Brain Retraining Insights
I share these insights and knowledge with you as both a practitioner in this space of brain, nervous system and body based healing, and as a past client trying to regain my own health by working with practitioners and coaches, whilst buying a zillion books and online programs in search of answers.
I am someone who has personally tried a number of brain retraining programs, in my own efforts to recover from Lyme disease & coinfections, heavy metal toxicity, EBV, shingles, parasites, mold exposure, PTSD & trauma (ranging from being bullied at school, to unprocessed grief around the loss of family members, to being involved in several car accidents). I have experienced firsthand a trauma response when implementing a Brain Retraining Program myself.
Knowing now that what I went through was commonplace, there was no mention of these kinds of experiences, no warnings about these kinds of responses one may have to the program, or guidance on next steps or who to consult.
I felt alone and I thought that there was something WRONG with me. It took me a long time to understand that this was simply not true.
I am now “on the other side of the table”, as a Trauma Informed Practitioner now working in this space, and supporting clients to regain their health through brain, nervous system, and body-based approaches that also includes Brain/Limbic System Retraining.
In this role, I am now being inundated with emails, DMs, clarity calls and client sessions each week, with people sharing their … not so healing experiences and stories with me. This has followed the implementation of various practices and routines that have been recommended by very well-meaning limbic system retraining programs or coaches. The steps and exercises they followed, has left many in very vulnerable and fragile situations, often with an increase in symptoms, feeling like they have an even more activated limbic and nervous system than when they started with the program!
Who is this Brain Retraining Insights Article For?
This article is for you if you are:
- looking into brain or limbic system retraining for yourself
- exploring online brain retraining program and course options
- working with a brain retraining coach
- an active brain retainer
- have pressed the ‘pause’ button on your brain retraining
- a past brain retainer
Please note this article may not be for everyone, and I trust you will be discerning around whether you feel it supports your current circumstances.
Personal & Professional Foundations
I share these insights and knowledge with you as both a practitioner in this space of Brain, Nervous System and Body based healing, and a past client trying to regain my own health by working with practitioners and coaches, whilst buying a zillion books and online programs in search of answers.
I am someone who has personally tried a number of brain retraining programs, in my own efforts to recover from Lyme disease & coinfections, heavy mental toxicity, EBV, shingles, parasites, mold exposure, PTSD & trauma (ranging from being bullied at school to unprocessed grief around the loss of family members to being involved in several car accidents). I have experienced firsthand, a trauma response when implementing a Brain Retraining Program, myself.
Knowing now that what I went through is commonplace, there was no mention of these kinds of experiences, no warnings about these kinds of responses one may have to the program, or guidance on next steps or who to consult.
I felt alone. I thought that there was something WRONG with me. It took me a long time to understand that this was simply not true.
I am now on the other side of the table (so to speak), as a Trauma Informed Practitioner now working in this space, supporting clients to regain their health through brain, nervous system and body-based approaches that also includes Brain/Limbic System Retraining.
In this role, I am now being inundated with emails, DMs, clarity calls and client sessions each week, with people sharing there … not so healing experiences and stories with me. This has followed the implementation of various practices and routines that have been recommended by very well-meaning limbic system retraining programs or coaches. The steps and exercises they followed, has left many in very vulnerable and fragile situations, often with an increase in symptoms, feeling like they have an even more activated limbic and nervous system than when they started with the program!
Awareness Enables Healing Disclaimer
These insights are shared to you with loving, kindness, and compassion. This is not meant or designed to be a scare tactic or to negatively impact the current state of your limbic or nervous system! It is purely designed to present you with insights that you may not have considered. The concepts may be impacting your current healing program – but you have been unaware or unable to join in. It is my hope that there may be a golden nugget in this article, that may equip you or someone you know with knowledge and awareness that may change the trajectory of your healing path.
Starting with Hope
It is important to preface this and start with the end in mind! I would like to bring HOPE to you for your brain, limbic system, nervous system, and body’s ability to heal.
Every single moment, you have new neurons that are firing and wiring. Your brain, body, physiology, and biochemistry are changing, adapting, learning, growing, and healing in every single moment. And because of this, no moment in time is the same!
It was once thought that the brain was like a machine and was not able to change. We also know, through the growing bodies of research based on neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), polyvagal theory and the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) that you CAN heal your brain, body, nervous system, and immune system!
