I tried a PTSD therapy used by police officers to help process my friend’s death. It worked so much faster than I was expecting.

Blonde woman looking directly at the camera
Nichi Hodgson. Courtesy of Nichi Hodgson
  • Nichi Hodgson was struggling in work meetings and found herself crying over the smallest things.
  • She tried BWRT, a treatment that has been used on police prison officers in South Africa.
  • This is how her session worked and how it left her feeling.

Like many others, I struggled to bounce back mentally from the pandemic.

People we knew and loved died from COVID-19. My wedding was canceled. I was indefinitely separated from my immediate family in Australia. My partner’s hospitality business was decimated, and I lost work.

Some of these stressors resolved themselves: My partner’s business bounced back, I found new work, and we managed to have a microwedding.

Yet I still felt sad. My concentration was shot. In meetings, my mind wandered and I would find myself close to tears over the smallest of things.

While researching alternative therapies for a work project, I found out about brain-working recursive therapy, or BWRT, and was curious whether it could help.

Unlike conventional talking or cognitive behavioral therapies I’ve undergone over the years – with varying degrees of success – BWRT, according to the BWRT website, claims to “reprogram your emotional or habitual responses, through the power of your thoughts alone.” One South African analyst has said that police and prison officers have been able to return to the job after witnessing traumatic incidents thanks to just one or two sessions of BWRT.

A one-hour session of BWRT costs between 60 pounds (27kg) and 100 pounds (about $US80 ($AU107)-140), depending on where the therapist is located. I was paired with Lisa Jury of the BWRT Institute in Essex via Zoom. She started by asking me to recap the past 18 months.

As I spoke, I realized the one thing I really hadn’t moved past was the death of my close friend Lydia. She was just 36 when she died from a brain tumor in May 2020. Her COVID-regulated funeral and the travel restrictions meant I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye.

I have since visited her grave, but this hasn’t assuaged my deep feelings of grief. I was tortured by morbid thoughts of her lying in the ground, often when I was mid-meeting at work. At night, this was often the last thing I thought about before sleep. And I can’t unstick these images from my mind.

After I told her all this, Jury said that BWRT could help me process my grief. The goal of BWRT isn’t to end all sad feelings but to become able to feel an appropriate amount of sadness without being overwhelmed.

On Jury’s soothing instruction, I closed my eyes and, for the next 15 minutes or so, conjured thoughts of Lydia. Jury told me to go deep into the most upsetting image I had of Lydia then jolted me by shouting, “Freeze it!”

For the next 20 minutes or so, Jury had me cycle through positive memories of Lydia. I was encouraged to hold onto them in a manner akin to an auctioneer’s patter: “Go back to the much more happy memory, that memory that you’ve always had, now go back to the bad memory that’s frozen and freeze it, now go back to your much happier memory,” and so on.

As we flipped back and forth between the positive and the negative memories, I found that the negative memories just didn’t have the same ferocity anymore. It seemed as though they were losing their hold on me.

Finally, for the last 20 minutes, Jury had me prepare to say goodbye to Lydia in my mind, to have the goodbye that we did not get. She told me to say, in my head, everything to her that I had wanted to say but didn’t get the chance to when she was alive. Jury told me to take my time; otherwise I wouldn’t feel as though I’d said farewell.

When the session ended, Jury asked me how I felt. “Calm,” I said, with surprise.

Over the next few weeks, as my mind wandered to thoughts of Lydia, I found I was not as upset. The distressing images I had of her weren’t as strong. I can look back at old photos of the pair of us with a greater ease.

A full week after the therapy, I realized I hadn’t once thought about Lydia when I was meant to be working. And I was no longer wrestling with the same distraction that had been affecting my performance. Something had shifted. I finally felt like I could move forward.

I’ve always believed that it can take months of therapy to work through trickier issues. But after just one hour of BWRT, I felt lighter and more optimistic. By talking to Jury, I realized that some of the things I’d been telling myself I was still sad about – my canceled wedding, for example, – were actually no longer problems for me.

Meanwhile, homing in on what was really still upsetting me, the death of my friend Lydia, was actually liberating.

Many of us are experiencing a block right now, unable to quite lift ourselves out of the gloom of the past 18 months. I can’t say whether BWRT is right for everyone, but it left me feeling lighter, more focused, and more optimistic. It was pandemic processing therapy I needed.

This is a personal essay. It does not constitute medical advice.

Nichi Hodgson’s treatment was provided courtesy of the BWRT Institute, whose sessions begin at 60 pounds (27kg).