While teens on the spectrum don’t always have the emotional vocabulary to talk through traumatic experiences, they are more in touch with how their body feels. There are a wide variety of evidence-based therapies that help teens utilize their physical awareness as a tool for emotional processing, from somatic experiencing to recreation therapy. In recent years, Brainspotting has become a popular technique for helping teens on the spectrum work through trauma, as it helps them heal by focusing on certain areas of their brain.
What is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting is a really effective treatment that uses points in a client’s visual field as a tool for healing – providing rapid and effective change for trauma, depression, anxiety. Based on the principle “where you look affects how you feel”, it’s about accessing the deeper parts of the brain where we hold traumatic memories. The Brainspot is a point in visual space that a client has a strong reaction to.
The role of a therapist is to help people access that by either helping students identify where they feel memories in their body or by using reflexes depending on where they are looking. When a Brainspot is stimulated, the deep brain appears to reflexively signal the therapist that the source of the problem has been found. From there, clients learn how to use body awareness and grounding as tools for healing.
How Does Brainspotting Help Teens on the Spectrum?
Brainspotting is particularly useful with teenagers, as their brains are highly neuroplastic and open to changes. Teens who are on the spectrum struggle a lot with rigid thinking, communicating their thoughts, and feeling disconnected from their bodies. Brainspotting can be used as a tool to learn greater cognitive flexibility and realigning their body and mind.
As a fairly new modality for trauma treatment, there’s not a lot of research on how effective Brainspotting is with kids on the spectrum, but we have seen evidence that it is a creative way to engage teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, who often have a hard time with other ways of reprocessing trauma.
During weekly therapy sessions, our primary therapists offer Brainspotting therapy to students who may benefit from a more somatic approach. They both focus on building rapport with students and teaching them the skills to help them stay grounded before slowly integrating Brainspotting into each session. The goal is to help them access these resource spots, process what this brings up for them physically, and to continue to regulate their emotions both during and after their session.
How is Brainspotting Different from Traditional Talk Therapy?
Sometimes the kids I work with don’t have the words to express how they are feeling. With Brainspotting, they don’t necessarily need to. They can still work through things without having the language to describe it. Brainspotting helps them form new neural networks to help them find prosocial ways to resolve that trauma or that roadblock they are facing – whether that is depression, anxiety, or anger.”
At Seven Stars, our clinical model involves building rapport with students through talk therapy before introducing creative ways that teens can develop their own “tool belt.” Brainspotting empowers teens on the spectrum to learn how to use their heightened sensory awareness as a tool for healing and connecting with their body.
Seven Stars Can Help
Seven Stars is a residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 struggling with Autism-related issues. The program provides acute care stabilization, residential treatment, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, skill-building, and positive psychology. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control.
As a Primary Therapist at Seven Stars, Rachelle Steed works closely with students and their families to create individualized treatment plans for each student. Rachelle received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University and has experience working with young people as a social worker and substance abuse therapist.