If you are after evidence to support these concepts of healing, then you do not need to look far… the works and books from these pioneers leading the way is a great place to start:
- Dr Joe Dispenza – Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself
- David R Halilton – How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body
- Dr Candice Pert – Molecules of Emotional
- Dr Peta Stapleton – The Science Behind Tapping
- Dr Bruce Lipton – The Biology of Belief
- Annie Hopper – Wired For Healing
The Starting Point for Brain Retraining Insights
My clinical experience and that of some of my clients, who’s limbic system retraining experiences have not been so favorable is an insight worth discussing. I have presented these as 10 insights, each with its own helpful and support tip you may consider reflecting on.
Disclaimer: Please note that these insights are NOT in any way, shape, or form, designed to discredit any particular program or person or limit your own ability to heal!
Insight One – Once Size Fits All Myth
Brain Retraining Programs are often designed with a strong framework that is often rigid, fixed, and inflexible. This structure can be good for the brain and nervous system for those who are needing this approach, but on the other hand, this one size fits all approach could be detrimental to others. I often see this to be the case for those with ACE scores, a trauma picture or who are working outside of their ‘window of tolerance’ before starting the programs, in which the method then results in further emotional, nervous system, and limbic system dysregulation.
It has long been known that one size does NOT fit all! And this is definitely the case when it comes to recovering from chronic illness, stress, emotional dysregulation, and an overactive limbic system.
Helpful tip: Thoroughly review and investigate the programs and coaches you are or are considering working with. Ask several questions and find out about whether they consider the impact of ACE Scores or trauma in their program or practice. Ask whether they know about the ‘window of tolerance’ and if they or their programs have the tools to support you to stay within the window. Ask if they are trauma informed and are adequately trained to monitor and support your regulation/dysregulation.
Insight Two – It is OK: Maybe It’s Not THE Approach That I Need Right Now
It is important to note that just because a program worked for someone you know, and they were able to fully heal from X, Y or Z, this does not mean that this IS THE RIGHT PROGRAM for you to heal YOUR X, Y and Z!
It might give you confidence that the program COULD work for you and that it is tried and tested by others. It is also just as important to ‘not be fixated’ on a program being the ultimate solution for you – as techniques, coaches, or a specific program may simply NOT be the right fit for you!
Remember that it may also be that it is not a fit for you right now, but that it may be right for you in the future.
Helpful Hint: Maybe explore options with a coach or practitioner to determine if you can make some modifications or another approach may be more suited to your current circumstances.
Let me repeat that again! It is OK if some techniques or a program does not work for you. There are so many other options available – there will be a program, a technique or a practitioner that IS right for you!
Helpful Hint: Remind yourself. Right here right now. I am ok!
Insight Three – You Are Not Broken
Many people I have spoken to have felt like they are broken or there is something wrong with them when they are unable to implement a program (for whatever reason). And this is simply NOT the case!
It could also be that the approach you are taking is not what your brain or limbic system needs right now. Maybe you’re needing more nervous system support or a more ‘resource’ building approach, rather than emotional processing or visualizations.
Helpful Hint: Remind yourself that it is OK if this is not the technique that you need right now. There are alternatives and there is a technique that will better encompass what you need right now. I have the capacity to reach out to a friend or practitioner to explore other options that may be more suited to me.
Insight Four – You Don’t Need to Push Through
Yes, resistance in all shapes and sizes, appears when starting and doing limbic system retraining. The brain, nervous system, and body can push back for a variety of reasons.
Although if I had a dollar for every time I heard that a program or coach told them to just keep doing ‘the rounds’ and just push though, I might have a few extra bucks in the bank!
The problem with a general and blanket statement to ‘keep doing the work’ and ‘pushing through’ the resistance is that it does NOT consider the state of your nervous system and if it is actually SAFE for you to keep going.
I work with a very fragile and traumatized group of people who are also incredibly resilient and amazing. And if I were to tell the majority of them to ‘push’ on with their practice, it would literally push them over the edge!
Sadly, the people who are connecting with me have often been pushed over the edge, with this approach being a contributory factor. This approach does not consider one’s window of tolerance, or the body’s sense of safety.
Some programs for example, promote the use of saying certain words to ‘stop or divert a neural pathway’ such as using the words Stop, Stop, Stop or NO, NO, NO. And for some people is very rewarding and feels good as part of their practice. For others, it can be very disempowering, disassociating, triggering and traumatizing.
Helpful tip: A question you may consider asking yourself, is ‘Would it be beneficial if I pushed myself now with this round/exercise?’. Another question to consider is, ‘Is this the pace I need to train at?’. How am I feeling when I am saying and using certain words? – how does it feel in my body? – is it expansive or contracting?
