Brainspotting for Recovery

There is a strong correlation between trauma and addiction. Trauma and other mental health conditions are frequently co-occurring with substance use disorder (SUD) because many people with addiction are primarily misusing substances to self-medicate emotional pain caused by trauma.

If trauma is an important driver of addiction, it follows that trauma should be addressed in addiction treatment. One available treatment modality is a new trauma therapy known as “Brainspotting.”

In a special two-hour webinar for Harmony Foundation, Joanne Baum, Ph.D., LCSW, CAS, explained the benefits of using Brainspotting therapeutically with people on their recovery journey. Dr. Baum believes that all people have the ability to heal from the inside out. She has been trained as a family mediator and divorce coach and is a certified Brainspotting therapist. 

Brainspotting was developed by David Grand, Ph.D. His clients include survivors of traumas such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and active combat, as well as professional performers, athletes, and business leaders. “Brainspotting is one of the increasing number of what are known as brain-based therapies, treatments that go beyond the mind to gain direct access to the brain,” he wrote in Brainspotting (2013). 

“Signals sent from our eyes are deeply processed in the brain. The brain then reflexively and intuitively redirects where we look, moment to moment,” Grand wrote. “But trauma can overwhelm the brain’s processing capacity, leaving behind pieces of the trauma, frozen in an unprocessed state. Brainspotting uses our field of vision to find where we are holding these traumas in our brain.”

Grand’s method was developed to enable a person to have “new, thoughtful responses become automatic, rather than repeating their old trauma reactions in an involuntary, unhealthy pattern,” explained Dr. Baum in the webinar. 

Brainspotting is an attunement model with the therapist attuned to the client, the client attuned to the “brainspot” they have found, and to somatic cues in their body. “Maintaining an eye position—the brainspot—with those three attunements in place seems to down-regulate the person’s internal triggered reactions,” Baum said. 

Her two favorite things about Brainspotting: “It begins with the premise that your body knows how to heal yourself and sharing that belief with clients is empowering to them.”

“Brainspotting allows us to harness the brain’s natural ability for self-scanning,” wrote Dr. Grand, “so we can activate, locate, and process the sources of trauma and distress in the body.”

“Brainspotting heals on deep levels and can lead to lasting change,” explained Baum. In the context of addiction treatment that means “it enhances recovery and helps prevent relapse.”

Being in a traumatized state, “contributes immensely to a person using to deaden their pain,” Baum said. “It contributes greatly to relapse because the person is trying to relieve or escape pain which they find overwhelming. Experiencing their unresolved pain causes dysfunctional, automatic, emotionally painful reactions that alienate them from themselves and others. We enhance a person’s recovery and functioning by healing their trauma.”

Unresolved trauma can put the person into a permanent state of low self-esteem, inducing mood swings, rampant stress, uncontrollable anxiety, insomnia, and other signs and symptoms. Brainspotting can “down-regulate a person’s autonomic nervous systems,” explained Dr. Baum, “effectively turning off or reducing the emotional reactivity of an implicit memory while seemingly creating new neural pathways and healing that which used to trigger and no longer does. Healing from the trauma, the person is able to be fully conscious in the present moment and respond in a mindful, thoughtful way, rather than react involuntarily to past trauma.” 

Harmony Foundation has long utilized a holistic approach to healing trauma and addiction. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Realizing that addiction is a biopsychosocial and spiritual disease, Harmony’s treatment program promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering patients to embark upon a lifelong recovery journey.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction or have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.