Brainspotting: The Therapy Technique To Try If Your Body Keeps The Score

The majority of us have been (or will be) exposed to some type of trauma in our lives (via FHE Health). Whether you've already survived hardship or know others who have, you've likely heard that trauma can be "stored" in the body. The best-selling book "The Body Keeps Score" by Bessel van der Kolk helped popularize this idea, combining psychology and biology and bringing it to the mainstream. The book's author suggests that the effects of trauma aren't only emotional — they're physical, and they reshape how the body functions at multiple levels, from its organs to its hormone levels.


Now that more of us are privy to how the body responds to trauma, there's more space for therapy techniques that go beyond "how does that make you feel"-style questioning. One example is brainspotting.

While it might sound like a play on words of the term "trainspotting," brainspotting is something completely different. According to, the therapy treatment uses the eyes to unlock trauma buried in the body. Could it be the mental health fix you need? Here's what you should know before trying this alternative method.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.


What is brainspotting?

If you've never heard of brainspotting before, that might be because it's still a relatively new type of trauma therapy. The method was created in 2003 by Dr. David Grand, a psychotherapist (via In a YouTube interview with Healing TREE, Dr. Grand explains that the premise behind the therapy style has to do with the anatomy of the brain. Essentially, he says, traditional talk therapy focuses on the neocortex, or the thinking part of the brain, while brain-based therapy targets the subcortex, which he describes as the reptilian brain. "What we do in brainspotting is we use eye position, where a person looks, to find where that unprocessed trauma is in this deeper subcortical brain," he shares. Besides being a brain-based mental health technique, brainspotting is considered to be a body-based form of trauma treatment, too, because it highlights bodily sensations during sessions.


According to Choosing Therapy, brainspotting is rooted in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), another type of therapy that uses the eyes, though these two modalities aren't the same thing. Where EMDR relies on eye movements to process trauma, brainspotting works by keeping the eyes focused on just one trauma-triggering spot.

What a brainspotting session is like

Brainspotting sessions might look pretty different from what you're used to or how you've always imagined therapy to be. Dr. Kim & Dr. Hilary of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling say that a typical session involves identifying a specific issue and noticing how that issue affects you physically in the body. Then, you are instructed to look in different directions until you locate your brainspot — the point in your visual field that's associated with the trauma or personal issue.


Once you've located your brainspot, the real work happens. Licensed clinical social worker and brainspotting therapist and trainer Dr. Christine Ranck explains that a brainspotting practitioner will then ask you to stay focused on the brainspot, where you hold your gaze in the location that triggers the emotional and physical reaction. They'll talk to you about what you're feeling until the discomfort subsides and you feel lighter and more at peace.

Keep in mind that not every brainspotting therapist follows the same procedure or protocol. Some may use relaxation techniques to help you ease into your session, while others might include tools like bilateral sound (sounds that are played in headphones, alternating between the left and right ears).


Who might benefit from brainspotting therapy?

Brainspotting therapy is all about unlocking and releasing pent-up trauma, and — as we mentioned earlier — nearly everyone has or will have some traumatic experiences during their lifetime. That's why, according to another interview with Dr. David Grand that was published on YouTube by user @TAGStudioNY, brainspotting can be beneficial for pretty much anyone. He notes that there are multiple techniques involved in brainspotting, meaning the therapy sessions can be customized depending on the patient's needs.


There also aren't significant risks or side effects involved with brainspotting the way there might be with prescription medications, for example. However, like with other types of one-on-one therapy, you may be asked to discuss uncomfortable experiences or sensations to help process the trauma, which can be challenging at first.

Still not sure if brainspotting could work for you? Besides potentially helping people who have endured trauma, the therapy style is also thought to help those with anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and other behavioral and mental health conditions.

When to seek out a brainspotting session

If brainspotting helps people resolve their past traumas, it might seem like it should be incorporated into your daily life, or at least part of your regular therapy schedule. After all, almost anything can stir up uncomfortable feelings, from a stressful project at work to an argument with your significant other. However, it might take time before brainspotting can work its magic, according to Dr. David Grand.


In an interview segment with MSNBC, Dr. Grand explains that soon after a traumatic experience, people tend to be in "trauma shock" and survival mode, where it's too soon for the long-term effects of the experience to emerge, per YouTube. As time passes, however, they may start to notice symptoms associated with their trauma, at which point therapy can be useful in releasing any lingering emotions and negative thinking traps.

Take post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for instance. Though it's possible to still be impacted by trauma even without developing PTSD, among those who do, it can take months or even years before there are any signs of the disorder (via American Psychiatric Association). And because identifying signs of trauma is an essential part of the brainspotting process, this type of therapy may not be effective until weeks or months following the traumatic experience.


Once you do realize that a past trauma has a grip on you, even after some time has passed, brainspotting may then be the key to letting go and moving on.

Where to go for this type of therapy

Brainspotting is still fairly new in the mental health world and is typically categorized as "alternative therapy," meaning it might not be part of your go-to therapist's repertoire. You'll have to track down a professional who has trained to become a certified brainspotting practitioner, a process that's completed through the brainspotting network and not through the average university psychology or counseling program.


Still, even if it's not one of the most accessible types of therapy, it's not impossible to find a brainspotting professional. Over 13,000 therapists have earned a brainspotting certification to date, and practitioners can be found all over the world, per You can even book a brainspotting session online. Just as you would in an in-person session, you'll typically be instructed to look in various directions in your visual field before locating your brainspot. Then, through your screen, you'll discuss any feelings or sensations that bubble up, while working to process and release the trauma.

So, does brainspotting really work?

Just like with any other type of therapy, results aren't guaranteed with brainspotting. Moreover, brainspotting lacks some of the research and evidence to back it up that other approaches might have, as trauma expert Dr. Robert T. Muller, writes on Psychology Today.


However, that doesn't necessarily mean that brainspotting is bogus. As a relatively recent discovery, brainspotting therapy might take time to catch on and become mainstream. Until then, a few studies, such as one 2017 study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology (co-authored by Dr. David Grand), have found brainspotting to be highly effective and perhaps even more effective than other popular approaches like EMDR and CBT. And unlike some forms of therapy that require several sessions to see results, brainspotting aims to be quick and efficient. In a video published on Vimeo by user VidPros, Dr. Grand even says that the brainspotting process is often completed in as few as two sessions.


To put it simply, brainspotting could be a powerful way to deal with trauma, though you may not want to rely solely on this alternative method. Continue other mental health practices, like traditional talk therapy or at-home meditation and journaling, and consider adding brainspotting to supplement what's already tried and true.