Insight Five – Safety First
So, on the point of safety. Corporate and industrial workplaces have a popular motto and saying which is, ‘safety first’. Sadly, I do not see this being applied to all limbic system approaches. This is true for several reasons.
- It is too hard to put controls in place when presenting a group program as everyone is taking and processing information at difference capacities (I understand this as I too run a small group program for those who are emotionally regulated).
- Self-paced online programs are aimed at the majority of people, and so again, it can be hard to put measures in place for safety, as this often required 1:2 contact.
- Safety for those with very dysregulated nervous systems and those who are currently outside of the window of tolerance need 1:1 trauma informed support and guidance. And individuals are not necessarily aware that this is what they need, and additionally many practitioners are not trained in this space.
I also see that many people who have been sick for a long time are unable to afford 1:1 private sessions and access the support they really need, which is visible in some of my free group offerings (such as my Facebook Group).
A fundamental question to ask yourself with every training or incremental round you do is ‘Is this safe for me, my nervous system and my body right now?’. If you get a NO, it may be best to pause and explore this concept further and gain a sense of safety before proceeding.
Insight Six – Retraining Coaches
I am sure that Brain Retraining Coaches have the best intentions for supporting their clients to regain their health and wellness. Many of them have often been through their own healing journey to arrive at a state of wellness. They are often compassionate, supportive, and can be a friendly ear that feels safe. So, a huge shout out to all the amazing coaches out there helping people to heal and transform their lives!
What I have noticed in my practice is that many coaches are training in the programs they have used for themselves. Some programs of which we know are very structured in their approach.
Coaches are also not trauma informed or educated on the concept of the window of tolerance and how to work within this space and how to regulate the nervous system if it were to become dysregulated. For this reason, some coaches are not qualified to guide in this capacity.
Whilst there are a lot of people regaining their health with the help and support of programs and independent coaches, there are also others who are negatively impacted by programs and recommendations from ill equipped and trained coaches.
Helpful tip: If you are unsure of your practitioner’s training and trauma knowledge, maybe question your practitioner if they are trained in any of these areas and how they could support you with this. You may be pleasantly surprised that they can support you further – or give you modifications to your program so that you are remaining in this ‘window’ throughout your ‘rounds’ or routine.
Insight Seven – Dysregulation and What Might Be Causing It
I’ve had sessions where the potential clients have indicated that they feel that the Limbic System Retraining they’ve done in the past, pushed them into dysregulation and that they feel more traumatized than when they started. They also expressed that they feel more disconnected, have more symptoms, are tolerating less, are more sensitive and have experienced an increase in the number and severity of their symptoms.
Yes, it could very well be that the techniques and approach you are taking, could be resulting in this.
Some additional reasons (beyond those mentioned above) that could be happening:
- They are working on processing or trying to clear traumatic experiences, within a body that is already dysregulated and unstable – and the body is unable to process this additional load of information as it is not in a stable state to process it at this time.
- Implementing state changing exercises that are aimed at ‘thinking and feeling positively’. For some, this can result in the suppression of negative emotions that need to be heard – some programs are heavily focused on not thinking about negative thoughts or emotions and creating ‘redirects’ or ‘state changes’ each time this happens via past or future visualizations, affirmations or trying to think and feel positively. This can be very detrimental to many who are already in a traumatized state, where the body is wanting and needing to be expressed, because they have been suppressed for many years!
- Too much retraining. This can show up as constantly scanning, checking and working on symptoms, emotions and thoughts – and processing every single one of them as they occur. This process has been overwhelming for many who become obsessed about reprogramming every thought and symptom.
Helpful tip: Take a moment to consider if any of these concepts relate to you and reach out to a trained practitioner who may be able to help you navigate an appropriate path forward to work through these concepts – and suggest approach techniques or modifications that may be customized to your requirements.
Insight Eight – Limited to An Approach That is Heavily Top Down Focused
Meditations and visualizations are very powerful forms for healing, although again we know that this is not always the best approach for some people.
To begin with, it was definitely not an approach that I was able to implement – although again, I felt that I should be able to do it, as there is so much research to support mediation, mindfulness, gratitude, and visualization.
These approaches are what we call top-down approaches, which require the rational mind and the prefrontal cortex to be ‘online’, which are often not the case for those in a chronic state of stress.
My article, The Missing Element to Your Healing You Must Know About, explains the concept of Top Down and Bottom up approaches to healing in detail.
What I had not realized, for many years, is that this was not the only way to access the brain and body for healing! There is another way, which ‘by-passes’ the pre-frontal cortex to access other parts of the brain, limbic system and body, that is highly effective and healing. This approach is known as the ‘Bottom-Up’ approach.
