Brainspotting: Effective Treatment for Helping Youth

Brainspotting is an effective treatment to help youth identify and work through traumatic memories and circumstances. It emphasizes vision as a means to interpret the mind. Furthermore, it encourages clients to sit with the discomfort of emotionally distressing memories until the emotional discomfort subsides and acceptance sets in.

What Exactly Is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a relatively new type of therapy designed to help people access, process, and overcome trauma, negative emotions, and pain, including psychologically induced physical pain.

Invented in 2003 by psychotherapist David Grand, this modality helps pinpoint the spot in the brain that is causing distress in the client. By identifying a focal point of gaze that corresponds to a specific location in the brain, brainspotting helps localize painful memories and helps clients subsequently reprocess them.

The clinician uses a wand to help determine a spot in their gaze where the client feels most activated by the memory. Then, the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale (SUDS) scale is used to help the client process that memory with the ultimate goal of bringing the level of disturbance down to zero. Attention and mindfulness of the body are practiced throughout the intervention.

Similar to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), there is an emphasis on bilateral stimulation of the body. Clients often listen to music to activate both eardrums during the session. Several streaming services offer a playlist for brainspotting curated by David Grand, Ph.D. These melodies are explicitly chosen for their tempo that optimizes bilateral stimulation.

Several steps are incorporated into brainspotting:

  • Recollection of the stressful event: This memory is to be reprocessed.
  • Activation of the client: The client is prompted by the clinician to recall this stressful event. Then, the SUDS scale is applied.  Similar to EMDR, the degree of distress is measured via the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale (SUDS) (0 = no distress; 10 = highest level of distress)
  • A focus on the mind-body connection: Clinicians prompt the client to answer the question, “Where is that coming up in your body?”
  • Determination of a brain spot: Clients follow their clinician’s wand or hand movement while focusing on the painful memory. When the client blinks strongly, for example, a brain spot is determined.
  • Focused attention: The client observes what is coming up for them at that moment.
  • Graduation: The client finishes with the memory when the SUDS level has dropped to zero.

Expected Duration of Therapy

Depending on the number of memories and the corresponding level of distress in the client, brainspotting can take anywhere from a couple of sessions to several months or years.

Benefits of Brainspotting

Sometimes we don’t have the words, but rather just the painful memory. In these instances, brainspotting serves as a tremendous benefit.

Clients do not have to rehash their entire memory if they are not in that processing space yet. They simply choose a single emotionally stressful event to reprocess. They do not have to speak extensively or spend time choosing the exact correct vocabulary. They just focus on the memory.

Demonstrated Efficacy With Sandy Hook Survivors

In particular, this therapy proved highly beneficial to survivors of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. This is in comparison to several other modalities, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) and EMDR. This study shows the efficacy and application of the treatment in youth and adolescence.

Applications in Adolescence 

Adolescence can be an exciting time for some, but a time plagued by painful new experiences and old memories for others. Young adults are being introduced to new concepts at an alarmingly fast rate and have to make significant decisions about where to put their energy, whether or not to use substances and how to use substances, and how they want to show up in the formative years that set them up for adulthood.

These scenarios and decisions can weigh on the individual, which is why brainspotting is such a valuable tool. Brainspotting gives them an outlet to process these intense emotions with a trusted therapist.

More Research Underway

Randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses are on the horizon for this intervention. It is expected that more and more evidence will showcase the efficacy of this relatively new therapeutic modality.

Currently, over 13,000 therapists around the world are practicing brainspotting. That number is expected to grow. As it becomes more popularized, we will have more evidence to support its therapeutic relevance and benefit.

For now, we know brainspotting targets the mind-eye-and-body connection in a revolutionary way.

Brainspotting is a technique that engages a fixated gaze as a “brain spot” from which memories can be most effectively processed. Using a wand, the clinician identifies a brain spot and then has the client rate their level of distress on a ten-point scale. After engaging in therapy, that level of distress is postulated to reach a level of zero. One of the benefits of brainspotting is the way in which clients do not have to overexpose with language. While more research is underway, there are several applications of this therapy that are relevant for youth and adolescents. At Havenwood Academy, brainspotting is a go-to tool in the therapeutic relationship. Our highly skilled clinicians use this to support young women overcoming painful pasts. If you believe you may be a fit for our program, we encourage you to fill out our easy online assessment today. To learn more about our program and the benefits of brainspotting, call (435) 586-2500 today.


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