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Limbic System Retraining

The limbic system is part of the reptilian part of the brain, meaning it is the oldest part of the brain, and is concerned with issues around memory, emotional responses, emotional content of memories, and determining if something is safe. It is a mostly binary system- something is either safe or dangerous and relies on past experiences and associations to assess current ones. It is an extremely protective part of our nervous system designed to keep us safe.  Like all parts of the brain, it can learn, especially with repeated stimuli or signals.  What it learns depends on that input. So if someone is in repeated sympathetic dominance of fight-or-flight, then the limbic system will learn that there is constant danger and become sensitized to any input that may signal danger.

All limbic retraining programs are based around the same research into neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brain to change constantly. The adaptability and learning of the brain can both create pathways in the brain that can be problematic, which may cause us to get stuck in a fight/flight/freeze state, or we can use this knowledge to create pathways in our brain to support health, positive mood and a parasympathetic rest/digest/social state.

The basic steps of limbic retraining include awareness/trigger, interruption, some form of acknowledgment, and visualization or mood elevation. This is a simple structure anyone can follow without a program, however, programs are useful in that they give you that structure, plus more information and support. Some programs require active participation and some are passive; programs could be combined. Some that rely on sound or light may not be best choices for people with sensitivity in those areas.

At first, people may look at these programs and think you are just supposed to ignore your symptoms and think happy thoughts and everything will be fine.  That is not what they are doing.  They are using your conscious mind as a tool to reteach your limbic system that you can be out of that hypervigilant state, like a human training their guard dog not to bark at everything. I like to think about these programs as providing the directions for where I want to be in the future and how to help my nervous system to get there, rather than focusing on where I am today. 

There are a variety of limbic system retraining programs and different ones work best for different people.  Programs can also be combined.

  1. Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS;

This is a program people can do at home and is an instructional video program with variety of optional support services There are more than 20 hours of in-depth content about:

  • the science of neuroplasticity, limbic system function and how chronic symptoms are related to brain function
  • how to bring awareness to unconscious trauma patterns associated with a maladapted stress response  
  • how your thoughts, emotions and behaviors can work in your favor to alter brain function and help build healthier neural patterns

The program uses targeted desensitization and visualization techniques, which include using your imagination, speech, and small movements, which help release the natural hormones that regulate nervous system function, and reverse the unconscious, maladapted stress response.  Specifically, the program uses elements of:

  • Behavioral Therapy,
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive restructuring,
  • Emotional restructuring techniques,
  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming,
  • Incremental training (a form of neural shaping),
  • Focused attention, attention distraction and cognitive reappraisal, and
  • Emotional distancing and emotional regulation.

The program uses timed sessions but the time can be shortened, especially initially, if that is what works best for you.

2. The Amygdala Retraining program, also known as the “Gupta” program, (

This is another option that is more meditative that DNRS, which tends to be more structured.  The program has three components: Retraining the Brain, Relaxing the Nervous System & Re-Engaging With Joy.  It includes elements of:

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming,
  • Meditation,
  • Timeline Therapy,
  • Breathwork,
  • Parts therapy, and
  • Visualization.

The program has both individual work and coaching/group sessions with option of on-on-one coaching.  There is also a free 28-day mini course for patients to try out before they purchase the whole program.

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This is a type of psychotherapy that emphasizes acceptance as a way to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages increased commitment to healthy, constructive activities that uphold your values or goals.  Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the goal of ACT is not to reduce the frequency or severity of unpleasant internal experiences like upsetting cognitive distortions, emotions, or urges. Rather, the goal is to reduce your struggle to control or eliminate these experiences while simultaneously increasing your involvement in meaningful life activities (i.e., those activities that are consistent with your personal values).

ACT therapists operate under a theory that suggests that increasing acceptance can lead to increased psychological flexibility, which is the ability to embrace your thoughts and feelings when they are useful and to set them aside when they are not. This allows you to thoughtfully respond to your inner experience and avoid short-term, impulsive actions, focusing instead on living a meaningful life.

In this work, “acceptance” simply means recognizing that thoughts and feeling exist, not that they are all “ok”.  A person can then assess that feeling as useful or helpful and be curious about where that feeling may be coming from. Psychological flexibility can improve your ability to accept and function with symptoms of conditions like anxiety or depression. Often, those symptoms may lessen significantly as a result of this increase in psychological flexibility.

