The Truth About Annie Hopper and DNRS Brain "Training"
by Heidi Boudro
I'm morally compelled to post the truth about Annie Hopper's DNRS brain “training” program.
I am disturbed at her involvement with the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness.
For reasons that I'll explain here, I'm alarmed that anyone would recommend the program to MCS and CFS patients.
I have seen the DNRS DVD (2011) and have read the accompanying workbook. I borrowed them. I am not violating its copyright; additionally, I am not subject to the program's self-imposed “gag order.”
I've communicated with many people, including people I know personally, who have used the program.
What is the Program?
The program consists of these elements:
1. A brief dance and chant, to be repeated.
A typical assignment is to repeat the dance and chant 100 times in a row at home.
2. “As if” affirmations expressing recovery, lack of symptoms, and lack of limitations.
The affirmations are to be used in all circumstances and to everyone, including oneself.
Patients are told that they will not get better unless they maintain “as if” affirmations, totally and completely, at all times, to everyone.
3. This requires “beliefs,” that is, belief in the theory behind the affirmations.
4. Follow-ups with DNRS coaches, who assist the participant in carrying out the dance, the chant, and affirmations.
Testimonials on the DNRS DVD
The DNRS DVD presents what appear to be “testimonials.” But you can clearly see that the seminar participants are not giving testimonials of recovery. They are filmed during the seminar, carrying out the instruction to speak meaningful “as if” affirmations.
For example, “I can sing in bars!” This has the appearance of a testimonial of someone who is now able to sing in bars, as proven by having recently sung in a bar; but it is in fact an “as if” affirmation, clearly filmed the day of the seminar, long before even any spontaneous bar singing could have occurred.
This Sounds Familiar!
Reportedly, Annie Hopper is a graduate of the Lightning Process, a “training program” intended to “train” away CFS. The DNRS program strongly resembles the Lightning Process.
Here is one woman's personal experience with the Lightning Process:
The Lightning Process Didn't Work For Me
by sallycats, Hubpages
In this devastating account, "sallycats" reports that the Lightning Process program consists entirely of a dance, a chant, affirmations, and the systematic insistence of recovery.
What's the Big Problem?
Problem: The DNRS participant is instructed to lie.
--The DNRS program requires always speaking as if already recovered.
--It is emphasized that the program will not work unless the participant always speaks as if already recovered.
--Coaching is provided to counsel the participant to speak as if already recovered to friends, family, doctors, and oneself.
In an incident I am familiar with, the coach told the participant that she should falsely tell her MD throat specialist that she no longer had difficulty swallowing, whereas in fact she was completely unable to swallow solid food.
Thought Experiment #1
A participant has been persuaded that she must always say that she is recovered. She is to deny any symptoms; she believes that if she fails to deny symptoms, she will never get better. She is to deny symptoms to her mother, to her doctor, to herself.
You ask the participant if she has any symptoms. She says she does not. She further volunteers that she is recovered.
Can you believe her?
Testimony Without Value
So far, I've emphasized that reports and testimonials about DNRS are worthless because the participants are instructed to lie.
We could, in fact, stop right here!
How can we evaluate DNRS when all first-hand reports and testimonials are inherently unreliable?
However, let's look at the theory that inspires the lies.
Theory: Beliefs Cause Symptoms; Beliefs Stop Symptoms
DNRS teaches that the participant is to convince herself thoroughly, by any means possible, that
(1) the symptoms are capable of being extinguished by the dance, the chant, and the affirmations;
and that this is possible because
(2) the symptoms are a production of the brain, in the sense of the brain's mistake.
In DNRS, a belief about the cause of symptoms leads to brain chemicals that lead to symptoms. Symptoms can be stopped when the beliefs about them change.
In short: beliefs cause symptoms; beliefs stop symptoms.
You could apply this model to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD involves mistaken perceptions, fear, anxiety, “fight or flight” reactions.
An OCD patient can improve when she believes that she has a mix-up in the brain and when she focuses on replacing false beliefs (such as that hands are never clean, that an accident happened in the car, and other delusions) with true beliefs. See the work of Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., for more on this.
OCD is a disorder, not a disease. It's defined in terms of beliefs (delusions) and behavior (compulsions). No delusions / no compulsions = No OCD.
You can't really apply this model to broken bones, cancer, or AIDS.
In these conditions, beliefs and behavior are not relevant to diagnosis. People died of AIDS before there “was” AIDS.
Since the DNRS program is intended for MCS and CFS, the question is whether the DNRS “belief” model applies to MCS and CFS.
Are those conditions more like OCD? Or more like AIDS?
“Beliefs” in MCS and CFS: Two Sets of Beliefs
In DNRS, the participant's beliefs about MCS or CFS are to be replaced with new beliefs consistent with DNRS theory.
I will call the two sets of beliefs (1) “fact-based beliefs” about MCS and CFS, which are based on decades of documented observations and medical literature, and (2) “DNRS beliefs.”
