YouTube interview with Dr. Phil Parker:
Written transcript of our interview:
[0:05] Liz: I’m so excited today to be speaking with Dr. Phil Parker, creator of the first brain retraining program. He’s going to answer some important questions about neuroplasticity and his program, The Lightning Process. Phil, I’m so glad to be speaking with you today.
[00:25] Phil Parker, PhD: It’s great to see you, Liz.
Liz: Yeah, it’s my honor. So, I wanted to ask, what first got you into the field of neuroplasticity?
Friendly reminder: Nothing we share is medical advice. This is an independent blog not associated with the Lightning Process or any other program or method.
[00:37] Phil Parker, PhD: Okay, so behind me, I think most people are watching this rather than listening to it, you’ll see some guitars, and that’s kind of the secret of how this all began. Well, not so much of a secret, I tell this story a lot.
I started off as an osteopath so that was my training and in my first year I severed my left hand and, not completely, but I severed a major nerve called the ulnar nerve. And this is a big deal because those muscles control the fine movement of your fingers. Kind of little artistic, tiny movements that are so important for fine motor control.
Very important as an osteopath, but also as a guitar player, and this was really damaging to my guitar career, my osteopathic career.
So I said to the surgeons who stitched me up, I said, how long until I’ll, you know, be back playing the guitar? And they said, “Oh, you’ll never move your fingers again.”
I was like, “What?”
I, in that moment, you kind of feel your future just falling away, as I’m sure many of our listeners have that kind of experience when somebody says “You don’t get better from this.”
And I was like, “Sheesh, right, okay. I really need to get better.” So I was about 21, I think. I demanded a second opinion.
And the second person said, “I’ve had a look at it. Good news is the person you saw to begin with was completely right. You will never move your fingers again. You’ll be left with a useless claw.”
And I was like, “Oh man.” So I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
And I had this thought in my head. It’s like, if lizards can regrow their tails, you know, if a lizard gets caught by its tail, it can drop its tail and grow another one. Lizard can do that, surely there’s got to be a way around this.
If lizards can regrow their tails, surely there’s got to be a way around this.
So I asked and asked and because I knew a lot of medical people, a lot of alternative medical people. And everybody said, “Well, the textbooks say you don’t recover from this once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
So I just kept on asking, and I must have asked about, I don’t know, 50 experts all with the same answer, and I just kept on asking and eventually somebody said, and they worked in the field of the mind, brain, body, neuroplasticity – they said I think there’s a chance you can recover, and we need to do these things, take these nutritional supports, do some visualization, all sorts of stuff.
I was like right okay. I’ll do that then. I’ll do anything. And, so off I went, and I did recover full use of my hands, so much so I ended up recording, releasing albums, and even playing with Eric Clapton at one point, and I still record music.
Taught myself to play the piano, and that was great. And most people, I was a very contrary 21 year old, most people when an expert or enough experts say there is no way through this.
It’s kind of reasonable to go, “All right, then there is no way through this.” But I kept on asking because it was so, so important to me and I was very interested in that on reflection.
You know, what if I hadn’t fought those statements, would I have recovered during the period between injury and recovery?
It was months. I can remember the day when I first got the tiniest glimmer. So basically what happened was I told my hand “move” like you normally would move and it moves. And it just didn’t move. There was no response. It just didn’t because the signal was not getting through.
And then one day in a lecture, I remember sitting in the lecture, I remember very clearly, I was like, “move.” As I had asked it every day for, I think, five months and nothing had changed.
And I was starting to think, maybe it’s not going to change. But, you know, come on, let’s see. And there was, you can’t even see it, but the tiniest glimmer of a movement. And I was like, was that real? Yeah, it was.
And that’s interesting because this kind of tracks back to the Lightning Process a lot, which is with a tiny bit of movement, that’s not a whole hand, you can’t really do anything with that.
But it does tell you something’s changing.
