remember that it helped you “survive.” So why wouldn’t it do it again when you’re 10 and a half, or 11, or 13? The problem then begins when you’re 30, and the loud voice of one of your emotional children triggers the same response within you. It is no longer appropriate to yell and avoid and run. We have to update the program to handle the situation appropriately.
Brainspotting: Targeting the Limbic System
This is where Brainspotting comes in. This technique targets the Limbic System deep within the brain using your eyes as your superheroes. Where we look affects how we feel. That is why we can see the face of someone we like (or don’t like) and have a feeling inside of us. We can see a sunset and have a feeling inside. We can see snow and have a feeling inside (I’m from Minnesota, so I won’t tell you what my feelings are).
Where did we just learn feelings/emotions live? In the Limbic System! When we pair this with the knowledge that what is in the brain is in the body, we can also tune in to what we are feeling physically. Using the training we have as certified Brainspotting practitioners, we can fine-tune the position of your eyes, finding that “sweet spot” that allows the reprogramming process to begin. Then what? Well, you let your mind roll.
While you have a whole host of thoughts flashing through your mind you can also begin to experience physical sensations as well. Remember, what’s in the brain is in the body. You may get warm, or your heart might race. Maybe you have a headache or a gut ache. Each individual is unique because your story is unique, and your body has been working overtime for a long time trying to get your attention that something needs to change. Now it’s time to listen.
While you’re on your “spot” and may be experiencing an increase in your nervous system, in a short time, you also begin to notice that it’s calming down, and you feel relaxed. How? Because the reprogramming process has begun. With the proper intake of your story at your initial session and the proper setup for Brainspotting, you could “knock some sense” into your brain.
You know that situation earlier with the yelling and avoiding? All of a sudden, your brain almost scoffs at you and says, “Geez, man, you know you feel like crap when you yell at your kid. You are the grown-up. What’s going on here? Oh ya, you’re scared that your kid is going to turn out like you! Is that true? Well, no, because my kid has a mom and a dad who love him.” it keeps going from there. Do you see what I’m getting at? Your brain has been running on autopilot for years, and it didn’t even stop to realize that it’s all grown up now.
The Impact of Brainspotting
So, what does this mean for most? Well, with the knowledge of what is in the brain is in the body and body in the brain, you can take ANY emotion you feel in ANY situation in your life and gain a deeper understanding of why it’s happening and how you can become less reactive to it. In short, you become a better human being! And that’s all there is to that.