Can Brainspotting Help in Your Addiction Recovery?

Tom Rohrer, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.

When we experience something deeply traumatic or disturbing, an emotionally charged and painful memory becomes embedded in our mind, altering the brain. In neuroscience this is known as a Brain Freeze, as in Fight, Flight, or Freeze. This may cause the mind to become stuck and mired down with both psychological and physiological pain. Left untreated, some people attempt to cope with this deep, unsolved pain through self-medicating with substances or through destructive behaviors.

Addiction is often a reaction to something unresolved and wounded inside a person. These issues usually play a part in an addict’s relapse. People who are struggling with addiction are caught in a cycle of mental anguish and physical pain. They may feel tormented by limiting and negative beliefs about themselves. They may believe they are worthless, undeserving of love, respect or success. The goal with any therapy is to: 1) adjust one’s thoughts and behaviors, and 2) to eliminate the deep-seated distress allowing the person to heal and become free of this pain.

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is a highly effective treatment to help people quickly deal with deep, unresolved trauma and emotional pain. Brainspotting is a brain-based psychotherapy pioneered by David Grand, Ph.D, that subscribes to the idea that what is happening in our brains is reflected by where our eyes focus. Grand explains that a Brainspot is a focal point in your field of vision that correlates to an internal point where you have stored distressful memories and painful emotions. When your eyes are focused on this point, these internal hurtful memories are also triggered.

A therapist uses Brainspotting techniques to find those spots in your field of vision, which are marked by a reflective response, such as a twitch, a change in breathing or change in expression.

How does Brainspotting work?

Once a brainspot is found, a therapist will help you intentionally focus on a “frozen” spot and then help you process and release those negative experiences and memories, allowing you to become unstuck and move beyond them. Brainspotting works to neutralize or at least desensitize you to the emotional or physical triggers that are embedded in your mind and body, so that you are no longer provoked to overreact through negative behaviors.

It also helps you to identify and understand the underlying causes of your behaviors. For many, unresolved physical trauma and emotional distress can lead to deeply ingrained self-limiting beliefs or behaviors, causing you to conclude that you are undeserving of love, success or happiness. Once you have uncovered the underlying emotional distress, you can re-process these past experiences and release these traumatic and hurtful memories that have held you back and hampered important areas of your life.

Who can benefit from using Brainspotting

Brainspotting is a short-term treatment that can quickly produce lasting results. It doesn’t require those who have suffered from trauma to rehash their experiences, which may cause them to be re-traumatized. This therapy helps to alleviate anxiety, reduce irrational or negative beliefs, improve coping skills and resiliency, decrease issues with impulse controls and improve sleep. Brainspotting was originally developed to help people with PTSD, but there are a wide variety of other problems or conditions that may benefit from this therapy, including:

  • Addiction
  • ADHD and ADD
  • Anger control issues
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Emotional blocks
  • Grief or loss
  • Impulse control disorders or compulsive behaviors
  • Negative self-esteem
  • Performance anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Physical pain
  • Sports yips
  • Unresolved trauma

How can it help those dealing with addiction?

Brainspotting can be helpful to those dealing with addiction recovery because it is highly effective in neutralizing psychological and the accompanying physiological pain. This is the pain that is a factor in why the addictive behavior developed and part of the cause of relapsing. This technique works to safely and quickly reveal and release negative energy that drives addictive behavior; it also helps to reestablish the body’s natural ability to heal itself and recover from the underlying trauma. This can be especially helpful for those who are suffering from any addiction and the cravings that the addict will experience. This does not mean that Brainspotting will cure all addictions.

It helps you identify what is causing your addictive behavior and cravings and reprocess those painful memories, trauma and emotions that have led to those urges and impulses. Once you process and release the pain that is trapped in your body and your mind you can heal from within so that you are truly free and can move confidently into your recovering future.


Brainspotting was discovered in 2003 and is being shown to be the most effective tool for treatment for trauma. The most recent documentation is the “Report of Findings from the Community Survey, September 2016, Newton-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc.

BESPN 30 for 30 Series “Fields of Fear”: David Grand’s Brainspotting Sports Work with Mackey Sasser was featured in the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series by renowned documentarian Alex Gibney.

You can find a trained Brainspotting psychotherapist at www.brainspotting.pro.

Tom Rohrer, PhD, LMFT, based in Colorado Springs, CO (after decades in Walnut Creek, CA), is a licensed psychotherapist in CO (MFT0001929) and in CA (MFC20325), and a Mental Performance Consultant, specializing in sports psychology. He is certified in Brainspotting and he is trauma informed.