And that change, even though it’s not big enough to do anything with, is a kind of starting point for,
Well, if that can change, what else can change?
So that’s neuroplasticity, the nerve regrowing, the brain changing, looking at what factors affected that, you know, my belief, my refusal to take no for an answer, somebody else supporting me going, “yeah, I think there is a way through it,” doing the exercises, all those things are important.
And then that led to me developing the Lightning Process many, many years later, but I was always kind of really interested in what do we do with people where everyone’s going “there’s nothing that can be done.”
What do you do? Because as a therapist, a clinician, you want to help people as much as you can.
[4:49] Liz: Yeah. That’s amazing. And that you wouldn’t take no for an answer and because you wouldn’t take no for an answer back in the day, so much good has come out of that and all these people are healing from all different sorts of things through brain retraining.
So how did you get from healing your own dexterity in your hand to what the Lightning Process is now, how it’s helping people with chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, which I recovered from myself.
[Liz note: Brain retraining was one part of my recovery, not the entire piece of it. Though it made the biggest impact for me personally, my recovery also involved initially removing or reducing stress of all forms including leaving my job, moving out of a water-damaged house, having emotional and financial support from my now husband, setting healthy boundaries, good sleep hygiene, a restorative morning routine, and a healthy diet. Phil later explains how addressing stress load is a premise of the Lightning Process.]
It’s also helping people with chronic Lyme disease. How did it get from you healing yourself to what it is today?
[Liz note: The Lightning Process has been used by people for many health conditions as well as for business and sports performances. This interview focuses mostly on the use case of people recovering from ME/CFS, Long Covid, and related conditions.]
[5:36] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah, so along that journey, so I worked as an osteopath, which is a kind of a way of approaching health from a physical perspective. It’s not the same as a physical therapist.
It’s not just about stretching muscles. It’s about recognizing that you can affect body physiology by changing the way the body works. So the spine is very important. If the spine is not doing what it should be doing, it can interrupt nervous signals throughout the body. And this whole kind of relationship between how your body is working and what effects that has on your physiology.
So I was interested in that anyway in that kind of health.
And then I realized I was working with a lot of people and their physical body wasn’t well, but you could see that some of the reasons for that was because they didn’t like their life and that was having an effect physically on their well being.
And you can stretch those muscles and pull that around as much as you want, but that’s going to be a long route to resolving stuff in their lives.
So then I retrained, did NLP, hypnotherapy, coaching. So I kind of worked in both those areas, physical health and mental well being, and combined those. And as a result, a lot of people sent me their most difficult clients.
[Liz note: NLP, or neurolinguistic programming, is a method that emphasizes shifting one’s internal and external communication patterns to attain desired outcomes.]
They’d say, “Listen, I’ve run out of room. I don’t know what to do with you. Go and see Phil, he’s got some extra skills.”
So I ended up with a client base who had been around the block a lot and tried lots of things and nothing had really worked. So I tried these techniques I had and they worked quite well, but there was a group of people who didn’t change.
And I was like, well, what do I do with those guys? Because they’ve been sent to me as almost a last chance saloon, and I’m not getting through this. And some of them had M.E. and chronic fatigue. And what I found was nothing I did made any difference.
And so after a while, I said to people, stop sending me your clients with ME and chronic fatigue. I can’t help them. There’s nothing I can do.
Then I started to work with people who were stuck. Not with ME and CFS. They had a whole range of stuff like blood disorders or chronic depression. They were just stuck. They tried everything. Nothing worked. And so it was like, well, I’ve already tried that. I’ve tried that.
I need to rethink this. So I did a kind of research project on, can I identify any missing pieces? Is there anything going on here we can make a change on?
And there was a few things, particularly the way, and this again tracks back to my experience in my hand, the way they talked about recovery or the absence and hopelessness of recovery.
That was very important. How much they use language, which was talking about how difficult things were. We know from the research that the more you do that, the more you actually wire up the physiology of trouble.
