My Experience Brainspotting

I first learned about this interested up-and-coming neuropsychotherapy called Brainspotting several years ago from a colleague.

It sounded very interesting. Something about finding spots right where something in a client’s brain lives or something like that.

I couldn’t help but associate images of neurosurgeons cauterizing the brains of patients.

I was sure it was helpful but there are many neurotherapies out there such as neurofeedback, biofeedback, EMDR among others. I wasn’t sure if this was in any way on my path.

Last year I learned a very powerful and helpful therapy technique called Eye Movement Integration from two sources. This is a cousin approach to the much more popular EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which is usually used for PTSD and stress experiences.

I love this EMI approach and I’m not sure if it’s in any way more or less effective than EMDR. But I have found it to complement my therapy practice greatly and help accelerate change for specific stress and trauma events in a client’s life.

Fast forwards to early Summer of this year and I hear of an up and coming “Phase I” Brainspotting training retreat near Washington D.C.

I compulsively signed up and paid.

I thought “well it grew out of EMDR and is up and coming and no one knows about Eye Movement Integration, it’ll probably just give me another tool that’s just as effective as EMI but probably no more so.”

I also must add that I still really didn’t know too much about it.

Fast forwards to the retreat, it completely blew me away!

I’m now hooked! I’m now on the path of learning Brainspotting as deeply as I can. While I also continue my deep dive into AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy).

This approach is odd, instead of eye movements, the therapist assists the client in finding exactly where in their visual field the experience or general something “lives.”

Not just a trauma or stress memory, but positive experiences and blocks to higher functioning can be worked with very precisely. It is also not invasive.

The therapist uses a pointer, not pointing at the client but an extending office pointer that moves up and down and left and right.

When the spot is found, the therapist invites the client to sense into their embodied experience and coaching scaling 0-10 with distress or positive states. Then to allow anything to arise at the spot: mental, emotional, somatic…

It’s also practiced with alternating sounds through headphones to help the brain hemisphere’s sync. This helps with relaxing, releasing and allowing more to come and process quicker.

We learned this as in any good psychotherapy training process with practicing it with each other. It was like going through 2.5 hours of intense psychotherapy in three days!
As well as learning from many very powerful demonstrations.

When I was in the client role, and focusing on real life issues and struggles, it took me until about the third session for specific psychological stuff to come up. But even the first time, there was a sense of something just at a very specific place or point.

When I held my gaze at the pointer, it was like a “tunnel” that was a sucked into. It felt very relaxing but strangely intensely present at the same time.

At the end of the last day I felt that I had gone through something very very intense and just like when I practice a deep technique or session or EMI session with a client, it would take me some time for my neurology to recalibrate itself.

But! I must add that the greatest part of this all and this approach wasn’t the power of this “finding the Brainspot.”
Not, it was that I learned how this approach isn’t a cold, clinical procedure. It’s highly collaborative and emphasizes deep attunement with the client. Exactly like with my AEDP approach, I am fully with the client (when on my A game in a session), attuned and present. Even when the client is gazing somewhere else.

I’ll end this by emphasizing that everything I practice is optional and offered rather than mandatory in any way. Some clients do not resonate and do not need a specific neurotherapy. And AEDP does work on these deep neurological levels as well.

Also, there is a strong tendency in the psychotherapy culture to become tribalistic.

I respect any therapist and approach that deeply and consistently helps and respects the magic that is already inside of the client’s mind and body.

I am ecstatic to continue my progression with Brainspotting and to offer it to my clients!

Toning the Vagus Nerve

I’m very excited to introduce a psychological “hack” that can help with many struggles that my clients and most others in our society struggle with.

Many people come to therapy with their survival response (fight/flight/freeze/shame/attach) on full force.

Being in survival mode because of life and past traumas makes sense and supports… survival but at a tremendous cost when we lack the choice and resources to relax and be any other way.

It takes energy to be in survival mode. We survive but do not thrive. Our ability to engage with others in our lives is severely hampered as well. It takes relaxation and trust in others to switch on this “social-engagement system” which is where true change happens in life.

We also are able to connect with ourselves. Survival mode is extremely externally oriented and internal emotional experience does not get seen and thus not processed and thus builds creating a cycle of more stress in the body-mind system.

This is where the vague nerve comes in.

The vagus nerve is better explained by this video but I’ll say that the vagus nerve is important to “tone” because it is the main means by which the body and the mind communicate.

The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the gut and has many nerve branches that run through the core of the body, especially the front of the body, regulating most of our organs and bodily tissues.

When they do, there’s much more of an ability to relax and turn off (and on) the stress/survival mode of being and to engage with others, the environment and the world.

Vagal “toning” is about stimulating the vagus nerve so that the brain and body can begin to “recalibrate” and get back into sync.

