Brainspotting for Hidden Trauma
Featured Guest: Joanne Mednick and Mike Beychok
My guests today are Joanne Mednick and Mike Beychok from the Serenity Trauma Center and the Serenity Trauma Foundation, which offers free care for veterans suffering from military sexual trauma and PTSD and victims of trafficking. They sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how they use psychotherapeutic techniques such as brainspotting and Somatic Experiencing to gently uncover and heal hidden aspects of the brain without re-traumatizing patients.
David Condos: Hello and welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos and my guests today are Joanne Mednick and Mike Beychok from the Serenity Trauma Center and the Serenity Trauma Foundation, which offers free care for veterans suffering from military, sexual trauma and PTSD, and victims of trafficking. They sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how they use psychotherapeutic techniques, such as brainspotting, to gently uncover and heal hidden parts of the brain without re-traumatizing patients. Now, here’s Joanne and Mike.
All right, I’m here with Dr. Joanne Mednick and Michael Beychok. Thanks for being with us, guys.
Michael Beychok: Of course. Thanks for having us. We’re really excited to be here.
Joanne Mednick: Thank you.
David: I thought we’d start off by having you each tell us a little bit about your own personal story, and the journey to how you got started in the world of healing trauma and behavioral health.
Joanne: I’ve been in the business for about 20 years and I started off doing a lot of domestic violence work. From the domestic violence work, I realized how much trauma was out there, so I really started right away, even in my internship, I started studying EMDR and somatic therapy, and some of the other therapies that I felt would really help clients and that they needed to do more to release what was in their bodies. I was in private practice for about 15 years and I was doing intensive treatment. Myself, I would see clients from four to six hours at a time and I got to a place where it was either I retire, or I get someone else to come in and help me because it was exhausting. I decided it would be a great idea to open up a trauma center where I could do the brainspotting which I really love, but then in the somatic therapy, I could have other therapists that could do other forms of the treatment.
David: And Michael?
Michael: For me, I started out with being addicted to overeating and binge eating, compulsive overeating. I’ve gone through my own journey with my recovery in that. I’ve lost over 90 pounds and then I was underweight for a little bit. Been on both ends of the spectrum there. Then my grandmother had an addiction to pain pills, so that’s kind of been part of my growing up. I’ve just always really been interested in helping people and helping people find what makes them happy and takes away their misery. Being able to work with the trauma, and now that we have a family owned and run business is great to be able to do it together and build something together that’s going to be able to help tons and tons of people.
David: How did you come to start working at Serenity?
Michael: My background when we started was in marketing and business development and financing. I started out doing the marketing, but at the same time I was just finishing up my master’s in spiritual psychology, so I wanted to transition away from big companies and business, because it just wasn’t very fulfilling.
David: You said it was a family business?
David: Are you guys related?
Joanne: He’s my son. [laughter]
David: Great. Man, I didn’t even know that. That’s awesome.
Michael: Thank you. My fiancée does neurofeedback. My sister does our scheduling.
David: That’s a real family atmosphere. I like to hear that. Could you tell us each about your current role with Serenity and what you do on a day-to-day?
Joanne: I’m the owner of Serenity and I’m also the clinical director, so I’ve created the programming that we have there.
Michael: I do a lot of the business and marketing and outreach. I am also coach and counselor, so I work with clients on addiction and trauma, and eating disorders as well.
David: What do you enjoy most about what you get to do now at Serenity?
Michael: I definitely enjoy working with the clients the most. It’s so hard to see them being in so much pain, but then to be able to see them leave doing so much better and be in such a better place. It’s great to know that I was part of that process. Because we didn’t mention before, we do have Serenity Trauma Center, but we also have Serenity Trauma Foundation, where we raise our own money and we put the veterans through our program for free for them.
They don’t have to pay anything, they just have to get to us, but they get the two weeks of intensive inpatient treatment, all one-on-one sessions. We raise all the money for that. We’re really trying to give back to the veterans because we love and appreciate all they’ve done for us and we really feel for them when they come back and they don’t have the support that they need.
Joanne: The same thing for me. Especially when we work with our vet’s program to see these people come in where they literally can’t leave their house, can’t even leave their bedrooms and to see them at the end of it. They’re going back out in the community, they’re doing community work. Especially our military sexual trauma clients, when they’re able to go back on the bases and talk to the men about what’s happening out there, how they really have to change the way they look at women in the military.