So the more you talk about pain, the more pain you’ll experience and so on.
And I started to kind of create a format of, well, if we could change some of those things, what would happen?
And people started to improve.
[Liz note: This is not saying talking about pain, other symptoms, and struggles is the cause of them. Phil will explain further later in our interview.
For anyone who has been minimized by doctors, friends, or family members for mentioning struggles while living with debilitating symptoms, my heart goes out to you, as I’ve been there. That said, shifting to empowering language (things I said to myself and talking to others) was helpful for me personally.
The Lightning Process, as with other brain retraining programs, is more than the language shifts / NLP component. Phil will explain more about the Lightning Process in the next section.]
And then somebody came to me with ME and CFS and said, I’d really like to try your new thing. It wasn’t even called the Lightning Process. “I’d like to try your new thing. Will you do it on me?” And I was like, “No, because I’m actually getting quite good results. And if I start working with you, it probably won’t work,” because that was my experience.
Many, many practitioners go, “This is one of those things that’s so difficult to help.” But they kept on, a bit like me with my doctor, when I had my injury,
They kept going, “Come on, I won’t tell anybody it doesn’t work. Let’s just do it.” I was like, “All right, okay!”
So we did the process, and I, literally, I didn’t expect it really to make a difference.
All I thought, if it makes a difference, because this is often what happens with chronic fatigue in ME, is things improve a bit, and then they plateau or fade. So I said, “Well, let me know how you get on.” And the next day they went, “I’m feeling much better!” And I was like, “Well, let’s see if that lasts,” because I wasn’t sure it would.
And they kept being well. I was like, “Wow, this is weird. Well, let’s see how it goes.” Like months later, they’re still well. Well, that’s random. That’s unusual because normally that is not the pattern I’ve seen with this illness. And then they started sending some friends and the same thing happened.
So we had a very early group of about six, seven people who all got well from ME and chronic fatigue and recovered and maintained and sustained their recovery.
And I still know some of those people 25 years on who are still well. And yeah, that’s kind of how it started.
And then because of our success in that area, other people went, “You work with that thing that nobody knows what to do with. Can you work with this thing?”
And we went through the same process kind of going, “I don’t know, but I’m happy to have a look and see what happens.” And that’s kind of how we work. It’s like, if we don’t know, we’ll be very open.
Like we don’t know if it’ll work, there are good reasons why it might do, but everybody’s different. And we need to see where we go and do some research on it.
[10:01] Liz: Yeah, one of the things from just reading your book, Get the Life You Love Now, I know it’s a process you do in the moment repeatedly.* When I really committed to brain retraining, it was the repetition of doing it myself, repeating it, that made those neural pathways stick.
[*Liz note: In this part of our video interview, for length, I cut out the part where I told Phil how I first found out about brain retraining by Googling for recovery stories, seeing interviews of people who did the Lightning Process, not seeing a Lightning Process practitioner in my area (it was still in person only then – now they also teach it over Zoom), seeing it mentioned NLP, finding a local NLP expert and hypnotherapist near me, experiencing profound health improvements from our sessions, and how they weren’t always lasting. I said how I then moved out of my water-damaged house which temporarily helped, but later I still crashed leaving me back at square 1. Then I found a brain retraining program, which I stumbled upon when I saw an ‘NLP and neuroplasticity expert’ speaking at a mold conference, and this got me fully out.
I told Phil I thought what made it the changes stick was really committing to it and asked him if he observed this, too.]
[10:24] Phil Parker, PhD:
The brain can change quickly, but it needs to be consistent.
It needs to be appropriate. It needs to be thoughtful. And we need to do it again and again and again.
[10:33] Liz: So can you talk a little bit about the Lightning Process. I know there’s a seminar, but can you talk a little bit about how it works?
[10:42] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah, sure. So first, very broad brushstrokes. What it is, is three pieces.