Here are four main ways to safely tone the vagus nerve:

(You can look up “toning the vagus nerve” and will find many other ways of doing so, but these are three effective ways of doing so that I can safely recommend to the public and my clients).

 

  1. Gargling with Water
  2. Singing out loud (yes, truly singing or belting out songs or chanting something and letting it come from your core)
  3. The Ujjayi Breath. (This is a yoga breathing technique that stimulates the back of the throat and is very effective to stimulate the vagus nerve.
  4. Diaphragmatic Breathing. (The well known breathing from the middle of the body deeply as taught by many a mental health professional)

These videos are not the final say on these techniques. I urge the reader to keep looking around for sites and videos that are more helpful for the individual.

Think of this as a practice. To do these techniques everyday as a maintenance. They can be powerful supplements to psychotherapy and other change methods.

The Self-Observing Capacity and Two Tools to Build it:

The further and further I learn about successful psychotherapy and the essential elements of positive change, the more I’m learning that over time it’s a series of capacities or inner skills.

Such as the ability to regulate one’s internal state without overwhelm from difficult emotions or anxieties.

One of the most essential of these capacities is the Self-Observing Capacity. Also called in Attachment Theory the Self-Observing Function.

It’s simply the ability to reflect on your inner experience in the moment.

Unlike thinking about your inner experience or thinking about the past or imagined future, it’s a direct reporting of what comes up in your experience.

This is called a “meta-cognitive” capacity. It’s larger than thought and thinking. It’s stating what one is feeling and thinking and sensing without being in it. Similarly to mindfulness but stated, not just an internal experience.

The reason for building and practicing this skill is that it organizes your inner experience. It builds the capacity to take a step back and become proactive and curious, rather than reactive and “embedded” in experience.

This capacity is naturally built when a parent or early attachment figure in your life inquired with interest into your experience. Such as asking questions in an open way and being interested in what your inner world was like.

This helps a child see themselves as the are seen in another’s eyes and organizes their psyche.

If a child did not have parents or caretakers of whom cared about their inner world of feelings, thoughts, desires and drives, the child usually grows up without an inner compass in life.

They may be compulsive, confused about themselves and others, have a poor sense of their identity and possibly seek it out in others. Forming goals and a personal sense of values may be foreign and all out stressful.

When someone such as a friend, partner, or therapist asks questions and wants to get to know the person, it can feel like an attack, or invasive, or pointless, confusing, and so on, like the person doesn’t have an answer when someone is interested in their inner psychological experience. As if there’s no internal sense of feelings, values, and desires in the first place.

They also may grow up becoming either highly reactive or passive in life.

 

But this does not have to be forever in these cases. This ability can be practiced and built.

Below are two main tools to begin to grow this capacity to observe oneself without judgement but first, here are the essential elements to a person’s direct experience:

1. Spontaneous images and memories

2. Emotions, moods and impulses

3. Body sensations

4. Hearing and Auditory, (what you hear from feelings and parts of yourself and your voice)

5. Thoughts-stated objectively and not thinking about them

TOOL #1: Reporting on your experience

This is very simple and can also be deceptively challenging.

It is simply reporting verbally out-loud or inside your mind what is coming up in your experience.

In a form of psychotherapy called Gestalt Therapy, it is called “The Awareness Continuum.”

It goes like this: I report to myself the first thing I notice. Such as a body sensation, a thought, an emotion, and so on.

It’s easiest to begin with a statement such as “Now I am aware of…” Such as “Now I’m aware of a thought about myself…now I’m aware of a sensation in my belly…now I’m aware of the mood I’ve been feeling today… now I’m aware that I feel that I want to get something from the fridge…”

It’s like a stream of consciousness but more focused.

You can bring to mind an issue in your life and state your experience of it in the moment: “Now I’m aware of what happened last night with XYZ… now I’m aware of feeling…” and so on.

TOOL #2: Checking-in

This is another deceptively simple technique. The reason for it is to build the capacity to stop, slow down and observe one’s inner psychological experience.

When we’re going about our lives, we’re naturally in an outwardly engaged state.

Checking-in is about taking a brief moment to ask yourself:

“What am I experiencing inside?” “What am I thinking that I’m not aware of?” “Whom or what am I reacting to?” “What am I feeling?” “What am I habitually doing?”

And staying with any sensations or emotions WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT THEM! Just objectively reporting on them and feeling into one’s body and states until there may be a shift. A sense of something different when you go inside and allow what’s there without judgement.

I welcome any questions or comments on this subject.

Good luck observing your self! Your self is worth looking into!

Varieties of Experiential-Dynamic Therapy

Here is a link to a site that summarizes the different types of Experiential-Dynamic Psychotherapies.

Varieties of Experiential-Dynamic Psychotherapy

You can see how it has evolved into different approaches but with the same focus of the depths of a client’s experience.

To work flexibly, empathetically, but directly and relationally in a mind/body manner to work towards practical change and functioning in life.