The Science

The New Model of
Chronic Symptoms

The current medical model understands that symptoms in the body are primarily caused by damage in the body. Usually, it relies on a test to diagnose the damage and then treats with a medicine or procedure. This works well when the source of the symptoms is indeed due to some sort of damage in the body.

Alternative practitioners often use a similar model, but rely on different types of pills or procedures like herbs, supplements, and bodywork.

If symptoms do not fit into this model, they are often deemed incurable, and you have to learn to manage and live with the symptoms for the rest of your life.

New neuroscience now reveals this is not true.

Many symptoms in the body are due to signals from the brain rather than from damage in the body.

  • 95% of our brain is unconscious, controls the functioning of the body and where the danger center is located.
  • Pain and other symptoms are warning signals made by the brain, not in the body.
  • Our unconscious brain ‘interprets’ if we are in danger, and often gets it wrong
  • Higher stress and trauma history can create a hypervigilant brain.
  • The ‘decision’ of danger happens away from conscious awareness. We may not consciously feel afraid or stressed, but our unconscious brain responds as if we are.
  • Suppressed thoughts and emotions also trigger the danger response, which can cause symptoms in our bodies.
  • Anxiety, depression, brain fog, and fatigue are also often a result of this perceived threat.
  • The unconscious brain has a primary focus on survival.

When ‘faulty’ danger signals from the brain are the root rather than damage in the body, these can be turned off, often restoring your health wholly and completely. 

10-Minute documentary

“The information I’ve learned from Dr. Kennedy enables me to understand what I’ve experienced in my body. She gently and clearly presents concrete activities and tools to facilitate healing.”
– T.Z.

An Intro to the
New Science

How the Science Applies To Long COVID

The Studies

The Boulder Chronic Back Pain Study

Two-thirds of patients had 0-1/10 pain using this approach after an average of 10 years of chronic back pain in a placebo-controlled study with 150 patients.

Harvard Psychophysiolgic symptom relief therapy (PSRT)

For chronic back pain showed 64% of patients reported being pain free in the PSRT arm versus 25% in the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) arm and 17% is the usual care arm.

Harvard Psychophysiologic Symptom Relief Therapy for Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19:

A non-randomized interventional study. The primary outcome measured the SSS-8 (8 different physical symptoms common in long COVID) and found up to 55% decrease in symptoms over the 13 weeks of the study. The mean duration of symptoms prior to the study was 267 days.

How do I know if this applies to me?

The new science shows that many chronic symptoms are due to ‘faulty’ danger signals – even when there are physical changes you can see and feel. The brain tells the body ‘how to function’ in addition to merely communicating danger. Physical changes like inflammation, redness, muscle tightness and spasms, weakness, palpitations, GI dysfunction, rashes, and much more can all be the result of this ‘faulty’ signaling.

The pattern and history of your symptoms can often confirm a brain-signaling diagnosis. It is important to get a thorough assessment from a physician to make sure there is no underlying structural cause for the symptoms. If you have done that and no cause for your symptoms was found, or you are not improving with the typical treatments, it’s possible the cause is due to the brain signaling.

The good news is turning off these signals is safe and something you can do yourself.

How do you turn the signals off?

Step 1: Learn the science.

  • You need to understand why this works.
  • Read, watch, listen —however you learn best.
  • I will share many resources.

Step 2: Understand how the diagnosis applies to you. It is critical to understand the source of the symptoms is brain signaling and not damage in the body.

  • Your medical evaluation did not reveal the cause of your symptoms, or you are not improving with the usual treatments.
  • You have a history of major or minor traumas or significant stress in your life.
  • You have personality traits like being high achieving, hard on yourself, perfectionist, controlling, or people pleasing which tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

Step 3: Apply the tools. These are slightly different for everyone

  • Start with self-compassion (which is not easy!).
  • Identify how past stressors apply to the present – why the danger signal is turned on because of normal human psychology.
  • Focus on positivity, joy, and meaning.
  • Employ stress management tools: meditation, breathing, sleep, social connection, exercise… Important, but often not enough by themselves.
  • Learn Neural Reprocessing Therapy – ‘brain retraining’ – leaning into the ‘danger’ with safe signals (again, often not enough by itself).
  • Process suppressed emotions – Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy, Expressive Writing
  • Recognize how personality traits like perfectionism, needing control, and people-pleasing contribute.
  • Make life changes (sometimes)

This is not complicated, but not easy! It is, however, very doable. Yes, even by you.

Media

Chronic pain is surprisingly treatable — when patients focus on the brain

Washington Post

Today Show with Neuroscientist Yoni Ashar PhD

Washington Post

Trauma and the nervous system

The Trauma Foundation

Your Brain: Who’s in Control? | Full Documentary

NOVA PBS Official

 Lorimer Mosely – Why things Hurt

TEDx Talks

5 Steps to Unlearn Chronic Pain

This Might Hurt

Interviews with Becca

Interview on Long COVID Recovery

Raelan Agle

Interview on Long COVID Using a Mind-Body Approach

Tanner Murtagh

How to Resolve Long COVID Using Pain Reprocessing Therapy

This Might Hurt

Websites

PPDA
A non-profit that is the central hub of mind-body medicine.

ppdassociation.org

Unlearn Your Pain
Dr. Howard Schubiner’s website

unlearnyourpain.com

Free online course from Dr. Howard Schubiner

coursera.org/learn/reign-of-pain

Documentaries

This Might Hurt

Amazing story following the lives of patients with years of chronic pain in Dr. Howard Schubiner’s program.

Pain Brain

Alan Gordon pain psychologist showing the recent successful study using pain reprocessing therapy for chronic pain.

All the Rage

Using a first-person approach to explore the work of renowned physician Dr. John Sarno and his radical methods to treating back pain.

Podcasts

Tell Me About Your Pain

Pain psychologist Alan Gordon and neuroscientist Alon Ziv describe the new science of treating chronic pain and the technique of pain reprocessing therapy to rewire the neural circuits causing pain (or other symptoms)

The Cure for Chronic Pain Podcast

Therapist Nicole Sachs who cured her own chronic back pain with Dr. Sarno interviews hundreds of patients with countless different symptoms and their journey back to good health through these techniques

Like Mind, Like Body

From the Curable online program developed by the leaders in this field which uses science backed techniques to relieve chronic pain. Interviews with researchers, authors and experts.

Books

Unlearn Your Pain

by Howard Schubiner

Dr. Schubiner is a leader in this field and has been helping patients for over two decades. This is a comprehensive workbook for patients explaining the science and the tools to recover.

What Happened to You

by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry

Oprah works to bring the importance of the effects of trauma to the forefront of our culture partly from her own history. Dr. Bruce Perry is a neuroscientist and child psychiatrist who clearly describes how the things that happened to us (rather than what is ‘wrong’ with us) create the changes in our brain and nervous system which can create much suffering.

The Way Out

by Alan Gordon

Alan Gordon is a pain psychologist who recovered from his own chronic back pain and describes the process of pain reprocessing therapy, one of the tools to rewire the brain and turn off the danger signals.