It, to me, is so fulfilling to know that these women have changed so much. We have women that literally have not left their house for about 20 years. After a couple of weeks in our program, they’re out, they’re doing all of that. It’s such a humongous shift in their lives and it’s so great when their husbands and kids call and say, “You know, my mom can be at my soccer games now. They can come to my baseball games.” Where before they just couldn’t leave the house.
David: I was going to ask about that because you mentioned the foundation. Is that the main mission of the foundation, is to help these people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience that treatment?
Michael: Yes, we look at it as they go through boot camp to get ready, to desensitize them to war and to violence, and to train them to be prepared for what they’re going into. But they don’t really have anything for them when they come back. Our real overall goal is to be able to create a reintegration boot camp for them when they come home, something that helps them re-sensitize and get back into their daily lives, be able to open up, connect with their families in a healthy way so that they’re not coming back just miserable and not able to live in what they previously were able to live in kind of world.
David: Related to that, what are some specific challenges you see with regard to healing trauma in the military trauma populations?
Joanne: Most of the time, they’re doing things that are re-triggering the trauma, because when we have clients that go to the VA, they do a lot of exposure therapy. The clients will come to us and they say, “We do this exposure therapy and we actually want to commit suicide because it’s just re-triggering us instead of actually calming our nervous system.” We do resourcing with them the first day, and we show them how there’s different resources within the room that they can look at that will make them feel safe. We always do these exercises that help ground them into their bodies and then cleanses them energetically and then grounds them again. Before they start doing anything they come in and they feel very safe.
David: The resourcing, that can be anything in the room?
Joanne: Yes, we resource them with the different colors that are around the room, the different pictures that we’ve got, a lot of these little balls, squeezy balls, and things. We’ll say, “What color is that one? What color is this?” But it’s just really teaching them that there are resources that are easy for them to find that can make them feel better.
Michael: I mean, one of the most difficult things is a lot of the veterans I work with feel like if you weren’t part of the military, you weren’t in service, they feel like they can’t connect with you. They feel like you won’t be able to understand. A lot of times it takes a day or two to help them really feel comfortable. They’ll even say, “I can’t tell you these things because I’m worried you’re not going to be able to handle it.” The biggest thing is usually letting them know it’s a safe space, there’s no judgments there, there’s nothing they can say to us that’s going to make us want to stop working with them. Once they are able to reach that point, it’s amazing to see how open and willing they are to do the work.
David: I imagine a lot of that applies to non-military trauma patients you have as well. With creating that safe space, right?
Joanne: Yes, it’s very important. We have so many vets that have moral trauma. That’s one of the hardest things to heal for them. It’s so nice for them to know that when they’re dealing with their moral trauma, that they actually have it lifted, because they will come in and say to us, “Oh my god, I feel like I just have 12 pounds of blocks on my shoulder.” By the time they leave, they’re like, “I don’t know how you guys did it, but it’s just release.”
David: And if somebody is interested in finding out some more information about the foundation specifically, is there somewhere they can go to find that out?
Joanne: Yes, you can go to serenitytraumafoundation.com and we do have a donate button there, if you want you can donate funds as well, we’d appreciate it.
David: Because that’s what keeps it running, right?
Michael: Exactly. Again, we’re small, so every little bit helps and you know that your money is going to an amazing cause. Because really the money goes to the vets’ treatment, the therapists being paid and that’s it.
David: So another thing that you developed is the Serenity Method. What led you to develop that and what does that entail?
Joanne: Well, first we decided to do the Serenity Method because the more we did the work we really noticed that if they were doing the brainspotting first, then they did somatic therapy, then mindfulness and then art therapy. But there was–
David: There’s a progression?
Joanne: Yes. I always say a method to our madness or progression of what we felt really worked, worked smoother and faster, more gently for people.
David: You mentioned brainspotting. That is something that I had not heard of. Could you tell us a little bit about what that is and how that fits into the big picture treatment program at Serenity?
Joanne: David Grand developed brainspotting and brainspotting is a combination of EMDR and somatic therapy. Again, what we found, he discovered too is that is just so much more gentle on the system. EMDR and somatic therapy are more about getting people more into the nervous system and into the bacterium part of the brain so that you can really release that trauma. We realize that doing the brain spotting it really took them to that deeper sub cortical level. The nice part about it is, it bypasses the frontal part of the lobe. It just makes it so much easier for them. Again, it’s less traumatic. For us, anything that we can do to make the process gentler is what we want to do as our goal.
Michael: Using brainspotting, you’re really using the field of vision to help find where trauma has been encapsulated. That really helps them live their trauma clans don’t necessarily comfortable telling their story because they’ve either told it so many times or because it’s somewhat re-traumatizing for them. Using brainspotting, we actually don’t need to know what their issue is or what they’re working on but by finding out where in the field of vision they are not comfortable.
