by Cynthia Schwartzberg, LCSW, Atlanta, GA Southeast Brainspotting Institute, www.cynthasis.com
When we reflect on Brainspotting we observe a process that is Grounded. So what do we mean when we refer to Grounding In Brainspotting? We are looking closely at the Dual Attunement Frame, which is both relational and neurological. This frame is a container, which is grounding unto itself. Additionally, Brainspotting has techniques for strengthening the containing frame to accomplish enhanced grounding.
We as humans are electrical currents flowing throughout our brains, hearts and bodies. Our brain fires enough electricity to light up a 15-20 watt bulb. Our heart creates 40-60 times more electrical amps than our brain. And the currents we feel between one another strongly effect us — I feel drained, I feel charged, are a few expressions we say when in relation with others.
As with anything that conducts a charge, we need to be grounded so as not to overload or shut down the system. We, as human beings, need to be grounded to the earth much like our homes, or our cell phones that are running an electric current.
Grounding is often thought of as presence, connecting to the here and now. It is now also seen as about being in a state of homeostasis. When we are grounded we can better tolerate the ups and downs of our emotions and experiences. We can have a sense of our body in the here and now. We can feel our backbone, our pulsations, and our breath. When we are grounded we are connected to our birthright to exist and possess a sense of purpose.
Our feet, hands, eyes, and our skin are key points for feeling grounded. When we are ungrounded we tend to be less aware of these points in relation to our environment. We can feel feel floaty, awkward, disconnected out of sorts or absent minded. When we are ungrounded we may slip more into fantasy regarding ourselves, our lives, and the people around us. And we tend to overthink and lose touch with our feelings.
Brainspotting contains a variety of aspects that are highly grounding and supportive of us as therapists, and for us with our clients. With Brainspotting we stay grounded in the client’s process by using minimal interventions and adopting a stance of waiting without assumptions or expectations. We try to stay in the “tail of the comet” which follows the “head of the comet” (the client in their trajectory) and trust the client’s brain-body in its innate wisdom to heal itself. We, as therapeutic healers, are there to support the healing work not to do the work. Brainspotting’s Dual Attunement Frame is highly grounding as it maintains our deep connection with our clients, which supports our clients developing connections within themselves.
At times we are challenged and triggered by witnessing the client’s traumas coming to life in front of our eyes in flashback form. Some key self-grounding tools are to consciously name the experience to yourself, find a self-spot (eye position) that feels grounding, or share with a colleague or consult with a supervisor you trust. It can be helpful to locate a “touch point” on your body to gently shift your awareness to. An example of this is the point two inches below your navel called the dantiem, or grounding spot. As an alternative you can bring your awareness to your sit bones, sense your back against the chair or bring your focus to your feet touching the floor. Another effective way is to engage more with your client with intentional eye focus or body posture to regain your attunement and grounding.
In addition regrounding in the Brainspotting principles (Dual Attunement Frame, staying in the tail of the comet) and reorienting to them can be helpful. The following tools are the foundation from which we work in Brainspotting: the innate wisdom of the client to heal themselves; “the one think I know is that I know nothing” (Plato) also known as “the Uncertainty Principle” and the Dual Attunement Frame. In reading this you may want to connect to these statements by locating a grounding spot that helps connect yourself as a Brainspotting therapist and to the principles from which you practice.
There are different moments in a session where you can bring grounding in more fully and it starts at the beginning. We support the client in connecting with feeling a sense of themselves in the room as they commence the Brainspotting work. This process may require a number of sessions or simply a small process in the beginning based on the need of the client. Ruby Gibson, developer of Somatic Archaeology and Generational Brainspotting, has a great process in her book My Body My Earth where she leads clients in a journey of connecting to themselves in relation to the earth.
Often I help clients locate a grounding spot, which differs from a resource spot although it has resource properties. I differentiate the grounding and resource spots by reflecting that the spot is not based on the issue, but rather on helping them feel grounded based on the exercise or process we just completed. It is accordingly based on connecting to being in the moment and having a body felt sense by using an eye position to strengthen it.
I bring grounding in during the middle of a session if and when it feels needed. This is an intervention of increasing the containment of the frame. This can be done by calling someone’s attention to their senses. We may ask the client, “can you notice something blue in the room? What do you notice? Can you describe it to me?” You might encourage the client to notice the sounds of the birds outside the window. This might be the time to introduce essential oils or other ways of attuning to smell. When a resource spot was not set up in the beginning of a session, I may, if needed introduce one during the course of a session. I might intervene by pointing out any point of body contact and bring the client’s attention to it by guiding, “notice the backs of your legs on the chair, notice your back against the chair, notice your feet on the ground.” Or if the client’s one hand is touching their other, or their hand is touching on something I might say: “ notice your left hand holding your right hand and see what that feels like. As I said earlier, during the session we need to be mindful of intervening sparingly and to practice W.A.I.T. – why am I talking? Patience, thoughtful listening and mindful silence reflect both the art and science of psychotherapy.
The end of a session is an excellent time to introduce or reinforce with grounding. Recently when employing parts work, the client reported, “I still don’t feel fully back yet”. I accordingly guided the client to do a cross pattering (moving opposite arm with opposite leg) to help the integration of the right/left brain and to support a brain state shift as the client’s observing ego had to simultaneously think about the movement and observe it. I instructed the client to, very slowly with great attention on what they were doing, move their right arm and left leg, then their left arm and right leg. The client did this a number of times and then slowly walked around the room doing the exercise with mindful focused awareness.
Examples of other session-ending grounding exercises are: gentle squeezing or stroking, rotating of joints- head, fingers wrists, ankles, and knees.
It can be grounding to bring into session any of the elements such as earth, air, water, or fire. This can be actualized by: lighting a candle, drinking water, and putting ones hands and feet directly on or in the earth. It is accordingly recommended we all spend more time in nature to support our bodies and to ground.
Contact is a key form of grounding. In Brainspotting we are very mindful of our clients and any contact we might make with them. The physical distance we establish sitting across from our clients is adjusted with mindful attunement.
The way we listen establishes a high level of contact to the healing work. We observe and witness the client’s reflexes, the tone of their voice, their cadence and the words and phrases that are articulated, not just the content of their story. In other words, we listen below the story as we shift from the content to the form. We somatically attune by asking the client about how they experience their words in their bodies.
The Uncertainty Principle helps maintain contact by eschewing all assumptions, clearing the therapist and opening the client experience for all possibility. This is extremely grounding as it enhances our presence in the moment with our client and their presence in the moment with us.
In conclusion, I suggest the grounding exercises/experiences you offer be conceptualized neurobiologically to help further inform the work. Right/Left integration through cross patterning and BioLateral sound, bringing awareness to the breath, using the senses observing and describing what one is experiencing, bringing more thought-based discussion into the present and helping point out the difference between then and there and here and now.
In addition for some out of session exercises on grounding go to: http://www.cynthasis.com/grounding-exercises-to-reduce-stress/
Cynthia Schwartzberg, LCSW, Brainspotting Trainer, President of the Southeast Brainspotting Institute, and Certified Brainspotting Therapist practices in Atlanta, GA. She has spoken at the International Society of Trauma and Dissociative Studies,and in Vienna on Brainspotting and Grounding. Prior to working with Brainspotting she was an international teaching for the Institute of Core Energetics teaching on the mind/body connection and one topic specifically was Grounding. This article is developed from her talk on Grounding in Brainspotting at the First Brainspotting International Conference in Brazil, March 2016. http://www.cynthasis.com/grounding-exercises-to-reduce-stress/