I have a lot to say about Paige St John’s podcast. All of it good. But let’s start where she left off. In the final episode, Resurrection, she talks about the therapist Phyllis and Kris are seeing and she speaks briefly about the therapeutic technique. For those of you interested, I thought I’d provide more information so you can investigate this kind of treatment for yourself. It’s exceptionally helpful for anyone with PTSD or deep trauma.
I didn’t realize I was doing the same thing as Kris and Phyllis until I spoke with Kris a couple weeks ago. As you know, what happened for me (and my family) was different. Most had personal contact with and survived the monster. We have just the memories of how our family members were killed. Thankfully, as a group, we don’t bisect the two kinds of survivors, yet the trauma is different. I don’t have body memories like they do. I wasn’t terrorized by him afterward (except in my head). And yet, this kind of therapy works the same way regardless of how you’ve earned your trauma. It’s called Brainspotting (not to be confused with Trainspotting, the 1990s Scottish drug movie), and it’s almost a hybrid of EMDR.
As I understand from my therapist, a psychologist in Santa Cruz, Brainspotting is fairly new. The training is coming out of California and most of the early adopters are actually in the Sacramento area. It’s seems extremely easy but that’s the rub. It works almost like popping a Pillsbury biscuit roll – once it’s open, you can’t shove the stuff back in and save it for later. Let me slow down and explain.
The Brainspotting process.
I have eleven planets in Aquarius, I’m up for almost everything, but when I first heard about Brainspotting, I thought it sounded like magic. In fact, I likened it to when Dumbledore pulls the memory out of his head with his wand and drops it into that pool so Harry can see Dumbledore’s memories. It’s kinda like that.
First the client (you) think about the traumatic event you want to deflate. I usually start thinking about it when I wake up on a therapy morning, knowing my appointment is at 10:45. It makes for a rather unpleasant morning. I get anxious knowing I’ll be spotting soon and I make a point of avoiding caffeine. Because I’m a big chicken, I usually babble a bit when I get there until Lilli looks at me and says, “Ready”? I say no but I know it’s time. She hands me an iDevice with headphones; the music playing softly moving from one ear to the other. For me, I find that highly stimulating. I really have to carefully adjust the volume to be loud enough to hear but not so loud as to distract.
Someone call Hogwarts, we found a wand.
The next step is where the wand comes in. My therapist calls it a pointer, my friend calls it a piece of shit, I think everyone has their own pet name for the damn thing. It is irritating. But it works. While you are thinking about your trauma (and it’s usually just a slice of the trauma because there’s only so much one can handle in a single session), the therapist is moving the pointer around. Slowly. Back and forth, up and down. They are watching to see if your eyes do a flicker or movement. When they see that, they stop and either ask what’s going on or wait to see if you speak. This is the moment that distinguishes therapists.
When there’s a hit – that point where your brain and your memory come together and deliver feelings that can be breathtaking, how your therapist makes space for that moment is everything. In my case, my therapist says she will be quiet until I talk. This works for me because sometimes, it’s almost like I’m having crashing thoughts. Lots of noise, memories, feelings, words, images, skin crawling or numbness. It’s not predictable other than, for me, it will require Kleenex. I’ve found I rapidly move off the “wand” and fixate on an object in her office that’s in the same location as the wand and I usually have her stop wanding (look how I made up a verb) and she just let’s me sit and stare.
The science of Brainspotting.
Yeah, I don’t know how it works exactly, but there’s something about the music bringing together both sides of the brain that helps the memories come back. As they do, the tide of emotion is huge. Like its more of a tsunami of emotion and I can only do it for about 20 minutes. Then I need to spend the rest of the hour settling back down – like you might do to reduce anxiety. Breathing, observing, discussing key parts of the memories all help to deescalate the situation. The rest of the day, I’m kind of trashed – I go back to work, but I plan to do the things that don’t take a lot of brain power because I find I am scattered on Brainspotting days. And I usually need a nap.
Lilli warns that self-awareness and self-care are extremely important for anyone doing this kind of work. The door has been unlocked; the book has been opened; and memories can creep out when you least expect them. But the benefits – as far as I’m concerned – outweigh all the work. I know I have PTSD from the murders. I also have a few other things that have happened to me that fit PTSD. I did a ton of therapy in my 20s and did not want to go back. Dealing directly with the trauma, at age 57, is about all I can handle right now and it’s been incredibly successful for me.
It’s worth a try if you’re stuck.
If you’ve got PTSD or love someone who has, it’s worth looking into. If you can’t find Brainspotting, you can start with EMDR. Now that I’ve done these sessions, when I’m struggling, sometimes I just put headphones on with EMDR music and meditate on the thing that’s troubling me. That can be enough to provide insight into why I’m sad or stuck. You can find EMDR music – that moves from one ear to the other – on Spotify.
One more thing: the trauma will never really go away, but this process takes the sting out of it. For me, it’s turned things into memories more than things I hate to think about. It’s also left space for many good memories to come back. I think they all got packed away in the same suitcase, and now that I’ve re-opened the case, I realize it wasn’t all bad.
If you have questions, leave me note in comments and I’ll get back to you.