They don’t like looking, we can help them access it on that sub-cortical level and the brain actually will just start the process to trauma by looking at that spot rather than having to talk about it and going in do it again. To be able to release it, much more on the emotional level and to the nervous system without actually really talking about.
They can start to, because sometimes they, once they start going to it they’ll describe what’s going on or they’ll say what’s happening. But it also does help them access memories that have been completely blocked off for while away because they didn’t know how to handle it the times. Sometimes it actually brings out memories that they weren’t able to access prior. It gives this a great way to get into some of the things that they didn’t know were there.
David: What is it look like? Like if I were to come in for a brainspotting session, what would that entail?
Joanne: We laugh because we have these red pointers. You pull it out and what you do is, you first take that pointer. We usually start with again with the resource spot. We try to find the spot that feels the best for someone. Once they get that, then we’ll start to go to the spots that are more uncomfortable and as we’re doing it we’ll notice because I, because if I had the pointer, and I was going like this and you were following it, there’s times where we see the eyes will start blinking or people will get ticks in their face or their lips start going up or you can see that they have a hard time swallowing.
It’s very body focused and we’re really watching the body as we do it. They have the part with the therapist finds the spots for them. We have the part where we ask the client when we get to the spot, “What do you feel in your body?” There’s what we called the outside window. We’re helping them find it in the inside window where it’s something that they can feel and we work from those spots.
David: It’s kind of a physical reaction to where the eyes are moving, am I following that?
Michael: Depends on how uncomfortable it is but some people you’ll see, they could just be seen they’re fine, no problem. You’ll get to a point where they start to shift around and readjust themselves or just do different things like bite their nails, or they start to breathe a little heavier or you can tell that they’re uncomfortable.
Joanne: Or their eyes start blinking like crazy.
Michael: It’s very much you can tell from their body language when you found a spot that’s something that’s uncomfortable for them. It’s hard to hide because you’re not even doing it on purpose.
David: It’s non-verbal.
Joanne: It’s instinctual you can’t help it.
David: Just curious, why does out brain work like that? Why is that displayed in that way?
Joanne: Well, it’s funny because even when we talk to David Grand, there’s so much in the brain they still don’t know that they’re not completely sure why it does it. But, as he was doing EMDR and he was also a Somatic therapist in the old days of EMDR, you would take your hand and you would go from the right to left, from right to the left. He noticed even as he was doing that for the few at slow enough that we would see that people were having these reactions.
It was something that he developed over I think 20 years of doing the work and just said, “Okay, I see this going on.” Now, all the leading brain guys are becoming very interested and they’re all starting to learn this method because they think they’re really on to something at this point.
David: When you’re using that as part of the trauma, healing treatment plan, at what point does that come in? Is that kind of early on where you’re discovering where are the areas that you need to address?
Michael: We usually do it first, I mean after we do the intake assessment, the first day they come in depending we can start with the resourcing. Even if we’re starting there, we just find a place that they’re comfortable and help get them know more comfortable space. Sometimes, we’re able to gain to the more uncomfortable spots but also going back to the other question, a lot of it saying is that the brain wants to process. It wants to work on these things, it’s like when you’re playing poker and you see someone has a tell, it’s the same thing as that your body is saying, “Please help me.”
David: It doesn’t want to hold that inside.
Michael: Exactly. The body is ready, that’s why it’s able to process it when you’ve able to hold them on the spot. It’s because your body is saying, “Hey, I know you’re there, something’s going on, please help me.” Because if I say, “Hey, what’s bothering you?” You’re like, “I’m good.” I can only go off of what you say even if something may not be right. But with this, you can physically see it. It’s almost opening that door just enough where the brain can go, “I know what’s happening here, I know this is going to help, I’m going to make sure they know what’s going on.”
David: As you’re undertaking this brainspotting work, how important is the therapist-patient relationship doing that?
Joanne: We always say that the therapist-client relationship is the most important thing. The big thing in brainspotting is you want to be really attuned to your client. So first, it’s all about the attachment. We want to make sure that we’re really grounded and we’re really in a good place so that we can almost be a tuning fork for our client. Wherever that pain is, wherever they find it in their body, as long as you can hold that space for them, it really allows that safety to come into it. That’s what allows them to move into that greater depth in their body.
David: Right. Because with trauma, I mean, I imagine that trust is-
Joanne: -very important.
David: Without that, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Michael: It’s crucial.
David: You’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to this field of, of helping people with trauma and addiction over the past 20 years.
