My previous article on BWRT therapy focused on how and why this technique works so efficiently to reprogram the unhelpful responses stored in your brain. In this article, I’ll talk about my personal history with BWRT, how I incorporate it into my approach, and what to expect from a BWRT therapy session with me.
Recap of BWRT
In case you missed it, BWRT stands for brain working recursive therapy. It is a short-term therapy technique (often part of an integrated therapeutic approach) that aims to quickly and permanently change the way your brain reacts. It can reduce or end the anxiety, phobias or stressors that trigger an unhelpful pattern. Best of all, change can happen without necessarily examining your childhood or past issues, but rather by using neuroscience to change the way you respond in the first place.
I discovered BWRT through personal experience. Here’s my story:
Trauma at the dentist
In August 2020, just after covid restrictions had lifted in the UAE, I decided to finally get a long-term problem with one of my front teeth fixed. Right in the middle of the procedure, things went horribly wrong, turning a simple cosmetic surgery into a highly traumatic expeirence. The physical pain in that moment was awful, but the aftermath in terms of the psychological impact was worse.
Trapped in acute anxiety
For the next few days, I could barely eat, drink or even talk without being triggered into the kind of visceral anxiety where my whole body went into a state of shock and residual horror.
As a psychologist, I knew what was happening and could try any of the calming techniques in my ‘toolkit’. But I was constantly getting triggered – and the trigger was almost anything to do with my mouth.
Luckily I had taken the week off work to have this treatment, but the thought of going back to the dentist to finish the process was unbearable. Unfortunately, I had no choice. I could hardly walk around for the rest of my life smiling at people with an ill-fitting temporary crown on my front tooth.
Brain working recursive therapy: a lifeline
My friend and colleague had recently completed her training in BWRT. All I knew at the time was that it worked for all kinds of trauma. I called her in desperation and she said she could do a BWRT session with me over the phone. In less than 30 minutes, something changed.
At the time, I was in such a state that I didn’t listen properly (and in fact, I misunderstood an important instruction), but I found that it helped me a lot. My distress level went from 10/10 to about 5/10. I felt an instant improvement and could function in the world once more. While I can’t say I felt happy to go back to the dentist, I was able to complete the treatment the following day in a state of relative calm.
BWRT trained and certified
From that moment on, I couldn’t wait to start BWRT training myself. I completed my certified BWRT level 1 training in January 2022 and after experiencing even more benefits in my own life, completed an additional course.
Only psychologists, psychiatrists and registered counsellors can undergo BWRT training and implement the standardised protocols of the technique, but each clinician may apply it at different times according to their approach, or have a slightly different approach to administering it.
This technique is part of my integrated approach
I use BWRT in accordance with my particular therapy style. So while I might try using BWRT with you in our very first session, it’s more likely that I’ll use it as part of a holistic clinical approach – whether you ask for it or I suggest it (when clinical judgement indicates it’s likely to be appropriate), we’ll decide when to use it together.
What to expect from BWRT
If you and I agree that BWRT is likely to be helpful for you, we’ll start by identifying the issue we’re going to work on. BWRT is great when there’s a specific unhelpful pattern, something or someone that you’re grieving, or a traumatic memory that you’re struggling with.
We start with just one BWRT session to see whether you like it and feel like it could help you. If you want to continue, we make a list of issues and can begin tackling that list systematically.
Most importantly, BWRT is driven by you as a client. You choose what to work on, and when. This fits in well with my collaborative style as a clinical psychologist and life coach. It’s possible to do two BWRT sessions in a row (within one therapy appointment) but you might find that one is enough – it’s your choice.
Your brain and body respond in the present moment
Chronological time isn’t important to your brain, which is why you react in the here-and-now when you’re triggered or when you have a flashback. Your response is always in the present, even if the root of the response is long in the past.
You can choose any memory
It doesn’t matter which bad memory or unhelpful response you choose to work with, or how far back in the past (or how recent) it is. What matters is that when you think about it, or when the picture is in your mind, you feel as if you’re “in that moment”, as if you’re experiencing (or almost experiencing) the reaction you had at the time the situation or event happened.
The traumatic story of my experience at the dentist is a really good example of this. While at the dental surgery, the dentist removed the nerves in my front tooth. When something touched the tooth, it couldn’t actually hurt at all. But the sensation of being touched triggered my brain and body to react as if the pain and trauma were happening in the here-and-now.
How I structure a BWRT session
I’ll spend some time introducing the technique to you, and explain to you what I’m going to do (even if you’ve read this article). Then I’ll guide you step by step through each part of the BWRT process. Most of the time your eyes will be closed because we want to remove any visual input that might distract you.