The audio program
So the first bit is about a five hour audio program, which you listen to.
And the point of this is to kind of get people looking at the research, some of the basic concepts and ideas around brain retraining, about psychoneuroimmunology, mind, brain, body, because for a lot of people that is like, “What are you talking about? That’s crazy stuff.”
And helping people to recognize it’s not crazy stuff. It’s actually very well evidenced. It’s just not enough people know about it. And certainly not enough medics know about it. That’s often where we get our source of information from because they’re not trained in it. It’s not their thing. That’s not their field.
So that first five hour thing helps people to get ready or decide actually this isn’t for me. And if they’re not bought in, that’s really useful for them to know, because it would be not useful for them to move into a training program that says, “You’re going to use your brain, mind, body,” if they think that’s not possible – that’s going to make it a very difficult process for them.
Then they move on to the seminar. So that’s the three half days where they learn the tools and practice the tools. And the reason it’s three days is in day one, they’ll learn some tools and concepts to put them into practice.
We’ll come back the next day and we’ll go, you know, how did it get on? What worked? What didn’t work? What do you need some support and assistance with? And the same on day three. And we look at a whole range of stuff, like how did you get ill? What’s keeping you stuck?
How can we find a way to feel influential and empowered in changing our health without, super important, without feeling to blame for it?
Which is a thing we know is a big issue when we’re talking about you can make a difference. How do we really distinguish this? As you can make a difference rather than you’ve caused it. So we talk about that.
We talk about the research, science, how the body works, how we can influence the body, how we can recognize when we’re causing pathways to be triggered that aren’t useful for us, that have an effect on our physiology and to interrupt that and then to make a choice, and then to kindly guide ourselves, coach ourselves using inner coaching to get our physiology in a different place.
And then finally, third part is then once you’ve done that, we know that these skills are new and unfamiliar and life out there will get in the way of them. So we provide support to help people to put them into practice as they go into the world and we continue doing as much support as they need and help them.
[Liz note: While a minimum of 3 hours of post-seminar support is currently included, if you need more support, it may be an add-on hourly cost, at the rate of your individual practitioner.]
The other thing which you know about is that sometimes what people say is they say, “I just want to be back to where I was before,” which is brilliant. The problem is… if you go back to just before you got ill, you’re in that place where you just got ill. So there may be other stuff that you need to resolve.
So, sometimes people recover super quick. Some people, you know, they’ve lived 20, 30 years of their life, and they’re carrying around some stuff that maybe is part of setting the scene for what happened later on. So resolving some of that sometimes takes a bit longer. It depends on who they are.
So to answer your question, you’ve got these three parts, the main bit of the seminar, the brain retraining is going, “Okay, how are you going to become aware of when you’re stepping into neurology that’s not helping your physiology?”
Liz: So can you explain how neurology affects our physiology?
Phil: Absolutely. A great example of this is blushing. If people are embarrassed, that changes the blood vessels in their face. And that’s a direct connection between things they’re thinking, their brain triggering their nervous system to create a blood flow difference, and redness in their face.
Hormones are released as a result of us being happy or sad. So there’s a massive linkage between where we’re pointing our brain. And one of the easiest way to point your brain is to consciously do it, to meditate, to do the Lightning Process, to do whatever, to steer it in the direction you want to. So training people to be aware of when they’re heading in the wrong direction.
To learn how to interrupt, to guide it kindly in the way they need to. So not telling them off or giving themselves a hard time, but being really nice. It’s really super important when you’re healing to be kind in the process.
And a lot of people are quite tough on themselves. Like, “Why am I not well!”
That’s not going to help you get well.
Yeah, so really learning how to be kind, even when you don’t feel like it, and also helping you to stimulate good neurological pathways by recalling, remembering, immersing yourself in great moments. And doing this a lot.
Because it’s about retraining the brain. And in the Lightning Process, what we do, is we say, once you’ve learnt it, every time you find yourself heading into the pit, which is not useful neurology, change it. Again and again and again and again and again. Not just a bit in the morning or at lunch time.
