DNRS, obsessive compulsive disorder and MCS
Annie Hopper, who “has years of experience as a Core Belief Counsellor, Life Coach, Workshop Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, Newspaper Columnist and featured guest as an Emotional Wellness Expert on talk radio” now calls herself “a Limbic System Retraining and Rehabilitation Specialist.” She developed the Dynamic Neural Retraining System™ (DNRS). The DNRS website claims that “Limbic System Rehabilitation [is] A viable treatment for: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Electric Hypersensitivity Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Gulf War Syndrome, Anxiety, Food Sensitivities, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.”
So what do people doing DNRS actually do? There is very little information available unless you pay US $249.95 for the DVD program or US $2995 – $3495 for a “Live In-Person Seminar.”
Linda Worthington, a DNRS success story, wrote,
I have been working with the Dynamic Neural Retraining System program for just over 3 months. In that short time I have begun to see exciting progress. One of the keys to this, in my belief, is Annie Hopper’s gentle but firm insistence on expanding one’s “comfort zone”, adding back electricity, chemicals, etc., in a mindful and intelligent way, using the program to eliminate the fear and avoidance that was typical of our response in the past.
This will seem strange to people with MCS who don’t have fear to eliminate. It gets stranger. This is the most detailed explanation available for free that I’ve found, from a lecture by Annie Hopper:
12 Critical Steps to Rewire the Limbic System
1) Develop awareness of limbic system dysfunction symptoms on physical, psychological and emotional levels
2) Recognize and re-label symptoms as limbic system dysfunction
3) Interrupt Patterns associated with limbic dysfunction
4) Decrease fear association to stimuli
5) Reattribute symptoms to over-activated threat mechanism gone awry
6) Choose new strategy
7) Cultivate Positive Emotional State to dampen stress response
8) Cultivate positive psychological state to retrain thought patterns associated with catastrophic thinking
9) Incrementally train to strengthen new brain pathways and to systematically desensitize to the triggering stimuli
10) Change habits associated with extreme harm avoidance behaviour
11) Recognise improvements
12) Repeat new strategy daily for a minimum of an hour per day for 6 months
In this lecture Annie Hopper said that a major influence was psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwarz’s book, Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. His influence is easy to see. His process for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has four steps.
Schwarz’s Step 1 is “Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the RESULT OF OCD.” Annie Hopper says, “Recognize and re-label symptoms as limbic system dysfunction.”
Schwartz’s Step 2 is “REATTRIBUTE Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is CAUSED BY OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain.” Annie Hopper says, “Reattribute symptoms to over-activated threat mechanism gone awry.”
Schwartz’s Step 3 is “REFOCUS Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes: DO ANOTHER BEHAVIOR.” Annie Hopper says, “Interrupt Patterns associated with limbic dysfunction” and “Change habits associated with extreme harm avoidance behaviour.”
Schwarz’s Step 4 is “REVALUE Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It is not significant in itself.” This step is a result of the first three steps.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that involves repeated unwanted thoughts and/or rituals. People with MCS get symptoms in multiple organ systems when exposed to low levels of chemicals that they are sensitive to. MCS reactions occur regardless of the sufferer’s state of mind – there are babies with MCS who are far too young to think about or fear chemicals. (There is a possibility that OCD symptoms could be an MCS reaction to chemical exposure, but if that were the case they would come and go with exposure and avoidance respectively, and the reaction would become less severe with a longer period of avoidance, as happens with other types of MCS reactions. The DNRS testimonials don’t give the impression that this was what was going on here.) MCS and OCD are very different. However, many people think that people with MCS are afraid of chemicals, and OCD obsessions and compulsions can be about chemicals, so it’s not surprising that some people don’t understand that there is a difference.
In The Brain that Changes Itself – another book that Annie Hopper says influenced her and one that she recommends to people with MCS – psychiatrist Norman Doidge writes,
Typical obsessions are fears of contracting a terminal illness, being contaminated by germs, being poisoned by chemicals, being threatened by electromagnetic radiation, or even being betrayed by one’s own genes. (p. 166)
The people who wrote the following comments had OCD, not MCS:
I have a fear of pesticides, and not only do I avoid them, I worry that I have gotten them on me or brought them in the house even when I’m pretty sure I haven’t.
