Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Performance Enhancement
What is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting (BSP) is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing, and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation, and a variety of other challenging symptoms. BSP is a simultaneous form of diagnosis and treatment.
BSP works deeply in the brain and body by directly accessing the autonomic and limbic systems. Hence, it is considered a physiological tool/treatment which has profound psychological, emotional, and physical consequences.
“Brainspotting is based on the profound attunement of the therapist with the patient, finding a somatic cue and extinguishing it by down-regulating the amygdala. It isn’t just PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) activation that is facilitated, it is homeostasis.”
— Robert Scaer, M.D., The Trauma Spectrum
A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic event or emotionally charged issue within the brain. Located by eye position, paired with externally observed and internally experienced reflexive responses, a Brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem holding emotional experiences in memory form. By locating and activating the brain spot, it is possible to process and release intensely traumatic and emotionally charged issues.
This rapid acting therapy stimulates and promotes deep processing, integrating, and healing activity within the brain by releasing “traumatic capsules” which are frozen in primitive survival modes. This may also explain how BSP reduces and sometimes eliminates pain, struggle, and tension associated with physical/medical conditions. The technique processes and dismantles the symptoms, the underlying trauma, the somatic distress, and the dysfunctional beliefs at the reflexive core.
All repetitive sports performance problems (RSPP) like the yips, blocks, slumps, and performance anxiety, never make any sense to the athlete, parents, coaches or fans. Athletes and coaches don’t have a clue how to fix the problem and typical approaches such as working harder are not effective, and only add to frustration and deepening of the problem. This is because RSPPs all have trauma bases that operate outside the athlete’s conscious awareness and control. Unless the underlying physical and emotional traumas are identified and addressed, the problem might lessen but never be fully eliminated. Many athletes struggle endlessly. When unable to perform at previously high levels, they may leave sport prematurely.
Every sport has coined a name for RSPPs. For baseball pitchers who have suddenly lost precise control of the ball, they are called Steve Blass Disease. Sasser Syndrome refers to the same malady in catchers. In golf and other sports they are labeled the Yips; whereas in target sports such as archery, they are referred to as target panic. Gymnasts call the same phenomenon balking; and figure skaters freeze on their jumps.
Sources of the Problem
Repetitive sports performance problems represent a silent epidemic that is crippling athletes at every level of sport. When traditional approaches used by athletes and coaches fail to get the individual back on track, the athlete is referred to as a “head case”. The media, fans, coaches and teammates will suggest that what is “really” wrong is some kind of character deficiency. They refer to athletes as “mentally weak” or “chokers”; and say things like, “She’s just not that motivated and doesn’t want it bad enough”, or, “He’s cursed”. This only adds to the problem because it creates fallacy around the root cause.
In my experience working with athletes who are struggling with RSPPS, it is the norm to find an accumulation of sport and/or personal traumas as the source of symptoms. Examples of traumas that impact sport performance include, but are not limited to: physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse; physical injury of the self, loved ones, or teammates; and experiences that may have diminished self-esteem at home, school, or in the athletic arena – such as poor performance. Highly critical parents who provide love as a condition of good results are problematic; as are demanding and negative coaches whose own reputations depend on the athlete’s performance. Family of origin issues such as parental substance abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence also result in performance and behavioral problems.
These physical and emotional traumas are held frozen in time in the brain and body. The unconscious remnants of these negative experiences generate a sense of danger, physical tension, and self-doubt that interfere with optimal performance. It is similar to what happens when an individual has been involved in a motor vehicle accident and develops post-traumatic stress disorder. The driver is prevented from returning to the routine activity of driving due to overwhelming anxiety. Similarly, athletes with RRSPs are suffering from a version of post-traumatic stress disorder that can be labeled Sports Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD). Sources of deep fears and blocks can be traced back to trauma and injury histories both inside and outside their sport experience. This sounds like a long and complicated process but it doesn't have to be. BSP is a rapid acting method of diagnosis and treatment!
Differences between Traditional Sport Psychology and Brainspotting
Traditional sport psychology approaches confine work to the surface of the problem by focusing on the athlete’s conscious, mental strategies. They involve talking about the problem; and include the application of behavioral techniques to help an athlete relax under pressure, manage negative self-talk, improve focus, visualize peak performance, quiet the mind, and let go of mistakes. These surface techniques are necessary tools that every athlete must have in their tool kit to achieve mental toughness. However, these cognitive strategies fall short in that they only deal with the symptoms of the problem such as negative self-talk, pre-performance anxiety, and struggles with focus. The source of the problem remains untouched; consequently, RSPPS often re-emerge in the same or different form, even if the athlete changes sports.
Unlike the symptom-focused approach described above, BSP works to locate, identify, and target the roots of performance problems that are stuck in the body and brain. BSP has little to do with talk therapy which relies on conscious verbal reporting by the athlete. This approach is problematic because the problem often exists at an unconscious level stored deeply in the brain. The client is either unable to articulate the problem, or is unaware of it altogether. While talking may reveal some of the upsetting incidents from the past, this type of treatment is often lengthy and inefficient. BSP, on the other hand, locates where physical and emotional traumas are frozen in the brain and body. It uses bilateral stimulation to process and deactivate these physiologically charged sites. Athletes are able to process and release the trauma’s present day effects so that they can return to their old selves once again.
The emergence of an RRSP does not correspond to the start of the problem and instead, represents the end product of a long sequence of accumulated issues and events. As such, RRSPs are like a puzzle. Good detective work is required to identify the intricate pieces involved in a solution. Treatment involves getting a good idea of what the RRSP looks and feels like from the athlete’s perspective. An extensive injury and trauma history must be taken to identify the experiences that are frozen in the athlete’s brain and body. As it is these experiences that are generating anxiety, fear, physical tightness and tentativeness. Once an adequate history is taken, work can begin immediately to alleviate distress.
This sounds like it takes a long time, but it doesn't. BSP works quickly and the changes are permanent! Not only does it heal the source of the RRSP, BSP can be used effectively to reconnect with the joy of playing your particular sport, maximize performance and achieve flow.
Brainspotting can be used effectively for the treatment of any type of trauma, sports-related or not. It is a successful in alleviating blocks and performance anxiety experienced by individuals in the arts and business. It also reduces and sometimes eliminates pain, struggle, and tension associated with physical/medical conditions. Possibilities for use are endless.