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.

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13 Comments

  1. Lol, ““a Limbic System Retraining and Rehabilitation Specialist.”, funniest thing i’ve heard all day. Thanks for the chuckle. But seriously, this is a really good piece of writing, and funny too! It shits me that there are bloggers and websites, written and run by people who (supposedly) suffer with our condition, who run ‘brain-retraining’ adds in their sidebars and in their posts, they write that it works but if you click on the link it’s redirected to e-junkie before going to DNRS or Gupta, which is an affiliate program for DNRS and Gupta; that there, i reckon, explains a lot?! All the places that promote this are affiliates and on the take! Some elements of these ‘treatments’ would work for a lot of people who need help with coping with MCS, especially the CBT part and the mediation (for sure the meditation). The positive thinking part is self-delusion especially if planning on getting chemically exposed to irritants to which they are sensitive to.

    This part is the same NLP Tony Robbins uses for getting rid of unwanted behaviours. I tried it for smoking; it was very good; I now eat apples instead: “Interrupt Patterns associated with limbic dysfunction” and “Change habits associated with extreme harm avoidance behaviour.”

    I have read about Chemophobia but not thought it was a real issue until i clicked that OCD and chemicals link. It’s bizarre to me how people can obsessively fear chemicals that don’t even make them sick. I still have strong desires to use chemicals cause they are really convenient solutions for life, housing and all that. So while I’m testing chemicals to build a safe home, those people can just go to one of them Bastard Children of Medicine, a Psychiatrist, and lay on a couch, take some chill pills and do CBT or talk about their childhood or whatever they do, they don’t need to build a suitable house to meet the needs of their disability, or find actual accommodations for visiting the doctor or the dentist or their damn Nanna. It’s criminal to make claims that you can cure MCS, CFS/ME; oh wait, it’s not! For people who actually have MCS (or bloody IEI) money spent on this can be better spent on safer accomodation, testing with immunologist or on food even.

    You are right, we do what we do cause we do it everyday and it’s easy to remain calm about it cause it’s just about safety. I put my mask on knowing I’m going to be sick after going out but i still feel excited about going somewhere, I just bloody do it. Fiddle dee dee, the chemicals!

    Alison Johnson’s OCD quote nailed it for me! i was more thinking about what percentage of the MCS population might be psychogenic (maybe 10% i thought), and i was imagining that was the reason for those testimonials of success. I don’t personally know of a real life person (as opposed to an internet persona) who has been cured with this; they say it helps, and I believe them, but they’re still living lives that need accomodations made for their various sensitivities, which can make their lives hell at times.

    Then there are the Wellness Brigade who are grass-fed organic and chemically cautious but promote beauty products and supplements: they promote Gupta and DNRS via e-junkie affiliate also (In Australia they’re supposed to declare the affiliate link). How can anyone believe anything written by someone paid to promote it?

    While MCS (or bloody IEI) is not recognised as an medical condition in Australia and elsewhere, we are subject to charlatans who push Woo as medicine. And for the small sub-set of the medical and science community who mock us or do not accomodate our disability seriously: this ‘treatment’ just feeds into that.

    Oh, wait! Don’t forget to send a link to alert Quackwatch about this bloody Woo 🙂

    Enjoy your holidays, Catherine 🙂

    • Thanks, Miche.
      I was really surprised to read about OCD and chemical contamination fears but I guess it’s no stranger than being afraid of germs, which is much better known.
      I didn’t know the Wellness Brigade had joined in promoting Gupta and DNRS. To me an ad for Gupta or DNRS is a sign that the website it not a good source of information!

    • Charley Webster

      Sad article. Sad response. By people who think they know better than others. Hundreds are now living more normal lives thanks to DNRS and Gupta. I know many. I am one. Don’t put down until you have walked the walk. Stay ill and block your minds if you wish, but let others choose to get much better. Read books on neuroplasticity. Oh right, closed minds. Reputable functional medicine doctors recommend these programs. Special clinics for all the ‘sensitive’ conditions, financed by governments, endorse the validity of neuroplasticity based programs for many of our conditions. Why do think you know better than them? What are you afraid of? What have you got to lose by trying it. Why would you rather perpetuate hate and waste time on writing hateful articles and responses, being negative, when you could put that energy into trying, being positive, trying anything to get better. I hope you will look at yourselves and realize you are being your own enemy. I wish you well.

      • Charley, when you write, “Stay ill and block your minds if you wish, but let others choose to get much better” you are victim blaming: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201311/why-do-we-blame-victims. Real MCS is not something people can simply choose whether or not to have, any more than people can simply choose whether or not to have cancer.
        I’m glad to hear that DNRS or Gupta helped you with your fears and catastrophic thinking (DNRS) or anxiety, fear and worries (Gupta). Real MCS is not a fear of chemicals or an anxiety disorder.
        A recent study of Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) as a treatment for MCS concluded, “these results suggest that MBCT does not change overall illness status in individuals with MCS” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26311155.
        I don’t know why you think my articles and responses are hateful. Other people don’t.

  2. Very well done. Is Annie Hopper American? If so, her claims should be reported to the FDA. She’d find herself in serious, well-deserved trouble.

