Traditional talk therapy can be very helpful in a lot of ways. Often we feel better just getting things off our chest with a therapist, expressing things we’re afraid to express at work or home, or sharing secrets that have become a burden. Talking can help us gain insight, widen our perspective, and come to know ourselves better. However, not all mental health issues benefit from “the talking cure”.

When we talk, we use our neocortex or prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain that lives right behind the forehead. It’s the newest part of our brain (“neo” means new) and governs language, executive functioning, predictive or future-oriented thinking, etc.

Trauma is dealt with by other parts of the brain, though.

The subcortex houses the older parts of the brain that govern emotion and memory, and by extention, deal with traumatic experiences. We have a very small brain area down near the brain stem called the Superior Colloculi, which seems to serve as the digestive system for our experiences. This part of the brain intercepts experience as it enters our awareness through the sensory organs; it pulls apart the experience and breaks it down, separating out what’s important and putting it way in long-term storage, and letting go of what we don’t need to keep. By doing this, our system stays free and clear to move in with our day.

But when we experience a traumatizing event, this part of the brain seems to short-circuit or go offline, leaving all this undigested experience sort of free-floating in our system. That free-floating material is susceptible to being re-activated in the form of intrusive memories, flashbacks, etc.

Luckily, trauma researchers have been developing treatments that work more directly with the subcortex. My treatment of choice is Brainspotting. Brainspotting allows us to focus our attention on an unresolved trauma, and using a fixed eye position we can access that trauma in the subcortical brain, bring the digestive system back online, and allow it to finish processing and digesting that experience. This process doesn’t involve much talking; focused mindfulness quiets the neocortex and allows the subcortex to do its thing. Like food in our gut, undigested experience can become toxic while digested experience can become integrated into the whole of who we are. Brainspotting allows you to digest and process your traumas so that they no longer cause so much “toxic” disturbance in your life. After Brainspotting, clients often report that they can think about previously upsetting experiences but no longer feel taken over by them; these experiences are now just things that happened, a part of their life story. Integrated.

One of the benefits of Brainspotting is that it gives people a chance to heal from trauma without having to “dredge it back up” or “relive it” by talking about it. The process is gentle and powerful. One client told me, “I rarely say that something is life-changing but…Brainspotting…changed my life.”

If you’d like to know more, request a consultation and let’s talk.