All the time. Because if you just do it a bit, if you think about it, one of the analogies we have is: The brain is a little bit like a pool table, where if you’ve sawn one of the legs off and it’s a bit shorter and you roll the ball down the middle, it’s bound to go into that pocket that’s got the shortened leg.
And that’s a little bit where our brain is. It’s got so used to taking all the information down in a particular direction. If all we do is help it a little bit every now and then to go this way, the brain will not get back to level, or even better, get back to being tilted so the bias is now towards the good health.
And this is neuroplasticity, which is the more you use your brain, in a particular way, the stronger those pathways become. So there’s work to do. And this is the work of the Lightning Process.
Any brain training is how do we move from the situation we’ve got ourselves into, through no fault of our own, into the situation that we want to be in.
[16:22] Liz: Yeah, it’s so interesting because when you first met people with CFS and ME and tried to help them, you believed, “Oh, this is not treatable.” And then you had a change.
So applying neuroplasticity to any chronic illness, you did say it’s not about blame. But a skeptic might say, “Oh, well, you’re saying that my thoughts are causing this.”
Can you explain that nuance to us?
[16:53] Phil Parker, PhD: Yes. So there’s two pieces to this. First is we’re talking about the brain-body-mind connection. And as soon as people hear the word “mind.”
They think, “Are you saying my illness is in my mind?”
No, we’re not saying that.
What we’re saying is you can influence your brain to influence your body and your physiology differently.
And the best way to influence your brain is to consciously steer it in a different way by accessing memories or choosing different thoughts or changing your language. So that’s really a super important thing.
The other part of this is, we see people all the time who’ve clearly had infectious diseases or maybe autoimmune diseases. There’s a physiological process going on in their body. So it would be crazy to kind of go, “It’s in their mind.”
It’s not. It’s in their body. The question is: What is the solution for this? Well, there are lots of ways to approach things.
I always think it’s interesting. You say to people, I’m just going to give them some mould, see if they get better. Well, that’s actually how we first got into antibiotics. Fleming found bread mould, which made people well. We’re used to that now. And so we go, “Yeah, I’ll have some…” we don’t call it mould, but “we’ll have some antibiotics.” That would be okay for a bacterial infection. That’d be a reasonable course.
The problem is we’re not quite ready for this. This is new information. People are not that aware that you can actually change physiology by changing the way your brain works.
So people have an infectious illness. Often the illness has gone past the original infection, even with Lyme. As you probably know, there’s seropositive and seronegative Lyme, which means in some cases of Lyme, you’ll find evidence of an infection.
In some cases, you’ll find suggestions there might have been some kind of infection, but you’re not sure what it was. And in some cases, you’ll find nothing. And they can all have the same symptoms.
So that’s one part of it, is that some incident happened that created some response from the body. COVID is a great example. Millions of people around the world had COVID. Some died, incredibly unfortunately, and most people bounced back.
Some people move on to having Long Covid and the stats are currently, we reckon about 3.1 percent according to the ONS in the UK. That’s 2 million people, even bigger in the US of course. It’s a massive cohort of people.
And the question is, what is going on? How come their normal recovery cycle, which most people have, who have COVID, get better? What’s happened? Why has it stopped? Why are they not able to completely return to wellness?
This begs the question, well, what would we need to do to kickstart to get that system working and to reset it to allow the recovery system to fully complete and for them to get well?
Well, one of the most powerful things in our body is the way our brain affects our body.
So if we can get our brain stimulating good immune function, if we can get it, maybe switching on better circulatory or lymphatic function, that might be useful.
And again, there’s loads of research that you can do this.
So the placebo studies are such an interesting place to look, you know, one of my favorite studies, there’s the Parkinson’s study where they have people with Parkinson’s and they gave him an injection. The injection only lasts for about six hours. It will reduce people’s tremors and their stiffnesses, but it only lasts for about six to eight hours. So you have to give it every day.
