What is Brainspotting and How we Utilize it at Deschutes Wilderness Therapy

By Lori Vallelunga, Ph.D., Clinical Director

​​We get asked a  lot of questions about what Brainspotting is. Dr. Vallelunga shares an overview for those curious about this modality and how it can help you or a loved one struggling with mental health challenges.

Brainspotting is a clinical intervention to help participants access memories and emotions stored in their brains but not readily accessible through recollection or conscious effort. In many cases, these are memories laid down during intense stress or trauma. When experiencing something highly stressful, it is believed that our brains protect us through various mechanisms. In order to protect our conscious selves from horrific events and help us to survive the trauma,  individual aspects of the experience are laid down separately and, perhaps, disjointedly, scattered around the brain. Your memory of a traumatic event might include some element of that event that is accessible to your conscious awareness. In contrast, we store the physical and emotional memories separately, almost as if in a different file folder. You may not access these parts of the event by recollecting or consciously directing yourself to remember.

Brainspotting was discovered in 2003 by David Grand, Ph.D.  As described by Brainspotting International, “Brainspotting gives us a tool, within this clinical relationship, to neurobiologically locate, focus, process, and release experiences and symptoms that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind and its cognitive and language capacity.” 

Dr. Grand discovered that “where you look affects how you feel.”  He theorized that the subcortical brain organizes itself around the eye position. Sort of “your eyes are the gateway to your soul” concept only rather than accessing the soul, it is believed that eye positioning allows access to stored memories. This access, retelling, and re-experiencing, combined with having a more complete and accurate narrative of the experience, helps to release the trauma and allows the person to heal and move on, no longer bothered by that event or set of experiences. Current, consciously unrelated events no longer trigger these “trapped” memories. If students can work through the powerful emotions related to these memories fully while engaged in Brainspotting, they generally report that the memory no longer has emotional valence for them. In effect, they have healed from that specific memory of an event.

Specially trained Brainspotting practitioners utilize this treatment method efficiently and effectively. In addition to the skill and experience of the practitioner, a student’s ability to benefit from Brainspotting depends a great deal on their ability to get in touch with their emotions, to “drop in” to their emotional experience, and to tolerate powerful emotions that come up long enough to fully released them from the nervous system. As each Brainspotting session is targeted toward defined emotions or specific memories, the number of Brainspotting sessions any individual would need to heal from any specific or series of traumas is dependent on the number of trauma memories that they have stored as well as their capacity to do the work of releasing the powerful emotions via Brainspotting. It is generally not a “one session” miracle cure but can be a highly effective part of the trauma healing journey.

At Deschutes Wilderness Therapy, all our primary therapists are trained Brainspotting clinicians. We utilize Brainspotting as a critical intervention with students who need to access and release deep, often painful, emotions to begin the healing process from various trauma experiences, including developmental trauma. While most students will engage in Brainspotting sessions during their stay, it may only be appropriate for some students.

If you are a current immersive family at Deschutes Wilderness and have questions about Brainspotting for your child, please speak with their primary clinician. If you want to learn more about Deschutes Wilderness Therapy, and our therapeutic model, please reach out to admissions@DWTBend.com