I am in constant fear that I have come into contact with a chemical that can cause damage to mysel [sic], my family or my cat. I do not wear shoes inside my house. I wash my clothes immediately when I get home and shower. I then worry that the chemical is in my washing machine or dryer or that the shower did not remove the chemical from my skin and I never feel clean.
Jeffrey Schwarz provides an example of the irrational thoughts of a person with pesticide contamination fears and his time consuming but ineffective approach to avoidance in Brain Lock. In the supermarket,
“If I’d put my things down for the cashier and somebody ahead of me had a can of Raid, I’d have to take all my food, everything, and put it back on the shelves and restock my basket. I thought everything had been contaminated. Of course, I’d have to go to a different checker because I didn’t know if the conveyor belt was contaminated. Sometimes it would take so long that I would just have to forget about getting food.” If Michael saw an exterminator’s truck on the road, he would have to go home, wash his clothes, and shower. Always, he says, “I felt like this shroud of poison was kind of draped over me.”
This is from the website OCD Types:
For many people with OCD, cleansers are the person’s best friend, but to others the cleaning supplies are a potential source of danger. Someone with cancer fears might examine every product for toxins or carcinogens. Many products do have trace amounts of carcinogens (such as hair dye or strong household cleaners), so for someone with a cancer fear, this can be overwhelming. Looking at the small print on numerous items at the hardware store can show, “this product is known to cause cancer in mice in the state of California” or other such descriptions. We eat processed foods, things lathered in pesticides, etc. but most people can deal with the small risks. Of course there are people that avoid things such as pesticides or common items with toxins by eating organic since they want to avoid long term exposure to these chemicals, but if they were to handle an orange that was sprayed with pesticides, they would not feel the need to have a shower, wash their clothes and decontaminate everything exposed to the orange. This, of course, is the difference. A regular person realizes one orange covered with pesticides will not cause instant cancer, and while an OCDer would realize this as well, their obsession would cause such distress that the “what if..?” would be impossible to overcome
Environmental contaminants. This includes things like radiation, asbestos, pesticides, toxic waste, radon, mold, lead paint, etc. Most people just accept that we live in a dangerous world that carries risks. Someone with contamination obsessions of sickness or death cannot operate this way, even if they logically can. The nagging and doubt gnaws at the person.
And from the International OCD Foundation:
The fear of coming into contact with either real or magical things viewed as harmful.
– The real things may include viruses, bacteria, bodily waste or secretions, people who appear ill or unclean, poisons, radiation, or toxic chemicals. …
These obsessive fears are usually dealt with through compulsions. These compulsions might include:
– Repetitive hand washing, showering, or disinfecting of one’s body or possessions
– Throwing away or avoiding things thought to be contaminated and that can’t be cleaned
– Repeated questioning of others as to whether they, or certain things may be contaminated
– Avoiding certain people, objects, or places seen as being contaminated
– Constant researching to find out whether certain things may be contaminated or dangerous
– Magical rituals (prayers, undoing rituals, etc.) to neutralize magical contamination
– Maintaining clean areas within homes or workplaces that others cannot enter or touch
– Repeatedly asking others for reassurance that they, or certain things are safe or not
People who benefit from DNRS might only have OCD involving chemical contamination fears or they might have OCD and MCS. Alison Johnson, author of Casualties of Progress and Amputated Lives (2008), and Chair of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, estimated how many people are suffering from both in ‘Searching for an Elusive Cure’:
Having spoken with many hundreds of people with MCS over the last few decades, I have gained the impression that for a small percentage of chemically sensitive people (perhaps in the range of five percent), their MCS is greatly exacerbated by the coexisting condition of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
It may be hard for some people to imagine, but living with MCS can just be a long series of practical problems. The steps we take to reduce our chemical exposures are tedious chores that we might do well, sloppily or not at all. Things we do regularly are just like the routine things we do for road safety. We put our seatbelts on without worrying about the car crashing and we put our masks or respirators on without worrying about what might happen if we are exposed to chemicals.
While I’m happy for the people who have been able to overcome their fear of chemicals and anxiety-related symptoms through DNRS, unless people recognise and acknowledge that this is not the same as overcoming MCS they are making things worse for people who have reactions to chemicals that are unrelated to anxiety. People with real MCS need appropriate medical care and aged care, access to schools, universities and workplaces and suitable housing, and these things are only likely to happen when people understand that we are having reactions to chemicals that are not caused by a psychological disorder.