Brainspotting: A Body-Based Treatment For PTSD

Aug 28, 2019

People who have endured childhood abuse or battlefield conditions often suffer from PTSD. And they often find it difficult to set the trauma aside — even long after the traumatic event(s) end. "Trauma-informed care" is a newer treatment protocol that takes a patient's past trauma into account to help them feel more comfortable and in control.

Treating the PTSD itself is also evolving. Joshua Delahan is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Milwaukee. He uses a number of what’s called body-based modalities in his practice to help people resolve trauma. Those treatments include somatic experiencing, EMDR, and especially something called brainspotting (BSP).

Brainspotting locates points in the client’s visual field that help to access unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain, according to the BSP website. Basically, "where you look affects how you feel," as the website states.

Delahan says trauma is a biological and lower brain issue created when a person experiences fear and immobilization at the same time. (The immobilization can be because of our innate freeze response to terror or because we were actually restrained.) Our post-traumatic response to the event, which include things like panic attacks and nightmares, aren't something we can think or talk our way out of. Body-based therapies like brainspotting bypass the thinking part of the brain.

"Will is very strong," Delahan says. "Will gets us to the therapist's office or gets us to read the book that might help us work through our issues. But will cannot on its own resolve the trauma. Resolving the trauma means you uncouple the fear from the immobilization."

"Will is very strong ... But will cannot on its own resolve the trauma."

Delahan says that a PTSD response to complex trauma (repeated abuse, for example) can take more than one or two sessions to resolve but for a single event often one session of brainspotting will be enough:

"If we’re talking a single event trauma, where I was in a car accident and now when I get into the car I have a panic attack, you can use one of these body based therapies to go to that moment, open up that file, release that self-state — all that energy — uncouple the fear from the immobilization, get back in the car after your session and drive away and you’re fine."