So they gave it three days in a row, great results. Fourth day, they give another injection again, great results. But what happened on the fourth day was they gave him an injection of saline.
But because they’d had three injections which had produced positive results, giving them a placebo, saline injection, was enough to trigger a change in their physiology.
And they actually did a second study on the same day where they went into their brains because they were putting electrodes in their brains, and they saw the neurons in the brain firing as if they had been producing dopamine, which is the thing that’s missing in Parkinson’s.
They were able to somehow shift their physiology [into producing more dopamine] just by thinking they were getting an injection.
So there’s loads of really strong research that says we can influence our physiology by changing the way we use our brain. And that’s completely different from saying, so you’re saying it’s in my mind. It’s just not the same conversation at all.
[20:59] Liz: Yeah, I had a post exertional crash. I feel like if anything, I was always saying, “Yeah, I can do more.” And then I would “pay the price.”
So many times I would try to push myself and do a little bit more than what my body could handle.
I would then be completely out of it for 10 days. It was terrible. Like the onset of the flu, all these viral symptoms would re-emerge, and I could barely get off the couch if at all for 10 days, sometimes a lot longer.
So for me, I initially would have balked that something like, “Oh, your thoughts are causing this” because I was telling myself “I can do it.”
But I think there was something subconscious? So can you talk about that nuance? There are people who are Type A, they’ll always try to push themselves, and then they crash.
And it’s like, “Well, how can I be causing this [through my thoughts] if I’m always the one saying I can do it. And then… [hand gesture to signify a crash].
[22:00] Phil Parker, PhD: Well, I think one of the things that’s really important is that thing you said, your thoughts are causing it.
That’s really not what’s going on. If you’ve had a virus, a bug, a mold infection, your body is still physiologically messed up. It’s not in a good space.
It’s not like you’re thinking you’re not well, which is a model that some people use like “It’s just in your head.”
Some CBT approaches have that kind of approach. You’re just scared of exercise, because it used to hurt you. We’re not saying that at all. We’re saying physiologically, you are not in a good space. And that’s why pushing through it will not resolve it.
Because let’s imagine, you know, you’ve broken a leg and you go, “Okay, I’m fine.” Or forget. It’s still not gonna work. You’re not gonna go very far.
Just positive thinking is not the solution for this.
Positive thinking is a useful thing, but it’s not going to get you over what’s going on.
What you’ve got to do is find a way to change your physiology. You’ve got to get your immune system working better. You’ve got to get your muscle function working better, and you can do it by nutritional supplements and stretching and all that kind of stuff, but it’s quite a long way around.
Using your brain is a really effective way of resetting it.
Setting it into a good space, encouraging, because we know immune system function like the T cell, the B cell function is affected by all sorts of things like exercise, or even thinking about exercise will change your blood cells and your lymphatic cells and your white blood cells, and the cells of your immune system and your hormones.
There’s research that says this is what happens.
So how can we utilize this to do everything we can, taking the supplements, having a good diet, thinking nice thoughts, all good.
And at the same time, triggering positive physiological responses, getting our brain starting from the top, from the inside out, to get our brain and body working better.
And when we do that, then we can have more endurance.
If we just try and push through, which some people say, that’s what the lightening process does. It absolutely doesn’t. Pushing through would be crazy. Your body is not functioning well, asking you to do more will result in a crash. And that’s what you get a lot of people who do pacing*, which is where, you do a certain amount, and then you do a bit more, and then you do a bit more.
[Liz note: *To me this sounds like he was describing my perception of graded exercise, which I mention at 25:30.]
If you keep doing that, you’re probably going to break because nothing’s changed. Your body is still not well. And also, there can often be quite a lot of fear around it. Oh my, have I done too much? And we know the stress risk has an effect on physiology as well. So yeah, long and complicated answer, but it is massively nuanced because that simple thing of “It’s my mind and my brain OR my body?”
