What is Brainspotting (BSP)?

Brainspotting is a mid-brain based therapy used for helping clients to process issues, memories, experiences, or emotions. It is a “bottom-up” therapy, meaning it focuses on processing information stored in the mid-brain (emotional center), as opposed to talk therapy, which is a “top-down” therapy focused on processing information stored in the cerebral cortex (logical center).

Why would someone see a BSP therapist?

Anyone who is dealing with an issue that is difficult to manage can come to see a BSP therapist. Midbrain-based therapy techniques such as BSP or EMDR are especially appropriate for clients who have been using talk-therapy a while and are at a standstill. BSP often helps clients experience unique breakthroughs by reducing reactivity, connecting dots, unlocking creativity, processing trauma, and generally working toward significant progress in their healing journey. Someone who uses Brainspotting might see that they experience fewer intrusive thoughts, less emotional activation, and an increased sense of freedom, fulfillment, or peace in various areas of life.

How does Brainspotting work?

What is the science/explanation underlying the process?

Here’s how it works: BSP uses the client’s line of sight, somatic experience, and bilateral stimulation to access the parts of the brain where memory about the issue is stored. The therapist guide the client to look at a particular spot, pay attention to what is happening in their body and listen to music that goes from one ear to the other. The connection between these three techniques allows clients to access their mid-brain (also called the emotional brain and sub-cortex) where memories, trauma, deep emotional connections and instinctual processing lie. Accessing this part of the brain allows clients to power down their front brain (also called the thinking brain or neo-cortex); this is the essence of the BSP processing work. Getting to this part of the brain allows clients to remove the blocks that sit deep in the brain and keep clients stuck in their patterns.

What would a BSP session look when like if someone hasn’t attended before?

The client and therapist will have spoken about readiness and comfort to begin BSP work. If the client is doing this work online, they will need headphones and access to Spotify, Youtube or another music system the therapist uses. The client will need privacy and a comfortable place to work from with the therapist.

Once BSP begins, the client will begin by thinking about the topic they want to address. They will work with the therapist to find a correlating brainspot (spot in visual field). Once the spot is found, the therapist will continue to hold the spot for the client, often using a pointer.

The client will focus on what they notice in their body and what it brings up for them in their memory and emotions. The therapist will encourage the client to observe where the feelings in the body take them, whether that be an emotion, another body sensation, a memory, etc. The client may share as much or as little as they like with the therapist.

During the process the client may notice physical reactions such as twitching, tics, shaking, yawning, changes in breathing or rapid blinking. This is a signal that the brain is processing the information and creating new neuropathways to move past the issue the client faces.

The process can take as long as the client/time allows.

At the end of the session, and sometimes in the days following, the client may notice a range of feelings including feeling tired, foggy, or emotional.

Who developed the protocol for BSP?

David Grand, PhD, developed Brainspotting as he worked as an EMDR therapist. He noticed that when he moved his hand across the clients’ visual field for the bilateral processing in EMDR, the clients’ eyes sometimes wobbled. He instinctively stopped his hand at that place, and noticed that the client was able to process more deeply than she had done before, and on topics that she had previous processed with EMDR. And so he continued to develop this technique into a branch of its own.

How does it compare to EMDR?

The two techniques enjoy similarities and differences, and both have the potential to influence the client’s healing journey exponentially. Both are powerful tools for reprocessing information stored in the mid-brain. Both are able to help clients reduce their emotional reactivity and distress, or develop a different perspective of the issue.

Visual field
Both BSP and EMDR utilize the clients’ visual field, but EMDR uses rapid eye movement, while Brainspotting uses a fixed eye position.

Generally speaking, EMDR follows a set protocol for treatment. BSP relies heavily on the therapist’s attunement to the client, and allows more flexibility in the process for what the client needs in the moment.

Verbal processing
EMDR requires a client to vocalize their experience between each step. BSP also requires very little speaking to the therapist during the process, which may be appealing to some clients that have a difficult time opening up.

After effect
EMDR seems to be more intense and concentrated, and the effects more immediate, while clients of BSP feel that they still see processing and shifts happening for some time after their session.

Who are our BSP practitioners here at Safe Harbour?

Carmen Okhmatovski, MFT, Natalie Koleric MA, MMFT, and Dale Pankiw, RPN are our team members who are able to work with clients who are interested in brainspotting. Please visit their pages to see if you think they are they may be the right fit for you.

Carmen Okhmatovski

Individual and Relational Therapist

Natalie Koleric

Individual and Relational Therapist

Listen on Apple Podcast Listen on Google Play


Receive emails on new blog posts, our latest podcasts and information on Safe Harbour Therapy.