Therapy involves 6 principles/components:

  • Cognitive defusion: Cognitive defusion is the process of separating yourself from your inner experiences (thoughts, images, memories). This allows you to see thoughts simply as thoughts, stripped of the importance that your mind adds to them.  Aims to separate unpleasant, unwelcome thoughts, feelings, urges, memories, or other products of the mind from ourselves to get perspective.  We want to stop the belief that all our thoughts are reality, are truth, are important, are orders, are wise, or are threats. (i.e. don’t believe everything you think)
  • Expansion/Acceptance: This means allowing your inner thoughts and feelings to occur without trying to change them, ignore them, run away from them, or giving them undue attention. Acceptance is an active process.
  • Contact/connection with present: ACT encourages you to stay mindful of your surroundings with openness, interest, and receptiveness.  When we do this, there is less room for internal thoughts and feelings to intrude. Staying present also allows us the power to act in accordance with what the current situation may require and what our values are around that situation.
  • Observing Self: This involves learning to see your thoughts, actions, beliefs about yourself as separate from your essence by accessing a transcendant, nonjudgmental view of yourself. From the perspective of the Observing self, no internal experience (thought, feeling, image, urge) is dangerous or controlling- it just “is”.
  • Values clarification: This is about clarifying what is most important in the deepest part of ourselves that we can access. It involves asking what sort of person we want to be, what is meaningful to us, and what we want to stand for in this life.  These are not the same as goals and are the areas of your life that are important enough to you to motivate action.
  • Committed action: This process involves changing your behavior and taking effective action guided by your values (and goals). (

This can be done with a trained therapist or patients can work with these principles on their own.

4. Brain Tap (Dr. Patrick Porter) (

This is a program that uses neuro-algorithms of sound, music, and spoken word to guide your brain through a broad range of brainwave patterns, instead of just the Alpha state, which results in a complete spectrum of brainwave activity.  It uses these algorithms to produce brainwave entrainment — the synchronization of brainwaves to a specialized sound — with no user effort.  The program has pre-set packages for different issues (e.g., sleep, stress, leaning) and does require purchasing their headset.   The program does use sound and pulsed light.

5. Brain Spotting (Dr. David Grand) (

A “Brainspot” is the eye position which is related to the energetic/emotional activation of a traumatic/emotionally charged issue within the brain, most likely in the limbic system. Located by eye position, paired with externally observed and internally experienced reflexive responses, a Brainspot is actually a physiological subsystem holding emotional experience in memory form.  Reflexive responses can include eye twitches, wobbles, freezes, blinks (hard and double blinks) pupil dilation and constriction, narrowing, facial tics, brow furrowing, sniffs, swallows, yawns, coughs, head nods, hand signals, foot movement and body shifting. Reflexive facial expressions are powerful indicators of Brainspots, and this typically happens out of the client’s conscious awareness.

The Brainspot can then be accessed and stimulated by holding the client’s eye position while the client is focused on the somatic/sensory experience of the symptom or problem being addressed in the therapy.  The maintenance of that eye position/Brainspot within the attentional focus on the body’s “felt sense” of that issue or trauma stimulates a deep integrating and healing process within the brain. This processing, which appears to take place at a reflexive or cellular level within the nervous system, brings about a de-conditioning of previously conditioned, maladaptive emotional and physiological responses. Brainspotting appears to stimulate, focus, and activate the body’s inherent capacity to heal itself from trauma.

Brainspotting can be done with one eye or two and can be directed at distress or establishing and strengthening resources.  This needs to be done with a certified practitioner and the website has a directory.

6. Safe and Sound Protocol (Dr. Stephen Porges)

This program is based on Dr. Porges’ polyvagal theory and was created to help people learn to attain a grounded state where they feel safe, connected, calm and social.  By helping to access a calm and grounded state, the SSP promotes a neural platform for health, growth and restoration. Patients can initiate and access a physiological state conducive to well-being, positive engagement with others, and growth in learning and therapy using a non-invasive acoustic vagus nerve stimulator and SSPs algotithmically filtered music.  The program supports emotional regulation and neuroception while decreasing auditory sensitivity by exercising and systematically challenging the auditory system with specifically processed vocal music focusing on the frequency envelope of human speech. This retunes the nervous system associated with regulating behavioral state and social engagement.

