What Do Iron Man and EMDR Therapy Have in Common?

03 Jul 2017


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Normally this is not the kind of topic that I would write about for this wellness and mental health blog, but after watching super-hero Iron Man using brain-modification technology to deal with his past-life traumas, I had to make an exception. What he tries to accomplish through a virtual reality holo-simulation is in so many ways just like EMDR Therapy.
Billionaire philanthropist and Avengers financier Tony Stark is haunted by his past. Memories of his long-dead parents seems to plague him and he has not been able to find peace with their deaths no matter how many years have passed.

This is a text-book definition of what trauma is. Old (and bothersome) memories that won’t stay in the past where they belong.

Anyone who has struggled with Trauma and PTSD knows exactly what this is like. You are doing the dishes, or you’re out for a walk, or maybe you’re trying to focus on work or the person that’s talking to you. Problem is your brain has you focused on something that happened years or even decades ago. All you want to do is forget about it and go on with your life, but your trauma-brain has other ideas. The memories just seem stuck.

Old memories are supposed to stay stored away way back in a filing cabinet in the dark, rear storeroom of your mind. You can take those memories out and access them when you need to, but they are old and unimportant so you don’t really think about them much. But when those old memories are traumatic, they skip the storeroom completely and just keep popping up no matter how much time has passed.

Tony Stark is trying to tackle this problem head-on, and he decides that the best way to deal with the trauma of his parents’ death is to go back and revisit the memories directly. 


“Binarily Augmented Retro Framing or B.A.R.F., an extremely costly method of high-jacking the hippocampus to clear traumatic memories,” Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., says in Captain America Civil War.

Using B.A.R.F, Stark creates a holographic simulation of the time decades earlier that he last sees his parents before they are murdered by HYDRA Assassin The Winter Soldier.

This allows him to get up close and personal with his parents once again-to have an honest look at what he lost.

This process really reminds me of my personal experience with EMDR Therapy. Something about going through the EMDR Sessions seemed to open up old memories and make them vivid and fresh again. I could see, smell, and feel all those old-forgotten details. The memories were already there, hidden in some deep recess in my mind. The EMDR process just helped them to surface again. And this allowed me to start putting everything in its place including my trauma-based memories and emotions. 

Many people who go through EMDR would agree. It brings back old memories. Childhood memories. Memories that were thought to be long forgotten. And it even causes many people to have dreams about these old memories.

B.A.R.F. is not only like EMDR Therapy, but it is also a bit like something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. This is a therapeutic approach that helps people get through their traumatic past by having them think about, focus on, and face those past memories as directly as possible.

To be clear, there are some big differences between EMDR and Iron Man’s therapy approach. EMDR lets you revisit memories internally through your thoughts. B.A.R.F. has you revisit your memories through an incredibly expensive re-creation of your past.

“611 million dollars for my little therapeutic experiment,” Stark jokes about B.A.R.F. during a lecture to a group of MIT science students.

Much as in EMDR (and also CBT) Therapy, Stark is trying to get closer to his own past so he can come to terms with what happened to him and then allow his brain to process the memories so he can move on.

And it is through this process that people can put their traumatic feelings (depression, fear, anxiety, and grief) and memories (PTSD) into the proper storage cabinet in their mind.

If you want to try out EMDR Therapy, you can sign up here for the Virtual EMDR at-home EMDR Program, or you can find an in-person EMDR Therapist locally in your area. You can also look online for a CBT therapist nearby. 

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