My Personal Journey with Brainspotting
Updated: Dec 25, 2019
As a therapist, I believe it is important to be the first partaker of what you preach, sort to speak. In other words, it’s challenging for me to talk about things like mindfulness, self care, and even the importance of getting therapy, if I have not experienced it myself. Thankfully it was a requirement in grad school; but let me tell you I was more than happy to go!
I understand the importance of doing my own healing work on a personal level, because I am just that – human. Sometimes you get the best of both - training and healing, and that's what happened during my Brainspotting training. I thought it would be nice to go behind the scenes and share my experience with you.
On my way back from training, while walking through the airport I saw a sign, “Everyone has a black bag.” Of course, they were talking about luggage and making sure you did not grab someone else’s luggage, but that thing stuck with me.
As I reflected on that statement I recognized the power, truth, and revelation of its meaning. We all have a ‘black bag.’ We have all witnessed or experienced something disturbing, distressing, or overwhelming in our lives, and likely multiple times and in a myriad of ways. I wish I could say no one is exempt, but that would not be realistic. There is nothing more inclusive and isolating than a traumatic experience. We all have our own stories to tell.
Human first, then therapist, I’ll be the first to admit I have a black bag. It's comforting and reassuring to know that there is a specialist out there that can help me sort and work through my black bag so I don’t accidentally mix it up with your black bag. I understand how important it is to find the right therapist. Indeed it is a process. If you haven't found the right one - don't stop searching.
Now, on to my experience.
Four days. Four days of learning and shedding layers through Brainspotting (BSP) training.
I went into this both excited and skeptical. Yes I said that. But this happens frequently when we are faced with the unknown and uncertainty. Heck, even when you know and are certain, you can still be skeptical, but I digress. The point in all of this is to acknowledge where you are, and “trust the process,” a phrase that was heard numerous times during grad school.
What is Brainspotting? I won't go into a lot of details. You can find lots of information at www.brainspotting.com. Instead, I'll provide information about how Brainspotting came into being. David Grand PhD, stumbled upon this technique while working with a client who, although had great success in over a year of therapy, still found herself stuck in a loop the prevented her from accomplishing a very important task. Dr. Grand, also strong in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), found that the client’s eyes wobbled and froze as Dr. Grand moved his fingers across the client's visual field. While holding his fingers in the spot that the client's gaze was fixed, new material emerged from the client, even after a year of intensive treatment. Even more astounding, the client who previously struggled with that particular task, was able to complete the task the following day!
Dr. Grand continued experimenting with this phenomenon and ultimately Brainspotting was birthed. In short, Brainspotting locates points in the client’s visual field that help to access unprocessed trauma in the sub cortical brain. I encourage you to find out more about Brainspotting at www.brainspotting.com.
Back to my story. At the training, held personally by Dr. Grand (what an honor), I was both the clinician and the client. Surrounded by clinicians who share the passion to heal clients and communities, and to be healed. It was four days of being amongst kindred spirits, united for a cause.
So what did I learn about during my experience with Brainspotting? Here’s my caveat before I go forward - I’m sharing my experience with you on a basic level. My experience is unique to my life, so although the pragmatics of the process is the same, the unfolding process will be yours and yours alone.
The #1 thing I learned about the BSP process: Sometimes the problem isn’t the whole problem, it’s just part of the problem, and the answer can be found inside the problem.
I know this sounds confusing so allow me to expound. Often times we have situations that occur in life that cause us to become ‘reactive,’ and our reaction becomes the norm. We don’t really know why we are responding in that manner, but deep down inside we know there’s something wrong with it. Whelp, you’re right. In my process, I started with what was distressing me and how it was showing up in my body. It was pretty uncomfortable but I stuck with it. That thing began to unfold in the most unlikely ways. I felt like I was all over the place, but reflecting back the pieces of the puzzle were formulating, taking shape, and being more appropriately placed. I’m a visual and this is a reflective experience so I hope you can see what I’m saying.
I think it’s important to reiterate what I said above – during the process, I felt like I was all over the place. There were realizations, ah ha moments, and powerful reflections. As a person who thrives in connecting the dots, I had to really let go and trust the process. I had to trust the person sitting in front of me, and I did not know that person. This is much of what it’s like in the therapeutic process. The connection with your therapist is paramount to the healing process. Although I did not now the clinician, we connected within moments after talking. I felt comfortable, even safe, sensing empathy before we even began. The environment was also safe.
Has that ever happened with you? You walk into a doctor or therapist's office and feel connected immediately, like oh yes, I can sit here for hours and feel supported and heard. That’s what I got from this clinician. I felt connected - we felt connected. In BSP, it's called attunement.
As I gazed at the pointer and unpacked what needed to be released, it was like different pictures, thoughts began to surface. Now, I knew there was something behind my challenge. I am a therapist so I wanted to find the underlying issue. So I realized that the problem I started out with wasn’t really the problem, there was a deeper source of the problem. Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly enough, I hadn’t recognized the deeper source of the problem. It was tucked away in an earlier situation in my life that I would have never connected with my current situation. However, as I reflected back, it made so much sense.
Yes, there were lots of emotions, including tears, some smiling and laughs. Most of all, it was like a burden was lifting. I knew my co-partner was with me every step of the way, even though she didn’t say much (that’s the process of BSP). When the moment was right, because we were connected in that moment, it seemed as though she knew what to say and when to say it (that’s attunement), and it greatly enhanced the depth of my experience. It's not always easy to sit with uncomfortable sensations and feelings, but I knew it was okay to do so because she was with me. Sometimes I verbalized things that were coming up, sometimes I just sat with it in silence.
It was a gentle yet powerful process of healing and revelation. It was comforting to know that tags and titles were put aside, and I was allowed the space for my humanistic self to receive healing. We all need to be healed from something. Pain is universal. No one goes untouched. I can honestly say I received another level of healing.
As a human, I have my own challenges and I’m not ashamed to say it. Therapy is a beautiful, powerful tool that provides connection, validation, healing, and encouragement to those who have been wounded – which is everyone. As I said when I started out, we all have a black bag, whether large or small. And we all deserve the opportunity to bring our black bag to the table, open and reveal its contents to allow healing to take place, for in these spaces we can also find ways to revamp and reframe those tools as they are placed back in our black bags. For you see, our life experiences aren’t dumped in a never land box. We are often shaped by life’s experiences – not built, but shaped.
We are built to connect, love, survive and thrive. The things we experience in life can muddy the waters and create an artificial edifice of beliefs and pictures of who we are. When we allow ourselves the opportunity to work through those situations that feel like a tone of bricks weighing us down, we can experience a complete metamorphosis. Just like the butterfly – what you look like in the beginning doesn’t have to be what you look like in the end. BSP is a tool that can help you make the transition.
I, like you, am on a journey, a path to living my best life. Trauma causes you to spend so much time looking backwards that you miss what is ahead of you, and sometimes what is in front of you. Sure, the path ahead can seem scary and unknown, but when you think about it, so did the previous path in your journey, and yet you made it to this place. And now it's time to continue on in this journey called life. Trauma can leave you bruised and may be broken, but there are healers out there, like me, that are here to hold space with you in your restoration process. I was honored both to sit in that place to be healed, and to sit in that place as a healer.
As I said in the beginning, it was 4 days of training. I am an advocate of learning and will never stop, and I am glad I had the opportunity to train with the developer of Brainspotting, Dr. David Grand. He is a wise, intelligent, gentleman who is passionate about helping people heal.