Do you suffer from one or more chronic symptoms on an ongoing basis, yet you find yourself unable to identify the root cause? Or have you perhaps been diagnosed with a specific condition that your symptoms can be attributed to and yet still find yourself unable to recover your health or wellbeing? Are you stuck in a cycle of always treating these symptoms with no long-term relief?
Many seemingly distinct conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chemical sensitivity disorders, or chronic pain, share many related symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, light sensitivity, food intolerances, insomnia, and anxiety. According to the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS), there is a reason for this. These seemingly distinct conditions all have one thing in common: they are all caused by a trauma-induced injury. DNRS posits that this traumatic injury can rewire neural pathways from a healthy state into a dysfunctional state. Further, this can adversely affect all body systems, resulting in a spectrum of nervous system-related symptoms and illnesses.
Whereas many contemporary approaches in the Western world focus treatments on specific symptoms, DNRS is a brain retraining program targeted at healing this neurological dysfunction at the root of these chronic conditions. DNRS theorizes that the nervous system can be rewired to a healthy state by retraining the brain’s neural pathways through a series of techniques and exercises. This, in turn, would alleviate the individual’s symptoms and restore their health.
Annie Hopper founded the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) in 2008. Hopper was a counselor, writer, and advisor in the field of emotional wellness. She developed this method as part of her personal health journey to recovery in response to her own invisible chronic health condition. In 2004, she became ill with a number of symptoms, including headaches, bodily aches, exhaustion, insomnia, and an ever-growing list of sensitivities. Hopper was eventually diagnosed with “toxic overload,” which was caused by exposure to mold. Unfortunately, despite being treated by over 30 different specialists, the treatments she received only provided temporary relief to her symptoms, and her health seemed to worsen over time.
After looking for answers for several years, Hopper eventually came to her own conclusion: there was something wrong with her brain’s ability to filter sensory information correctly. Through her own research, she surmised that the toxic overload and chronic pain she was experiencing from a physical injury had negatively affected her brain’s wiring. So, inspired by the neuroplasticity work of psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Norman Doidge, Hopper set out to rewire the neural circuitry of her brain. Neuroplasticity refers to the malleable nature of the brain and its functional connectivity. In her self-experimentation with rewiring her nervous system, she cured herself of her pain and illness in the process.
In 2008, Hopper created DNRS, a healing system based on her personal experience and neuroplasticity theory, and began teaching her method. In 2017, she published her book, Wired for Healing: Remapping the Brain to Recover from Chronic and Mysterious Illnesses. The book details the science behind DNRS as well as stories of individuals who have made full recoveries using her method.
DNRS is a medication-free, neuroplasticity-based program that aims to heal chronic health conditions by rewiring the brain’s neural circuitry. It uses a series of self-directed techniques and exercises. The program seeks to induce whole system recovery for the sufferers of chronic conditions and “invisible illnesses” such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Toxic Mold Syndrome (TMS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Lyme disease, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), anxiety, and depression, to name a few. The premise of DNRS is that these types of chronic conditions all originate in the individual’s exposure to some form of trauma. Due to the neuroplastic quality of the brain, trauma can cause the healthy functioning of the brain to become impaired and re-patterned in such a way that is physiologically or emotionally detrimental to the individual.
DNRS theory is based on the neuroscience theory of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is an unconscious neurological adaptive process. Simply put, the brain can change. It was previously believed that the brain is highly “plastic” (i.e., changeable) in nature during childhood, but that it becomes “hardwired” (i.e., unchangeable) by adulthood. Scientific research now shows that the adult brain retains a quality of plasticity that allows it to adapt, form new neural pathways and connections, and learn new habits. This neuroplastic quality of the brain can work for us or against us. In the case of experiencing trauma, whether it be emotional or physical, the brain can adapt in a way that is detrimental to the individual. But, according to DNRS, the same neuroplastic quality of the brain that allows for detrimental adaptation can also be harnessed to correct it.