The program is a five-day music therapy intervention; the SSP playlists through over-the-ear headphones which can be delivered in-clinic or remotely.  There are several resources for this program:

7. Synctuition (

This program creates a meditation combination of:

Patient’s voice sample, encoded in sounds to provide familiarity

Binaural beats:  Binaural beats are created when slightly different modified sounds are sent to each ear. This causes the brain to imagine a third sound to compensate for the difference. In this way, binaural beats stimulate rapid communication between the opposite sides of the brain 

Rhythmic entrainment: rhythmic synchronization and entrainment frequencies to relax the heart rate, decrease cortisol levels and stimulate and improve brain function. The rhythmic entrainment frequencies used in Synctuition provide a neurophysiological advantage for the stronger formation of neural connections during listening by increasing neuronal responses in localized brain networks. Rhythmic entrainment to music also constitutes a key source for emotions experienced during listening. Different bodily rhythms will synchronize to the entrainment frequencies present in each journey, consequently generating emotional feelings via proprioceptive feedback mechanisms.

This requires their app and stereo headphones.

8. Lightning Process (Amy Ashley)

This program is three days (approximately 4-5 hours per day) of intensive interactive training and several hours of one-on-one follow-up.  It combines Neuro Linguisitic Programming (NLP), life coaching and principles of physiology and osteopathy focusing primarily on stress response.  The goal is to teach people how to spot any destructive unconscious patterns that activate brain pathways leading to illness or limiting conditions in their lives. People can then learn how to change these patterns to create new pathways that lead to health and vitality.

The training includes information on:

  • interaction between body and mind
  • destructive effects of stress (the “Fight or Flight” response) on the body’s systems and overall quality of life
  • how to identify unconscious negative and limiting thought and language patterns and beliefs
  • how these destructive patterns lead to neurological patterns that undermine health and well-being
  • how to change these patterns in empowering and effective ways by using the Lightning Process® which uses gentle movement, meditation-like techniques, visualization and mental exercises

9. Direct Your Own Care Program (

This is a framework intended to organize your thoughts and enable you to create your own solution in four stages.

  • Laying Foundation, includes learning about chronic pain, expressive writing, active meditation, sleep, not sharing your pain
  • Forgiveness and Play, includes understanding the Impact of Anger on Your Life, Acknowledging Your Disguises, Admitting Your Victimhood, Choosing Not to Remain a Victim, Letting go, Processing Anger, Play 
  • Moving Forward, includes committing to a daily practice, creating a safe haven (family), getting organized, connecting with life you want, creating your vision
  • Expanding Consciousness, includes passing through “ring of fire”, stepping into your new life, failing “well”, your spiritual journey, giving back
  • 10. Unlearn Your Pain (Dr. Howard Schubiner) (

Dr. Schubiner recognizes the brain can generate as well as modulate pain, there is a weak link between pain and findings on imaging or physical exam, and there are different types of chronic pain (centralized versus peripheral).  The brain is much more involved in centralized pain.

His program includes:

  • Pain education/reappraisal: attributing pain to the brain (it is not made up) and not peripheral damage
  • Reduce perceived danger: working directly with fearful emotions
  • Increase adaptive behaviors: gradually increase actions that have elicited pain to challenge fearful beliefs that those actions will increase pain
  • Emotional processing: expressive writing/emotional disclosure, identify and experience unconscious emotions, express emotions related to trauma or conflict; uses voice, language and body to “rescript” experiences by accessing feelings that were present but not expressed
  • Encourage interpersonal communication
  • Trauma-focused psychotherapies, especially EMDR
  • 11. Simply Sarno

Similar to other programs in that it uses techniques to retrain the messages your brain is sending to your body.  The program focuses a lot on reducing or eliminating pain, but can be applied to any symptom/body system. Dr. Sarno’s research into chronic back and body pain indicated that most pain was not due to a physical issue but was really due to how the brain was functioning.

The program can be done at home at your own pace and includes workbook and exercises and 2-6 week program guidance plan.

12. Other options

There are other options that can be used for a wide variety of conditions, not just limbic system retraining.  These include Frequency Specific Microcurrent, Emotional Freedom Technique, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR); all of these require working with a trained practitioner.

13 .Resources specifically for kids

Headspace for kids

Tones by Now (

Muse headband (

Mightier device (

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