What Is Brainspotting and How Can It Treat Your Child’s Trauma?

Children who live through adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma often have difficulty coping with everyday stressors. Behavioral issues and other problems can sometimes develop as the child tries to find ways to manage emotional distress. Adopted and fostered children have a higher risk of experiencing early childhood trauma that affects their emotional development. Trauma-focused treatments can help your child learn healthy coping skills. Havenwood Academy offers evidence-based and alternative therapies like brainspotting (BSP) to help teens heal from ACEs.

What Is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a therapeutic option that uses eye positions to engage specific areas of the brain. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health says, “During a typical BSP session, the therapist guides, through a pointer, the eyes of the client across the field of vision to find an appropriate eye position (‘Brainspot’) to ‘activate’ the psychophysiological response to a traumatic memory.” The technique is related to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which also helps individuals reprocess traumatic experiences.

During a treatment session, the participant will hold different eye positions to try and stimulate a strong emotional response. The therapist will have them stare at whatever spot in their visual field elicits the strongest emotions. Research in Medical Hypotheses reported, “Holding the attention on that Brainspot allows processing of the traumatic event to flow until the body activation has cleared.”

One benefit of brainspotting is that it does not require your child to relive a traumatic experience by describing it out loud. Brainspotting requires minimal guidance from the therapist. The non-intrusive nature of the therapy makes it a valuable tool for teens who have trouble opening up to adults.

Is Brainspotting the Same as EMDR?

EMDR uses similar techniques to help people reprocess traumatic memories. However, they are not precisely the same. In EMDR sessions, eye movement and bilateral stimulation are used alongside visualization and talk therapy to help participants reprocess their trauma.

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Compared to EMDR, the processing phase in BSP is generally more focused on body sensations.” In many cases, talking is extremely limited, and the child is encouraged to focus on the emotions and thoughts that come up when looking at a specific spot in their visual field.

What Happens During a Session?

The brain stores traumatic memories in a different way than non-traumatic memories. Trauma can cause psychosomatic reactions if left untreated. Unprocessed trauma causes behavioral, mood, and emotional problems that can affect a child’s quality of life. Brainspotting and other alternative therapies can provide a way to stimulate the area of the adolescent’s brain affected by the trauma without risking re-traumatization.

During the session, the child won’t have to discuss their trauma with the therapist or picture it in their mind. The brainspot is connected to strong emotions related to the trauma. Instead of talking or thinking about their experiences, the participant is encouraged to focus entirely on the feelings and sensations induced by activating that spot in their brain. In many cases, activating one area of the brain causes nearby regions to become more active, which can help the child reprocess emotions, thoughts, and sensations related to the particular trauma.

What Are the Positive Effects of Brainspotting?

Many alternative holistic therapies, like brainspotting, work best when combined with traditional psychotherapy, group therapy, and family support. At Havenwood Academy, we use brainspotting to enhance the effectiveness of other treatments. It is not a standalone treatment.

The mental health benefits of brainspotting can include:

  • Fewer symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression
  • Decreased stress
  • Improved mood and increased positivity
  • Increased self-awareness and self-confidence
  • Better ability to focus
  • Improved sleep

Every child reacts differently to brainspotting, and it is not a “cure” for trauma. The effects depend on various factors, including the type and severity of trauma symptoms and any co-occurring disorders. However, most children experience significant emotional release and report a positive effect after undergoing this treatment.

What Conditions Can Brainspotting Treat?

Brainspotting can be used to treat a range of issues related to anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Adopted teens have often been through traumatic moments that have gone untreated. In some cases, the trauma is undisclosed, in which case you might only suspect there is trauma that requires treatment but not know for sure. The experts at Havenwood Academy assess the teens in our care to determine if they would benefit from trauma-focused treatment.

Brainspotting is frequently used to help young people struggling with the following:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Specific phobias
  • Early childhood trauma

Reducing Trauma Responses

Adopted and foster children often have ACEs and trauma that contribute to behavioral or attachment issues, including reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Managing symptoms of trauma and reprocessing those memories can help teens heal. Although brainspotting is still a relatively new technique, anecdotal evidence has shown that it can effectively reduce trauma responses.

Teens participating in brainspotting sessions usually gain deeper self-awareness and engage more fully in treatment and therapy. In addition, connecting with the past and processing ACEs can empower teens to feel more confident in their ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and other symptoms.

Brainspotting is a relatively new therapeutic technique that provides significant relief from symptoms of anxiety and trauma. Teens and adolescents who struggle with childhood trauma, chronic stress, and mental health issues may benefit from brainspotting therapy. The technique works by helping the child become aware of the feelings and sensations caused by focusing on a specific spot in their visual field. That spot activates areas of the brain related to trauma and allows the child to process distressing events, feelings, and emotions. Havenwood Academy uses brainspotting and other therapies to help children and young adults heal from the effects of adverse childhood experiences. To learn more about our program, call us at (435) 586-2500.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.