David Grand brought his Brainspotting (BSP) class to Seattle this weekend. He was ably assisted by Lisa Schwarz, who teaches about using BSP with dissociative and other fragile clients. Lisa and I helped with the practica parts of the training.

Brainspotting is a powerful, flexible, client-centered therapy that appears to go more deeply and more quickly into the body/brain than other therapies I work with. Grand says that it works on the "reflex" level of the brain. I don’t know how it works, but it’s simple and gets into different and deeper levels of material and responses with clients. First you turn on a steady bilateral stimulation, Grand starts his sessions with "Biolateral" cds, coming through stereo headsets. There are two ways "in" after setting up the activated target: "outside window", when the therapist observes the client’s response to stimulus, and sets up a focused gaze, or "inside window", during which the client collaborates with the therapist to find the "brain spot" on which to focus. (No, I’m not going to be more specific, because even though the techniques are simple, the therapy isn’t.) Then the therapist waits and the client reports. Some clients have no words for their experience and no explicit memories or images. Some clients have a bunch of both. There are specific tracking techniques and good focusing questions to ask. I watched 50 people receive BSP in the practica. Each one experienced a change. One of my buddies saw her lifelong anxiety abate. Another buddy, 2 weeks post-surgery, experienced her shoulder pain disappearing. People moved trauma. People moved affect. People moved ADD!

I was a demonstration subject on the second day, working in front of about 50 people, half of whom were either my EMDR trainees or consultees, or both. I wanted to work on my experience of the thyroid condition and the underlying inflammatory process in my body, that some medical people think is driving a bunch of illnesses in my body (IBS, asthma, frozen shoulder, plantar fascitis, and the thyroid yoyoing). I put the headsets on and listened to different tracks of "biolateral" sounds and music move back and forth through my ears. Grand demonstrated "inside window" technique, having me put a blacked-out lens over my right eye, so that I could see only out of my left eye and focus on the end of the pointer he held still, so that I could gaze through my eye’s "spot", as I attended to the thyroidal "buzz" in my chest and a feeling of grief. For the next 80 minutes sensations, affects, and associations roared through my body/brain. First came grief. Old grief. Staying with it, I found myself thinking about my friend and mentor, Thom Negri, who had died of AIDS 12 years ago. Then all the AIDS deaths came. I had lived on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in the 80’s, the gay neighborhood. I lost many friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances. I founded the Seattle AIDS/Mental Health Network, which did nearly free trainings for any psychotherapist who wanted information. I was power of attorney or executor for people. I did funerals. I had a message on my phone machine. "If someone has died, don’t leave it on this phone message," after I couldn’t bear to pick up my phone. It all came back. Despite having moved this material with movement work (at the time) and EMDR (since), I sobbed and sobbed and felt many sensations, some quite painful, run through my body. Grand seemingly did very little. He had me focus on bodily things, a few times. He was present and receptive, very "there". Even during the processing, I thought about how client-centered this technique was.

One of the few directive things he did, when I had a huge pain arise in my right (non-frozen) shoulder, was to tell me to be aware of the same spot on the left shoulder. When I focused to the left, the pain on the right abated. Eventually when I focused to the right, the pain was nearly gone. (It disappeared completely by the end of processing.)

Most of the sensations were up and down my core. Some painful, some just feeling. The only affect was grief, then relief. At the end of the processing Grand had me "squeeze the lemon" and try to bring back the grief and then the initial sensations. They’re gone now. My head is more clear (also attributable to 4 days of thyroid meds) and the "buzz" is cleared for the first time in several weeks. It will be some time before I know what effect this work will have on the inflammatory process. Grand and Schwarz report using BSP with chronic pain, with fibromyalgia, and other physical ailments, to good avail. What I can tell you today, is that I feel lighter, clear-headed, and pain-free. My nose is dripping less. I’m breathing more easily. And I’m tired.

When it was all done, yesterday, Grand wondered aloud about what kind of an imprint those multiple losses can have on a body. I thought about his work with post-911 firefighters and families of lost firefighters. I thought about anyone who lives in violent Baghdad or Darfur or the Congo or all the African places where AIDS continue to reign.

I recommend Brainspotting. I recommend listening to David Grand. He has been one of the innovators in EMDR for many years. Now, as he teaches BSP, he constantly tells us to make it ours, to do what works, to innovate, and to use phenomenology (seeing what is and acting accordingly–by observation not theory) as our guide. I like it. I still do EMDR. I’ve done Brainspotting since last fall. I continue to do whatever works for my clients. Brainspotting works.