Trauma & the Brain
The DNRS model considers there to be a broad spectrum of trauma at play in creating chronic health conditions. These health conditions can be rooted in either emotional trauma (chronic emotional stress caused by exposure(s) to a detrimental personal experience), environmental trauma (chronic physiological stress caused by exposure(s) to a harmful virus, infection, or toxins such as harmful chemicals or mold), or both. The shock of emotional and environmental trauma impacts a part of the brain called the limbic system. This is a primitive, unconscious part of the brain responsible for our sensory perception and regulates our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memory, and reactions and behaviors. Trauma can overstimulate the mechanisms of this sensory part of the brain, causing it to shift from its healthy natural state into a prolonged self-protective “fight, flight, or freeze” survival state. The fight, flight, or freeze response is a survival mechanism designed to be a short-lived, self-protective reaction to perceived danger. However, when someone becomes stuck in one of these states for a prolonged period of time, their sensory perception becomes impaired and their brain starts perceiving even innocuous sensory input (such a light, sound, physical exertion) as threatening. Essentially, the brain is sending false signals to the body, perpetuating a continuous state of stress that exhausts the nervous system. This can affect both cognitive functioning (causing poor memory, brain fog, confusion, etc.) and physiological functioning (causing pain, inflammation, food or environmental sensitivities and intolerances, low energy levels, etc.). Activities and environments that are harmless for a healthy person can cause significant symptom flare-ups in a person with limbic system impairment. Consequently, their quality of life and emotional health is likely to be adversely affected. For example, they may experience anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and panic attacks. This can negatively impact their ability to work, socialize, or travel, perpetuating the maladaptive stress response. This cyclical reinforcement can keep them in a “trauma loop” that prevents the body from healing.
DNRS seeks to correct this dysfunction by utilizing the neuroplastic capability of the brain. The program teaches the individual to retrain and heal their limbic system through a series of specific visual, spatial, verbal, and movement exercises that draw on various techniques such as neurolinguistic programming, mindfulness-based cognitive restructuring (MBCR), cognitive restructuring therapy, and behavior modification therapy. These exercises are designed to alter the brain’s perception of what is safe by producing endorphins that induce a calm and positive state. This is intended to regulate emotion and behavior, thereby deprogramming the fight, flight, or freeze survival state. DNRS practitioners learn how to recognize early signs of an impending flare-up of symptoms (i.e., the unconscious reactions caused by limbic system impairment). They also learn how to use DNRS exercises to consciously interrupt the brain’s trauma loop to establish new neural pathways and functionally adapt the messages the brain is sending to the body. Through consistent, repetitive practice over a sustained period of time (one hour every day for at least six months is recommended), the healthy functioning of the limbic system is restored, and the body shifts from a threatened self-protective state into a state of rest, digestion, repair, and growth, and symptoms are alleviated. Over the course of doing the program, practitioners report reductions in sensory overwhelm, fatigue, pain, brain fog, and inflammation. Conversely, they report improvements in energy, capacity, food tolerances, and a deeper self-awareness and recognition of their triggers. Thus, commitment to this process can result in overall improvements in physical and mental wellbeing.
by Robyn Michele Jones, MA, CMT, RCST®
by Dominique Clothiaux, RCST®
Although there is ample research on neuroplasticity, there is currently no published research on the efficacy of DNRS to scientifically support its theories. However, the following research paper does include DNRS as one of its case studies:
Changing Brains, Changing Lives: Researching the Lived Experience of Individuals Practicing Self-Directed Neuroplasticity, by Tim Klein, Beth Kendall, Theresa Tougas (2019)
DNRS is a self-directed brain-training program that takes a “top-down” cognitive approach to healing (i.e., changes in thinking can influence changes in emotions, which then influences changes in the body). The program consists of a series of exercises that include verbal affirmations, visualizations, and physical gestures. It is beneficial if the individual has access to private space to do the exercises as they involve speaking aloud and making full-body movements. The exercises are not physically strenuous and are recommended to be done standing, but can also be done lying down, if necessary. The program can be learned in one of two ways. It is offered in-person through a 5-day interactive seminar (only suitable for those who are mobile and able to travel). It is also offered virtually through 14 hours of instructional video footage, which is designed to be viewed within a 4-day period (the recording is available on DVD or online). Neural rewiring is only achieved through consistent repetition over an extended period of time, so once the individual has learned the program, it is recommended that they dedicate a minimum of one hour per day to the brain retraining exercises for a minimum of six months. This one hour can be done all at once or spread throughout the day in 30, 20, or 15-minute increments, depending on the individual’s capacity. DNRS stresses that individuals preparing to undertake the program should be aware that brain healing is a challenging and non-linear process that requires a long-term commitment. The length of time it takes to see results may vary from person to person.
