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The Role of Brainspotting for Trauma and Addiction

Addiction does not develop in a vacuum. Many therapists think that unresolved trauma is at the root of many substance use disorders (SUD). Unprocessed trauma also puts individuals at higher risk of developing mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), conditions that frequently accompany addiction. One of the newer treatments for these issues is brainspotting.

What Is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting (BSP) is a therapeutic modality developed in 2003 by Dr. David Grand. It grew out of his experiences with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapies. According to an article that was published on the website goodtherapy.org, in brainspotting, a therapist with specialized training in the technique guides the eyes of the client “across their field of vision to find appropriate ‘brainspots’…an eye position that activates a traumatic memory or painful emotion.” Frequently, the visual stimulation is accompanied by biolateral, also called bilateral, sound or music, which alternates between the right and left sides of the client’s head. As the therapist directs the client’s eye movements with a pointer, he or she will ask the client what sensations they are having in their body when their eyes are focusing on various points. According to Grand, a brainspot is a point in visual space that evokes a strong reaction in the client.

Part of what makes this therapy effective is what is referred to as “dual attunement,” alluding to the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist and the connection between the brain and the body of the client. Therapists who are trained in brainspotting have said that they believe the technique allows the client to access their emotions on a deeper level and also address the physical aspects of the trauma.

What Trauma Does to the Brain

Here at Enlightened Solutions, a SUD treatment facility in New Jersey, when a person experiences trauma, “the processing capacity of the brain is overwhelmed. This results in aspects of the experience (feelings, beliefs, sensations) becoming stuck, encapsulated, and unprocessed in the subcortex of [the] brain. This is the area of the brain responsible for our emotions, our survival responses, and our physical sensations. In this part of the brain, there is no language and sense of time. This helps to explain why trauma survivors have difficulty processing and resolving the impact through talk therapy and continue to experiencing distressing effects long after the trauma has occurred.” 

According to a report published by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), people who have experienced trauma are at an increased risk for developing a substance use disorder. For example, 75% of the people in the study who had experienced abuse or violence indicated that they abuse alcohol, while 33% who had experienced trauma as the result of an accident, illness, or natural disaster said that they have issues with alcohol abuse. The Vietnam War veterans participating in the study who were treated for PTSD also have alcohol use disorder.

In considering trauma, it is important to note that each individual has a unique experience with life events and that what may seem like a traumatizing experience to one person may seem like not that big of a deal to another. Or, if two people experience the same event (like a car accident), one person may develop PTSD while the other recovers emotionally more quickly.

Benefits of Brainspotting

According to the staff at Enlightened Solutions, brainspotting can enable a person to process a traumatic experience without talking about it. “This therapy is able to circumvent the conscious and ‘thinking’ parts of our brain that can normally interfere with access to the emotional parts…we learn to bring awareness to our inner experience.” Brainspotting can help us to regulate our emotions, to retrain our emotional reactions, and to release experiences that are not accessible to the conscious mind. In addition, brainspotting can work much more quickly than talk therapy.

Who Can Benefit From Brainspotting?

While brainspotting has been used most often to treat patients with PTSD and those suffering from trauma who don’t meet all the diagnostic criteria of PTSD, the technique has been used to treat other conditions as well. Brainspotting has been shown to be an effective therapeutic modality for people with anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anger management issues, phobias, substance abuse, chronic fatigue and chronic pain, and impulse control issues. Brainspotting has also been used to enhance athletic performance and to boost creativity.

If you have substance abuse issues and also have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or have experienced trauma, brainspotting is one of the therapeutic modalities that could prove beneficial to you. Brainspotting is one of the many kinds of treatment that we offer at Enlightened Solutions. We offer many alternative therapies as well as more traditional talk therapy as part of the substance abuse treatment programs that we individualize for each client. We address the needs of the whole client, not just the addiction. The holistic treatment modalities that we offer, in addition to brainspotting, include yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, art and music therapy, sound therapy, equine therapy, and horticultural therapy. Our treatment is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy and we are located in southern New Jersey, near the shore. If you are struggling with the effects of unresolved trauma and addiction, please call us at (833) 801-5483. We’re here to help.

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