Joanne: 20 years for me.
David: Why is helping people heal and find recovery important to you?
Joanne: Well, the one thing which I didn’t say at the beginning is when I decided to open up the trauma center which I kept looking at what’s missing in the addiction field. I felt like they just weren’t doing enough trauma work in that fly. You kept saying addicts going back into treatment over and over again. We really see, I mean when we do our statistics, about 85% are higher bar clients continue to do really well after treatment. I think we’re doing something right.
Michael: They’re doing hours and hours of trauma therapy each day. They get about the same amount in two weeks as most people in the year. We’re really getting deep into that trauma and letting them heal out which a lot of times is the days for their addiction or for the different things that they’re doing to themselves. They’re harmful. It’s something that we saw always missing. We knew we could do differently and we just had stellar results.
David: You mentioned you’re in recovery.
David: Do you want to say any more about your journey through that and to recovery that you have now?
Michael: Sure. I mean, it’s been an up and down journey. It’s funny because when people come in and say, “Oh, you’ve never done coke, you’ve never done heroin, you don’t understand.” I asked them, “Well, if someone gave you three times a day some coke or heroin and put it in front of you and you’re supposed to just have a little bit. There’s also in your cabinets. You could go to the store, no one’s going to arrest you.” Would you be able to do that, because you can’t abstain from food? It’s something that you have to have to survive. Usually, once I explain to them, in that sense they understand, sure. I am never going to relate to them exactly the same. But even if I had done cocaine or heroin, it doesn’t mean that my experience was the same as theirs.
So I can understand what the cravings are like. I understand what they’re feeling. It does help me relate to them and it helps them understand that even though they’re different substances, they’re still an addiction and still a substance. I think it just really helps a lot and to be more comfortable and trusting that I understand what they’re talking about.
David: How would you say that has helped shape your perspective as you help people deal with the issues that they’re going through?
Michael: I think a big part of it is that I’m able to help them understand that it takes time. It’s not an easy fix, there’s going to be difficult times, there’s going to be times where you’re going to be on the verge of giving in to the cravings. You just got to remind yourself, I’m doing this for a reason and also helping them view what a real lapse truly is. Because if you do something bad accident or you’re realizing you starve, it’s not a relapse where sometimes it is really strict with that.
It’s more of a learning process. Then it allows them to be more honest because not, “Oh, you accidentally had a sip of a drink. Now we got to put you back in the treatment.” It’s not overreacting, it’s not making them feel bad, it’s not having them go to this whole process again, possibly re-traumatizing them. It’s about me and them, whether I help them understand what was going on so that you’re making a real connection really helping them.
David: All right. Thanks for being with us today guys.
Joanne and Michael: Thank you for having us.
David: Thanks again to Joanne and Mike for sharing that with us. Now, I’m happy to welcome Will Hart back to the show. Will is part of the Life Challenge team. He joins us each month to give us an update from their community which is the after care support network for those who’ve gone through Foundations treatment programs and anyone else up for accepting the challenge of living life in recovery. Last month’s challenge was to create a list of five things you’d like to do this summer. Will’s back today to show the new challenge for this month. Welcome, Will.
Will: Thanks for having me.
David: Hi. How are you doing today?
Will: I’m good. How are you?
David: Awesome. What do you get for us this month?
Will: We came up with the “take five” challenge.
David: What’s that all about?
Will: Taking five minutes, five days a week just to step back and take some time for yourself. Everybody gets so caught up in moving fast in today’s world with work, with family and I feel like a lot of people sometimes don’t think to take that little break in there.
David: Yes. You said you had some examples. What can you start people off with some ideas?
Will: Some ideas that popped up from me were, give a friend a quick call. Maybe somebody you haven’t talked to in a while, some family. One of my favorites I came up with was, step outside. I feel like so many people are working indoors, live indoors-
-but they don’t necessarily just go outside and just stand there for a while.
David: Yes. Enjoy that and get some fresh air too.
Will: Yes. Sometimes maybe read a few pages out of your favorite book or listen to your favorite song. There’s tons of possibilities of things you can do within five minutes.
David: Then they can go to lcaccepted.com and share what they’ve been up to in their five minutes, right?
Will: Yes. If you’d like to submit one, there’s just a little form you fill out and we’ll send you a free T-shirt.
David: All right. Well, thanks for joining us again Will.
Will: Yes. Thank you.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Joanne Mednick and Mike Beychock from the Serenity Trauma Center. For more about their work, visit serenitytraumacenter.com. Thank you for listening today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please take a second to spread the word and share with someone else who might enjoy it as well. See you next time.