It should be noted that Annie Hopper’s book does not teach the program but rather is intended to educate the reader on the science behind DNRS and inspire them with a collection of success stories.
Further details regarding the content of these virtual or in-person training programs are not currently freely available.
For those who have completed the DNRS training program and seek further support with implementing the program, a free online community forum and one-to-one coaching (at additional cost) are both available. Coaching is conducted by phone with certified practitioners who will create a personalized strategy for the individual based on their condition and needs. Although the coach is assigned to the individual by the DNRS organization, the client can request a different coach.
The DNRS organization offers only one coach/facilitator training certification. The certification program consists of supervised and experiential training in limbic system trauma, the DNRS rehabilitation process, and coaching and leadership skills. All DNRS facilitators and coaches are graduates of the DNRS program and have recovered from limbic system-related conditions using the DNRS method. They are required to participate in ongoing supervision and education subsequent to their certification.
The DNRS coaching and facilitator training are open to anyone from any profession. There is no license required to practice it.
While DNRS has assisted the healing of many sufferers of chronic illness, this modality may not be for everyone. The following potential drawbacks to this particular modality are worth considering before committing to the program:
The program requires a consistent daily commitment of time and mental energy for a minimum of six months. Although some people see results after a few days or weeks, others may not see results for several months.
The program requires that the individual does not speak about their illness for the initial six months.
Healing through DNRS is not a linear process. Some individuals have reported a resurgence of symptoms in the process of rewiring their neural pathways (i.e., some people experience their condition getting worse before it gets better as their limbic system adjusts).
The only published material supporting DNRS includes testimonials written by its founder and practitioners, but there are currently no impartial peer-reviewed studies available. Thus, keep in mind that no research substantiates a link between certain symptoms or illnesses with limbic brain dysfunction, as theorized by DNRS. Further, there is no data that gives an accurate report of the program’s success rate and whether positive results are due to limbic rewiring or a placebo effect resulting from stress-reducing exercises.
DNRS coach/facilitator training regulations do not require the trainee to have preexisting experience or training in mental health beyond completing the DNRS program.
DNRS is purely a top-down cognitive approach to recovery; it does not address somatic or spiritual aspects of healing.
https://retrainingthebrain.com/ – DNRS official website
https://chriskresser.com/how-to-rewire-your-brain-using-dnrs-with-annie-hopper/ – ‘How to Rewire Your Brain Using DNRS, with Annie Hopper‘, by Chris Kresser M.S. (July 3, 2019)
https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/holistic-psychiatry/201906/the-trauma-living-chronic-mysterious-illness – ‘The Trauma From Living With a Chronic Mysterious Illness Too often, we invalidate the experience of those with chronic illnesses‘, by Judy Tsafrir M.D. (Jun 05, 2019)
https://www.judytsafrirmd.com/dynamic-neural-retraining-system-dnrs/ – ‘Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS)‘, by Judy Tsafrir, M.D.
https://kamilingren.com/3-things-dnrs-program/ – ‘3 Things You Should Know About DNRS‘, by Kami Lingren (Apr 4, 2017)
https://elizabethsteere.com/2018/11/healing-with – ‘My Experience with DNRS: A Natural Treatment for Chronic Illness‘, by Elizabeth Steere (Nov 12, 2018)
https://www.virology.ws/2020/09/02/trial-by-error-what-is-the-dynamic-neural-retraining-system/ – ‘Trial By Error: What Is the Dynamic Neural Retraining System?‘, By David Tuller, DrPH (2 Sep, 2020)
https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/dynamic-neural-retraining/ – ‘Dynamic Neural Retraining‘, by Steven Novella (Feb 6, 2013)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxEoZtHnWNc – ‘What to Expect with the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS)‘, by Sarah Panther (May 1, 2018)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55bNmTbl0b4&ab_channel=MandyMeehan – ‘Retraining the Brain: 9 Month DNRS Update‘, by Mandy Meehan (Jul 31, 2018)