You’re in a safe space
You’re in a safe space, even if you do briefly have to think about the memory or event or situation which upsets you, and might feel triggered in that moment. This part is very brief and lasts only seconds, not even minutes. Some clients feel afraid to “go there” but the upsetting response you feel when you get triggered is something you’re already living with.
Most likely, you get triggered at odd times and places in a way that you can’t control. It’s much better to briefly think about that memory in a safe space while knowing that this process is going to relieve or remove your unhelpful reaction.
BWRT therapy is a guided process
I’ll then guide you through the steps in which you actively use your imagination to create different ‘memories’. At one point I’ll loop very quickly through all the different visualisations or memories, and you’ll try your best to keep up. You won’t be able to, but the act of trying to keep up with me is important.
These active visualisations and the looping process disrupt the original, unhelpful pattern-and-response, and permanently replace it with a new, more helpful pattern-and-response.
BWRT is a neuroscientific technique
BWRT therapy isn’t hypnosis because you don’t go into any kind of trance. Indeed, the success of BWRT depends on you being wide awake and using your imagination. It can feel a bit hypnotic in that you focus completely on the ‘tasks’ that you’re doing in your mind. Yet you are completely conscious throughout the process and you use your conscious mind in a deliberate, intentional way.
You might feel a huge relief. You might feel like nothing happened.
If the memory we work on is something traumatic that haunts you or something that often bothers you, it’s likely you’ll feel instant relief when we complete the BWRT therapy process. After my dental experience, I was able to eat, drink and talk like a normal person without going into acute anxiety, and could go back to the dentist to finish my treatment.
You could feel not very different at all. Only when you encounter a situation that would have triggered you in the past, will you discover that you’re not triggered. Perhaps after some time, you’ll realise that the intrusive thought or image that used to bother you no longer shows up in your mind.
An evidence-based technique with a wide range of applications
BWRT has only been around for a few years but there’s already a large and growing body of evidence supporting this client-centred technique. It works for all kinds of people, from all age groups and cultures. What’s more, it works for a wide range of mental health difficulties.
Can it really be bullet-proof?
Whether you do BWRT online or in person, one of the very best things about BWRT therapy is that it cannot harm you. Even if you are one of the (very rare) people who don’t find it helpful, it can’t hurt you or leave you worse off in any way.
How to prepare for BWRT therapy
Your preparation for your online BWRT session with me is pretty much the same as any online therapy session. It’s ideal if the following conditions are in place:
- You’re in a silent, private space – it’s better if there aren’t any interruptions. Ideally, your phone is on Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode, and no one tries to open your door. (Your car can be a surprisingly good space to have a session, as long as you’re parked in a place where nobody bothers you.)
- You have a good, clear internet connection. It’s a bit frustrating for both of us if the connection suddenly glitches in the middle of you doing a visualisation.
- You have some tissues. Just like any therapy session, the possibility exists that you might shed some tears.
Don’t worry, BWRT is flexible
It’s not a big deal if something goes wrong or the session gets interrupted in some way. If zoom does freeze or your cat jumps on you – we can simply reconnect and carry on. Because BWRT is a process that consists of several stages – if something interrupts us we don’t have to start the whole thing again from the beginning. We will just return to the beginning of the stage that we were doing when the interruption happened.
If the internet really can’t reconnect, then I will call you and we can complete the session by phone.
In the unlikely event that you feel that BWRT wasn’t helpful, you and I will unpack the process. If there was some kind of miscommunication between us that impeded the process, we’ll address it.
No, it doesn’t turn you into a robot
BWRT replaces an unhelpful automatic response pattern in your brain with a better, more helpful response. It doesn’t turn you into a robot with no feelings at all. Frequently the emotions left after BWRT therapy are neutral or even happy, but you will clearly remember everything that happened. And depending on your specific experience, you may still feel sadness or grief.
But it will be normal sadness or grief. The feelings will no longer be traumatic, unbearable, or intrusive.
Brain working recursive therapy = freedom
It is very unusual to get through life without pain, loss, bad experiences and even traumas. These form patterns in your mind that stay with you and block you on your journey towards reaching your full potential. Within a safe therapeutic relationship, BWRT is a kind of key that unlocks:
- The horrible patterns in your brain that prevent you from living your life to the full
- The phobias that make you scared of things that other people don’t fear
- The unhealthy response patterns in your relationships
Can BWRT replace Talk Therapy?
That’s up to you. Some clients are attracted to the idea of needing just a couple of BWRT sessions to release them from something that is blocking them. Others use BWRT as part of their therapy journey, in conjunction with talk therapy. Some people prefer to stick to talk therapy alone (which is a beautiful journey in a different way). Whichever approach feels right for you is probably the best for you. After all, you’re the expert on yourself.
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 to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.