One of the aspects or Brainspotting that fits my therapeutic approach is the client-centered flexibility of it. It can be difficult to answer questions about Brainspotting because it not only looks a little different client to client, but also session to session. I see this as a strength, even if the lack of protocol has made it more difficult for researchers. In this case, it often takes just a few minutes for people to recognize the power of it if they are curious. But to answer the question, I will address some possible options for what Brainspotting may include.
Biolateral music, which is hand-panned to rock from left hemisphere to right hemisphere, may be included via headphones or not. This music or panned nature sounds is intended to be played at a barely perceptible volume as an add-on, but it is not necessary. Even when clients are “just talking” I think it can be helpful to include the biolateral music as it helps you go deeper into the regions of the brain where memory and emotion are stored.
One way to increase (or slow down) the access to a memory or emotion can be by isolating processing to either the left or right hemisphere of the brain. If you want to give this a try, think about something that you had a strong feeling about, then cover one eye with your hand and notice how that feeling changes in you for a minute or two, then switch eyes and notice again. You will most likely find that even if slight, there is a noticeable difference. Clients can choose whether to work from the eye (brain hemisphere) that provides more “activation” or more “resourcing”. It would be uncomfortable to hold your hand over your eye for an entire therapy session, so special blackout goggles or an eyepatch can be used. Or clients can choose to process from both hemispheres at the same time and not cover either eye.
Pointers and more
The pointer therapists use in Brainspotting is another tool used for ease and comfort. The biggest contribution Brainspotting has made to psychotherapy is recognizing that “where you look affects how you feel” (Grand) and the power of the fixed eye position in accessing specific neural pathways. Dr. Grand quickly discovered that holding his arm in a fixed position was physically taxing, so a pointer can be used to hold the spot for a client. The pointer can not only mark the position, but it can also serve as a grounding connection between therapist a client, representing the attunement the therapist is holding for the client during the process.
While there are a variety of pointers that counselors can use, it can seem clinical or academic to some. Finger puppets or other toys can be placed on the end of a pointer to make it a warmer or more personalized experience. Kids sometimes draw their own pictures to use for Brainspotting. The possibilities are endless. It is also not necessary for a pointer to be used. A post-it note on the wall can mark a spot or an object in the room. My busy wallpaper creates lots of potential markers on which clients can rest their eyes.
One spot or many
While fixed eye position is one of the major contributions Brainspotting has made to psychotherapy, there is flexibility in that as well. A Brainspotting session may include two or more spots which clients alternate between or a Brainspotting therapist may “roll” the pointer between multiple spots, depending on the needs of the client and the issue the client wants to process.
Eyes open or eyes closed
The extra ocular muscles can find and hold an eye position even with eyes closed, so clients may close their eyes for part or all of a Brainspotting session. A client may be more comfortable with their eyes closed or they may find it helps them notice their internal process. Other clients may feel much more comfortable with their eyes open.
Words or Silence
Another thing I love about Brainspotting is that clients can talk as much or as little as they want. The option for silent processing can be appealing for those who don’t want to talk about their trauma, those uncomfortable talking to a therapist for a variety of personal or cultural reasons, processing implicit trauma and pre-verbal experiences, or in situations when the experience was in a language the client doesn’t currently have access to in cases of international adoption for example. Some people talk through the entire Brainspotting session and some don’t speak at all, but both can have extremely powerful experiences.
As clients notice their internal processing and experience, they may have flashes of memory that come quickly or slowly, they may notice physical sensations and how they change throughout the session, they may have emotions attached to or unattached to thoughts or memories, or they may experience a combination of things. I have been with clients who simply noticed physical sensations (itching or warmth or pain) moving through them and dissipating. I have been with clients who start crying without sadness or memory attached. I have been with clients who become aware of memories that come in an unpredictable order. I personally have had memories open and slow down, so that I notice more detail.
What is always the same is that the therapist should be attuned to the client, the therapeutic relationship, and the neurobiology of the client. The therapist is available to help the client dial up or dial down the intensity of the session using the flexibility of Brainspotting at any time during the session. Brainspotting is an art and a science, but never a protocol. Brainspotting therapists help clients find the set-up for processing that is best for them in that moment to obtain their greatest potential for healing.
photo by MoreJoy Photography