What Is Brainspotting Therapy?

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What Is Brainspotting Therapy?

Brainspotting Therapy

Brainspotting therapy is a type of alternative therapy that uses spots in a person’s visual field to help them process trauma. It accesses trauma trapped in the subcortical brain, the area of the brain responsible for motion, consciousness, emotions, and learning. 

This type of therapy was discovered in 2003 by David Grand, PhD, as an advancement of his work in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Grand had observed a client getting "stuck" in one spot. While staying in this one spot, Grand observed her going deeper than ever before and Brainspotting was born.

One of the purported benefits of Brainspotting therapy over EMDR is that one does not need to “relive” the trauma in order to facilitate its release from the body.

How Brainspotting Therapy Works

Brainspotting works on the theory that feelings from trauma can become stuck in the body, leading to both physical and mental ailments. It is believed that the brain’s memory of a particular trauma or incident is “reset” in the body and brain through Brainspotting.

Grand described this “stuckness” as “frozen maladaptive homeostasis.” Our bodies are generally meant to be in a state of homeostasis, attempting to maintain a stable environment, but this particular kind of homeostasis is not helpful. Brainspotting accesses this and attempts to integrate this interrupted processing of the trauma.

It is one of a few types of emerging therapies focusing on the brain-body connection, including Somatic Experiencing and EMDR. Traditional talk therapy is known as a “top-down” therapy. That is, traditional therapy tries to solve problems with the conscious mind.

These brain-body therapies are known as “bottom up” therapy, which aims to release the physical stress in the body, thereby leading to release the emotional stress in the body as well.

Brainspotting therapy works on the midbrain, which controls parts of the central nervous system that are responsible for processes such as vision, hearing, sleep and motor control. When trauma occurs, this part of the brain typically goes into freeze mode to conserve resources for the body to be in defense mode.

This is necessary if you're, say, fighting a tiger, but is less helpful for psychological trauma—but our bodies can't distinguish between the two.

Techniques 

Although Brainspotting therapy is a bit more fluid and doesn't have a set standard protocol, most sessions follow at least a general blueprint. Here’s how you might expect a session to go.

What a Brainspotting Therapy Session May Look Like

  • Although there is a therapist there guiding you, much of this is self-directed. You will start with some relaxing breathing and possibly listening to bilateral sound (music designed to move from one ear to the other) in headphones.
  • Once you have settled into a more mindful state, you will identify a place in your body where you feel the most distress and rank it on a scale of one to 10. 
  • With the therapist’s help, you will then find your “brain spot,” or, where your eyes naturally focus on when the physical discomfort is the strongest. You will be guided to focus on this point by a pointer rod or the therapist’s finger, and they will help you identify the spot where you are becoming “stuck” and would like to work on it.
  • The therapist may take either an “Outside Window” or “Inside Window” approach. In the “Outside Window” approach, the therapist observes the client’s gaze and recommends a point; in the “Inside Window” approach, the client is the one identifying the point to process.
  • From here, you and the therapist will hone in on the feelings coming up, as you stick with this one area of the body.
  • You will then take some time to process the whole experience of what came up and what it may mean.


At the end of the session, you will again rate your level of distress—typically it will be lower than it was when you started. Some people report feeling a sense of release either mentally or even physically, through a mild tingling sensation or mild shaking as though you have the chills.

Following the session, you may feel exhausted or more emotional than usual. Additionally, more difficult feelings may continue to surface. This is all part of the process, but if the feelings become too much to handle, reach out to your therapist or a crisis hotline if necessary.

What Brainspotting Therapy Can Help With

Though Brainspotting therapy is primarily focused on discovering and alleviating trauma, it can help many different types of issues, especially since trauma’s effects are so far-reaching.

  • Anxiety
  • Attachment issues 
  • Substance use
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder 
  • Chronic pain
  • Major depressive disorder 

Benefits of Brainspotting Therapy 

In one small study, participants experienced a reduction in PTSD, anxiety, and depression symptoms within a few sessions. Other benefits:

  • Reduction in pain
  • Memories become less painful
  • Negative thought patterns are reduced
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy

Effectiveness

Although research remains scant on this modality, one study found Brainspotting to be more effective than either EMDR or CBT—and patients even continued to get better following their treatment being over. All other modalities showed patients’ symptoms returning at the 6-month follow-up. 

Things to Consider

As Brainspotting is still somewhat new and considered somewhat of an alternative treatment, there is still little research on it and any possible long-term effects.

Also, although it does not require as much reliving the trauma as something like EMDR does, inevitably, you will be discussing painful memories and feelings, so it is best to be prepared for that and be sure you have adequate support and self care practices for afterwards.

How to Get Started

Because Brainspotting is a type of therapy requiring specialized training, it is best to find a therapist who is certified in Brainspotting therapy. Brainspotting has a directory of therapists who are certified (which includes completing two courses and at least 50 hours of practicing Brainspotting on clients). Alternatively, you can search online directories of therapists to find ones who specialize in Brainspotting.

Typically, Brainspotting treatment lasts for about six sessions, as opposed to EMDR, which may take up to eight or 10 sessions.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Grand D. Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change. Sounds True; 2013.

  2. Terpou BA, Harricharan S, McKinnon MC, Frewen P, Jetly R, Lanius RA. The effects of trauma on brain and body: A unifying role for the midbrain periaqueductal grayJ Neurosci Res. 2019;97(9):1110-1140. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24447

  3. Hildebrand A, Grand D, Stemmler M. Brainspotting – the efficacy of a new therapy approach for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in comparison to eye movement desensitization and reprocessingMediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2017;Vol 5:No 1 (2017). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/2017.5.1376