BWRT (Brain Working Recursive Therapy) is a wonderful new therapeutic technique originally developed by Terence Watts in 2011. It’s a client-centred method that uses your imagination to find a path to your healing. A quick and efficient treatment process that often offers transformative results, it works directly on the physical brain.
Because it’s so powerful, BWRT can’t be practised by just anyone. Terence Watts and his research partner, clinical psychologist Rafiq Lockhart, tested and refined BWRT extensively over several years before introducing it to licensed psychologists and registered counsellors as part of a rigorous certification programme.
The cognitive gap
BWRT arose from an article published in a science journal, which described the 1983 research results of Benjamin Libet, a pioneer in the scientific field of human consciousness. He discovered an interesting cognitive ‘gap’ in the human brain. He proved that there is a delay (one-third of a second, to be precise) between your brain deciding to do something and your conscious mind becoming aware of that decision.
Your brain has a physical network of around 100 billion neurones, each one of which is connected to between 1000 and 10,000 other neurones. So there are millions of neurones actively connecting and reconnecting at all times, in response to data coming in from the outside world.
The millions of tiny bits of external data (impulses) that come into your brain every second are each tested to see if they match a stored pattern so that a suitable response can be generated. A single impulse travels more than 50 meters of physical neural pathway before you become aware of it (if you ever become aware of it). So, when something happens in your environment, your brain receives the data and tests it literally millions of times until it finds a matching stored pattern.
By the time you become aware of it, you already know what to do. If your brain can’t find a matching pattern, you immediately feel stressed until you find out what you need to do. Voila! A new pattern has been created, the stress subsides, and the next time your brain receives this same input, it will instantly produce the same response.
Could BWRT somehow leverage this cognitive gap?
This one-third of a second gap in cognition may not sound like much to you, but the mind-boggling implications of this research were instantly clear to Mr Watts. He hypothesised that the cognitive gap between your brain receiving an impulse and you becoming aware of it is the result of the physical distance that ‘messages’ have to travel from one part of the brain to the other. He realised that this tiny, one-third of a second gap could be used to physically disrupt unhelpful patterns stored in the brain.
Did you know? Your brain functions without you
Your brain does lots of things without involving your prefrontal cortex, which is the newest part of your brain in terms of how humans have evolved. It’s the part of you that houses your consciousness and which you think of as “me”.
You probably already know that your brain takes care of all kinds of functions and responses for you. It manages complex physical systems, like your breath and your heartbeat along with myriad others. It also controls your reflex responses.
If someone throws a ball at your head, you might duck or you might catch it or you might even freeze and get hit in the face. Whatever your reflex response, it all happens before your conscious awareness. There literally isn’t enough time for your prefrontal cortex (you) to be involved in the decision.
There are many other examples of reflex responses. When the brake lights of the car in front of you light up, your foot automatically brakes. If you’re watching scary looking animals on the other side of a glass screen and one suddenly makes a move in your direction, you might scream and flinch even though you’re well aware that you’re completely safe.
If someone bursts a balloon behind you, you will jump at the sudden noise (but if you’re on a battlefield and you hear a loud sound, you might not startle at all). A good typist or pianist doesn’t plan the movement of their fingers, they think of the words they want to type or the tune they want to play – the activation of the relevant muscles is completely automatic.
Your brain is a complex mesh of patterns
Your amazing brain filters and categorises the immense quantities of data that come through your five senses, and links specific responses to each of these categories. As soon as a pattern is created, it’s stored by your brain for future use. Your brain has a database of millions of these patterns, each made up of a category and an associated response.
When a specific pattern is ‘hit’ or triggered, your brain runs the pre-stored response immediately. It’s instant! Your prefrontal cortex (you) only catches up once the whole thing is already happening.
Your brain doesn’t assign value to patterns
Your brain doesn’t make value judgements. It doesn’t decide if something is good or bad, helpful or not helpful. Your brain is like a huge computer that creates and stores a massive database of patterns and simply runs them according to the information (data) it receives. If your brain encounters something new, a new pattern is created.
Most of your brain patterns work for you (most of the time)
It would be impossible for your conscious mind to be involved in all of your brain activity. In fact, it would be completely overwhelming to deal with even some of the data that is constantly assaulting your senses. Even as you read this article, your brain is receiving external information from all five of your senses and categorising them.
Imagine if you had to notice, understand and make decisions about every little thing that you see, hear, touch, smell or taste. So, this “auto-pilot” functioning of the brain is an evolutionary adaptation that generally serves you very well.
BWRT comes in when your brain makes a mistake
Issues in your marvellous brain arise when an unhelpful pattern is triggered. Your brain receives the trigger, matches it to its specific pattern and sets off the linked response as per normal. But this time it’s an unhelpful or inappropriate response and you can’t stop it because it’s already happening by the time you become aware of it.
For example, you might find yourself running and screaming loudly before your prefrontal cortex realises that the “snake” you’re responding to is actually a piece of garden hose. Or you have a thought about something and suddenly you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack. You might want to get over something but you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward. Or you find yourself doing the same thing over and over even when you really don’t want to.
This is where BWRT comes in, to disrupt the ‘mistake’ pattern and replace it with a much more helpful response.
Only licensed psychologists and counsellors with specialist BWRT certification may practice it
Training in BWRT is only offered to licensed psychologists and registered counsellors. They have to undergo the full training, do supervised practice, and write an examination in order to obtain the certificate. While BWRT can be a standalone technique, ideally it’s part of a holistic therapeutic intervention.
BWRT fits in with current neuroscience concepts
BWRT grew out of recent research in the neuroscience field and has a strong (and growing) evidence base to support it. It is a way for therapists to help you access the gap between the pattern recognition ‘hit’ and the associated response in your brain, so that you can work directly on an unhelpful pattern and disrupt it for good.
BWRT can help change the way your brain is wired
BWRT is the only therapy in the world that works directly with that linked or early response, disarming the neural pathways that trigger anxiety, panic, nausea, or whatever. Instead of spiders triggering panic, you can react to them like ants. A speech in public? Easy. BWRT exploits Libet’s discovery of the gap between the brain starting to do its thing and you realising it’s done it – creating a pause in the proceedings. While the brain waits for the new information, you give it information about how you prefer to feel in that situation instead of how you feel already.
It’s fast. It’s also safe and reliable and you can have a session anywhere.
Online BWRT is just as effective as face-to-face BWRT
Most BWRT practitioners work online just as easily as in-person. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place in case of interruptions or technical problems, but even if something goes wrong it isn’t difficult to find a way to continue. I have even conducted BWRT sessions over the phone.
My practice is online, and BWRT has been a remarkable tool to add to my therapeutic approach. I’m enjoying using it as often as my clients would like to use it, and I’m seeing powerful results.
What can BWRT help with?
- Grief and loss
- Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety
- Relationships and communication
- Irrational Fear
- Fear Of Being Judged
- Low Confidence
- Low Self Esteem/Self Worth
- Lack of Self Belief
- Fear of Tests/Exams/Driving/Flying
- Health or Performance Anxiety
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Compulsive and addictive behaviour
Trauma and traumatic life-changing experiences
Abuse, including sexual abuse
Some of the above can be cured in a single session! However, some things are complex, with complicated roots and patterns attached to them, so you may need several more sessions. BWRT can also form part of an integrated therapeutic approach.
If you’d like to find out more about BWRT or to try a session with me to reprogram your habitual responses, please get in touch.