Both sets of beliefs imply cause and prescribe treatment.
Fact-Based Beliefs about MCS and CFS
MCS is a hypersensitivity to volatile organic solvents and/or pesticides and/or mold toxins. Further exposure to these increases hypersensitivity.
CFS is a dysfunction of energy metabolism. Exertion beyond the body's limits causes further dysfunction to energy metabolism.
DNRS Beliefs about MCS and CFS
“MCS” is caused by wrong sensory perceptions. Avoiding chemical exposures exacerbates “MCS.”
“CFS” is caused by “fight or flight.” Avoiding exertion exacerbates “CFS.”
These sets of “beliefs” about MCS / CFS are mutually exclusive.
Is the MCS patient or CFS patient:
--A person whose metabolism is seriously damaged / deranged by physical causes?
--A person of normal metabolism with mistaken beliefs?
Thought Experiment #2
An individual has a life-threatening peanut allergy.
Would you advise her to:
--Revise her beliefs about peanuts?
--Consider her symptoms imaginary?
--Do a dance, chant, and affirmations?
What's Really Going On in DNRS?
Not Brain Training
Whatever it is, it's not brain training.
Legitimate brain training is subtle, slow, and addresses neurological problems. It can be seen in the examples reported by Norman Doidge and in the cognitive games of Posit Science.
Here's what brain training is not:
--Not group hysteria in a “seminar”
--Not psychological processes
--Not OCD treatment
I am angry that the vast potential of legitimate brain training is being polluted by the spectre of DNRS.
What's really going on in the DNRS program?
A participant produces adrenaline!
Her intense focus and excitement makes her body produce adrenaline.
In turn, adrenaline makes her feel “better”: healthier, more energetic, more “normal.”
Effects of Adrenaline
Adrenaline (epinephrine) is a hormone and neurotransmitter.
It's produced in response to “stress,” that is, when your body is asked to perform. It's produced in “fight or flight.”
It increases energy for the muscles and brain, and overrides protective mechanisms.
When your body shoots itself full of adrenaline, you have increased alertness, energy, endurance, and strength; you may not even feel pain.
Adrenaline is used as a medication to treat anaphylaxis, asthma, and cardiac arrest.
While the relationship of adrenaline and allergy is complicated, adrenaline is known to inhibit histamine release.
Adrenaline in MCS and CFS
Short-term suppression of mild/moderate symptoms in MCS and CFS is, I think, within all patients' experience.
In MCS, a reaction can be temporarily suppressed, and in CFS, the energy metabolism deficit can be temporarily overridden. This is, I believe, with adrenaline.
Through intense focus and excitement—almost certainly through adrenaline production—I have carried out an activity after a severe reaction, and I have forced exertion beyond my limits.
Adrenaline in DNRS
As a program of group hysteria and dance-and-chant, DNRS inspires adrenaline production at every stage.
Yes, DNRS causes “fight or flight”!
The activities of the DNRS program cause adrenaline flow in participants.
--The group excitement and hysteria in the seminar
--Peer pressure and pressure from authority
--The dance and chant, a way of producing adrenaline that is always at hand
--Lying about symptoms, another way of producing adrenaline that is always at hand
Consequences in MCS: My Observations
I know several MCS patients who I believe may have successfully suppressed some symptoms with DNRS, or, in one case, through a similar faith-based program.
These patients decided they don't have MCS anymore, or don't have it to the extent they did previously, and live accordingly.
In each of the cases, I do not believe they were lying about symptom suppression.
But my observations of what happens next are without exception:
--A concurrent autoimmune disease process flares and rages out of controland/or
--A severe pain syndrome appears
In fact, this may even give a clue to what MCS really is. Perhaps MCS is a kind of autoimmune process.
Consequences in CFS
I don't know anyone personally who claims to have improved CFS through DNRS or any similar program.
However, the best way to make CFS worse—long term, or permanently—is to force the body into activity beyond its capacity.
Thought Experiment #3
What happens when someone who does not have OCD subjects herself to behavioral OCD treatment?
Since participants are required to lie about symptoms and recovery, all their reports are unreliable.
Inherent to DNRS are the "beliefs" specific to the program. These include that MCS is caused by wrong sensory perceptions and that CFS is caused by "fight-or-flight." These "beliefs," according to the program, are the basis for recovery.
However, rather than new "beliefs" suppressing symptoms, sheer adrenaline is what temporarily suppresses participants' symptoms. You can clearly see this by watching the seminar on the DVD.
Apart from the obvious drawbacks and consequences, I have observed additional long-term consequences in the few patients who are able to maintain a long-term denial of their own MCS. These are out-of-control autoimmune conditions and pain syndromes.
In an ideal world, programs like this one would be self-limiting. Unfortunately, when the truth is avoided, programs like this one spread.