  3. Brilliant rebuttal of the facile way that DNRS conceptualizes MCS and “treats it.” Adter about my first two years of extreme difficulty tolerating anything, on account of a pesticide overexposure, I gradually and instinctively re-acclimated to various eveeyday “toxins.” To this day-6 years on- I still have trouble in places that have been treated by applicators (typically with pyrethroids). No one has to tell me if a place has been treated within the past 2 to 3 months. I’ll simply start having my little reactions after a few mins to a few hours. When this happens, I just leave. No drama or histrionics. Over time, I’ve gotten quite relaxed about it and have learned that this can be “managed” (with awareness and a lifestyle that enables you to leave a place in rather short order if necessary). As long as I don’t get another big over- exposure, I seem to be able to participate in many normal activities and frequent may “normal” places-as long as they’re not treated with pesticides that often or intensively. My internal warning system seems to be doing a good job of giving me hints (symptoms) when I’m in an area that is too toxic for what my particular genetics can handle. I don’t see MCS as a defective response; I see it as protective and adaptive-a mechanism that evolved in people with impaired detox capacity in order to help them survive. It’s the biological imperative: survive and procreate.

    • Thanks, Concerned Citizen. I’m glad to hear that you have improved so much.

  4. Kelly

    HI Catherine,

    This is in response to your reply to Charley above, as there was no reply button under your comment.

    I don’t think he was ‘victim blaming’, although I can understand how it might come off that way. When I look at the entirety of his post I think he was trying to be more empowering, but perhaps started off on the wrong foot because he was so disappointed with the piece and the first person’s comment.

    You said: “Real MCS is not something people can simply choose whether or not to have, any more than people can simply choose whether or not to have cancer.”

    When it comes to developing these illnesses, I don’t think it’s about choice, at least not conscious choice. That’s the entire point (from what I’ve read) — it’s about unconscious, instinctive ‘choices’ that come about after a series of traumas or past experiences. While there’s no doubt that people can become very sick as a result of chemical exposures, does that mean that for the rest of their lives they’ll NEVER be able to be around any chemicals? Or Wi-fi, or viruses, or, etc…?

    And then you said, “Real MCS is not a fear of chemicals or an anxiety disorder”.

    Maybe not an outright anxiety disorder, but you yourself said you avoid chemicals “cause it’s just about SAFETY. I put my mask on KNOWING I’M GOING TO BE SICK after going out.”

    Safety.

    That comes back precisely to what Hopper, Gupta, et al, are talking about as mentioned in your article above. From what they and others have learned, many (maybe not all) but many of those with MCS, etc., learn on an UNCONSCIOUS level, that the world’s not a safe place for them — and so they work on changing those ingrained, unconscious thought patterns.

    One could ask how do you know you’re going to be sick after going out? How can you predict the future, unless you’re choosing to do so, possibly based on a severe reaction years ago?

    The unconscious mind is a powerful thing. We’re all surrounded by chemicals, EMFs, etc., on a daily, hourly basis. Why is it only a tiny percentage develop chronic reactions to these exposures, and often keep getting worse?

    There are at least a half-dozen studies where patients with MCS and electrical hypersensitivity had similar reactions to sham exposures, i.e. where no chemicals or EMFs were involved.

    Something to ponder…

    p.s. Having said all that, I wouldn’t pay a nickel for any of their programs or books. One can get all the info they need for free, online, on youtube, or at the library.

    Best of luck in your journey.

    • Kelly, you wrote: ‘Maybe not an outright anxiety disorder, but you yourself said you avoid chemicals “cause it’s just about SAFETY. I put my mask on KNOWING I’M GOING TO BE SICK after going out.”’

      It wasn’t me who wrote that. You are quoting someone else’s comment. This is what I wrote: ‘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.’

      I don’t know what you’ve been reading but you don’t seem to know much about MCS. People with MCS are usually better able to tolerate chemicals after a period of avoiding the chemicals and foods they are sensitive to and taking the right nutritional supplements. Some people recover fully this way, without having to do anything about their “unconscious thought patterns.” A major reason why some people develop MCS and others don’t is because of their genes – a number of genes have been linked to MCS. The studies where people with MCS reacted to sham exposures had serious flaws.

  5. Belinda G

    The thing is, the symptoms many experience are a defective response when you consider the many millions of people who do not react to, say, a scented candle, by violent vomiting. Go into any gift store and you will see that a physical reaction to such a thing is not normal.

    These programmes aim to utilise the understanding of brain plasticity to ‘re-wire’ the brain into no longer reacting to such stimuli as a threat. This is, as you very well point out, very different to people with OCD-like symptoms who have an irrational fear of chemicals. They are well aware that they are not in the current moment physically reacting to exposure, but they fear they might come to harm if they allow the exposure to continue.

    The idea with brain training is that you actually re-wire the brain’s subconcious/automatic response and thus can resume a normal life. Both programmes acknowledge that you may not wish to drench yourself in petrochemicals, but aim to help you retrain your brain so that you CAN.

    I think it is a bit sad that this has been overlooked. Do read such books The Brain That Changes Itself (Norma Doidge), The Biology Of Belief (Bruce Lipton) and Molecules of Emotion (Candace Pert) and you will gain a better understanding of the science behind the mechanism.

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