Last updated 8th August 2022 | Next update due 7th August 2025

BWRT® or Brain Working Recursive Therapy is a relatively new model of psychology that runs in line with the latest thinking in neuroscience. It's an evidence-based, solution-focused approach that aims to re-route the messages sent by the brain during times of panic or stress, replacing the negative responses with positive ones.

What is BWRT®?

Developed by UK psychotherapist Terence Watts in 2011, it can offer a fast, effective and unique therapeutic intervention for many mind-related issues and can be delivered successfully either online or in person.

BWRT® doesn’t require the client to reveal private information, nor does it ask the person to hold on to an unpleasant memory for more than a few seconds. It can be used to help with a variety of compulsive and addictive behaviours, PTSD, phobias, anxiety and stress, OCD, grief, sports and business performance, and food cravings, to name but a few.

The idea behind BWRT®

Underlining the process of BWRT® are two arguably controversial ideas. The first is that we don’t actually have free will in the way that we think we do, and secondly, that the ‘subconscious’ doesn’t try and keep us safe as is traditionally accepted. Instead, it’s believed that the subconscious reacts to recognised stimuli with responses that have been used before - resulting in automatic patterns of behaviour.

Furthermore, every action and every response we elicit starts before our conscious awareness and is therefore outside our conscious control. For example, if someone suddenly throws a ball at us without warning, we instinctively try to either catch the ball or avoid it. We don’t have to think about it. In fact, it would be harder and more time-consuming to ‘not catch the ball' as it is a reflex or impulse. Just as we cannot decide ‘not’ to have a panic attack. By the time we’re aware of it happening, the response has already been fired up.

As a species, we are predetermined to avoid situations that carry risk. Indeed, around 500 million years ago, this was an extremely simple and effective mechanism to keep us alive. Eat or be eaten. However, nowadays with much more nuanced and stressful lives to navigate, we might prefer not to fire up this powerful and uncomfortable feeling every time we receive a curt email from our boss, or when someone pulls out in front of us at a roundabout. 

Our earliest ancestors had a far less complex ‘proto brain’ which consisted of just the brain stem and cerebellum, together forming what is commonly termed the ‘lizard brain’. It was purely instinctive and had no capacity for complex thought or reasoning - it didn't need to. But as evolutionary development continued, a much more sophisticated ‘limbic system’ came into play. This new part of the brain didn’t replace the original lizard brain but added to it.

And conscious awareness - the ability for thought and reasoning - only appeared relatively recently (around 300,000 years ago). This further added to the earlier structure and adapted to the changes in our environment; communal living became necessary for survival and negotiation was required to thrive within the community.

The science bit

The idea of BWRT® is that our brain is not particularly magical or mysterious, and is actually quite simple - it’s a recognition device taking in information from the outside world and matching it with a behaviour that's been used before. This information then gets carried through an immense network of neural pathways. Thoughts and impulses are bioelectric and travel around our brain following a linear pattern, meaning that they don’t instantly appear everywhere at the same time. 

If the old lizard brain encounters something that was once dangerous, it sends a ‘danger’ signal to another part of our brain, which then generates an emotional response expressed in various degrees of anxiety. It takes approximately half a second to get through all these neural pathways and reach the conscious emotional parts of the brain. So even if the threat is no longer valid - and there are lots of reasons why that might be - the reaction is already underway and cannot be consciously overridden.

How does BWRT® work?

Using a particular protocol, BWRT® attempts to re-route these messages by utilising the lizard brain’s own processes to stop the impulse in its tracks, offering you a choice of reacting the way you would prefer, which likely means replacing a negative response with a more positive one of your choice.

What happens in a session?

When you attend an initial consultation, the therapist may ask you a series of questions about what has bought you there, but they won't ask you to reveal any secrets or intimate details of your life. Of course, they will need to know what you want to gain from the treatment and how long you've been experiencing the problem. The only other thing they need to know is how you want to feel instead.

BWRT® is an efficient form of treatment as it doesn't require you the client to work through a lengthy process of locating the initial trigger and then having to diffuse it. Some other reasons for its efficacy are that it’s based on logic and that it doesn’t require the revelation of private information. Nor does it ask the person to hold on to an unpleasant memory for more than a few seconds.

Working with a BWRT® therapist

Of course, each therapist will have their own way of working, they might start by explaining a little bit about BWRT® to make sure that you understand and are comfortable with the thinking behind it. They may then move on to asking some specific questions to decide on the right course of treatment for you. This is part of the process and can take up most of the first session. In the case of phobias, this questioning may not be necessary. 

Treatment normally takes between one and five sessions (often less for phobia clients) and doesn’t require you to revisit uncomfortable feelings for long. As BWRT® allows you to choose to replace the old, unwanted, repetitive response with a positive one, it's very much a person-centred approach. 

This page was written by clinical hypnotherapist and BWRT® practitioner, Rue Asher.

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