Helpful Hint: If you are finding that concepts such as meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, thinking positively and behavior change are too challenging for you, or feel unsafe in your body, then look at exploring ‘Bottom Up’ approaches that may work for you.
Insight Nine– Afraid to Do Training
Fear of brain retraining is not an uncommon theme amongst my community. This may come about, through dysregulation often the result of various training methods that are triggering or activating for the person. This then in turn results in fear about continuing the training or exploring other options of training.
Helpful Hint: If you are feeling stuck in fear, I want you to know that it IS possible for you to move though this AND to find alternatives training methods that may be beneficial for you, your brain, your nervous system and your body. The opposite to fear is … LOVE. Let’s find you a way of healing that you no longer fear and that you … LOVE!
I’ve outlined 9 key insights with relation to some of the key limitations I’m currently seeing clinically around Brain and Limbic System Retraining. This is extremely concerning to me as a practitioner in this space that so many people are not experiencing the benefits of these incredibly powerful and healing techniques – this is mainly because these amazingly resilient yet sensitive clients are in need of a customized trauma and nervous system informed brain, nervous system, and body-based approach to healing.
I’d like to share a short story with you about Samantha* (name changed), who’s world changed, her eyes opened, her nervous system felt supported, her brain reengaged, her limbic system switched into calm mode, and her body was relaxed and excited at the potential of a new way of healing.
Insight Ten - Customization a Step Towards Healing: Client Experience
I had a client, Samantha, who was chronically unwell, and she knew she needed to do something new to get well quickly, but she was so afraid to explore new brain retraining options because of her previous experience – she felt previous coaches (and even therapists) didn’t have the skillset or knowledge to guide her.
To say that Samantha was feeling lost and stuck when we first connected would be an understatement! She was so sensitive to most techniques – even breathing or tapping and listening to music. After chatting, I made some suggestions and recommended modifications to make things really simple and 100% customized, so that retraining ‘could’ work for her after almost a year of no retraining due to becoming exceptionally dysregulated and unwell.
We chatted about her concerns for quite some time, and we talked through various options. I suggested an approach that was safe, regulating, and paced. It was what her mind, body, heart, nervous system, and brain all agreed was supportive and healing! Yay! Win-win!
This was a retraining approach, although it was completely different from the approach she had previously tried for over 12 months. The program she did in the past, was very much Top Down in approach and we designed something that was Bottom Up focused.
The key takeaway from this, was that Samantha, walked away feeling empowered, with new tools and techniques, knowing that there were so many more options available to her. She was also so grateful and now had hope for the future, that she had a new plan and path and was able to restart brain training in a WHOLE NEW WAY.
At the end of the session she said, “I am OK to set up a routine that works for me! I can set something up and set it up the way I want and need too. And I wasn’t able to see it this way before”.
Why did this approach work for Samantha? A few key elements to this approach included:
- Presenting a fully customized and flexible program designed for her individual needs.
- A structured yet dynamic plan.
- Samantha was able to be ‘met’ exactly where she was at – as opposed to an approach that was pushed onto her and she had to make it work.
- A safe approach that Samantha’s brain and nervous system was happy to take part in.
- Being based around techniques that worked for Samantha and that she enjoyed.
- A foundation that was firmly rooted in a trauma informed and Polyvagal Therapy/Nervous System approach.
- Being heavily Bottom Up focused with a hint of Top Down (as opposed to heavily Top Down Focused).
- Something Samantha could implement immediately following the session and therefor felt empowering for her.
Samantha’s story is not unique. The next day, I chatting to Heidi*, who was also in a trauma state and in desperate need of help and support, following a brain training program implementation that went terribly wrong for both her brain and body. I offered her similar ideas, guidance, and hope. To which she said, ‘I have spoken to several Brain Retraining Coaches and Therapists’ and none have had an approach similar to yours. You offer something incredibly unique and customized that I have not come across before’.
Circling back around to where I started at the beginning of these article, I share both stories with you, to offer insight, awareness, and hope. That, if you feel, that the retraining path you are considering or have choose or have done in the past, doesn’t feel right or if any of the insights resonate with you strongly, then maybe you are not on the right path in this moment – and if you’re not that is ok. There are so many options available to you, just look at Samantha and Heidi’s stories.
Helpful Hint: If you feel that you may not be on the right path, book a Clarity Call with with me, or reach out to another trained practitioner, for guidance, support and a chat about exploring new, customized, trauma informed options that can support you to head (pardon the pun) towards greater healing! Healing that IS possible for you and healing that can be achieved through both neuroplasticity and a supported nervous system.