That’s not even the right question because the mind and body are not separate.
Those two things interact, but what we’re talking about is how do we change your physiology?
It’s not getting your beliefs so you think you’re okay, and then you can be fine.
We’ve got to change the physiology somehow. And the way we find what’s best is to change the way you use your brain.
[24:54] Liz: And when I started doing brain re-training, I was really, it’s more than just thinking positive thoughts. It’s actually creating the positive feeling and imagining your muscles feeling a certain way and doing what you love. And it’s so powerful. Obviously I didn’t start out having the most amazing visualizations, but you get better with time. And I know working with a one on one practitioner who’s trained in this must speed things. And I’ve heard that from people who did the Lightning Process sessions, the three day seminars were really powerful for them and other in-person programs, too.
But yeah, I do want to talk about…yeah, it’s funny because some people’s word pacing means just like you can’t do more than this and there’s a lot of fear around it and some people pacing is more like graded exercise and for some people graded exercise is like very careful pacing and some people for graded exercise it’s like more and more each day very aggressively.
[Liz note: Read my post: What factors graded exercise fails to consider, and what things I had to do to be able to exercise again.]
So there’s all these labels that get thrown around, and I like talking about what people actually did because I see online people are arguing about these acronyms. And it’s actually missing what the people are doing to heal actually did. And that is more than just positive thinking. This is not an exercise program.
Liz: No brain retraining programs are exercise programs. It’s about getting the nervous system, the neurology to support healing and to support resilience.
And so when we do activity, our bodies are good with that.
[26:38] Phil Parker, PhD: Physiologically, that’s a really important thing. It’s not just we’re anticipating it’s going to be okay.
Although that is important. It’s really looking at the physiology. It’s such an important distinction that doesn’t cut through the noise enough, that it’s really about how do you change your physiology?
Because once your physiology is better, your capacity to do physical exercise is better and your response to the exercise is completely different.
Now, as a result of doing that, you’re going to feel different both physically and emotionally. Yeah, sure there’s an emotional overlay as a result of things moving forwards, but it’s not just about thinking positively. It’s about really shifting the physiology. And when you can do that you can do more.
And interesting in the Lightning Process, there is a bit of pacing. It’s like when somebody comes and they say, can I run a marathon tomorrow? And we go, “Well, what did you do last week?” They went, you know, “I walked two paces”. We go, “No, you can’t. Your body’s not going to tolerate that. You’ve got to get your physiology working, and then you’re going to have to rehab it.
Because you can’t go from one or two paces to 26 miles. You can’t do that. That’s really going to cause you trouble.
You want to be kind to yourself as you move yourself on that journey forward.
So, you know, often people say the Lighting Process is like magic because the change they make is extraordinary. But there’s work to do.
It’s not just magic. It’s work. It’s being thoughtful. It’s being sensible and reasonable as you move to wellness.
[27:54] Liz: Yeah. So I just want to know from you, what are some of your favorite recovery stories from ME/CFS, this population you originally thought there was no hope for all the doctors say there’s no cure, there’s nothing these people can do.
Can you share some ME/CFS recovery stories with me? Because my channel, a lot of people watch it, but my core audience is people healing from CFS and ME. Yeah.
[28:20] Phil Parker, PhD: I mean, I could share literally thousands of stories. And that’s one of the things I think we have done, the Lightning Process has done, is when we started, people went, “There’s…nothing works.”
And now they’re saying, “Okay, maybe some people get better.” And that’s the result of enough people going through the Lightning Process and finding their way through other processes or their own version of something and standing up and go, “Actually, I’m well,” and standing up against the deluge of people going, “That’s not possible,” and going [makes gesture to signify “What about me, I’m evidence of this”]. Watch this space.
So yeah, I got thousands, literally thousands. I mean, we reckon we’ve seen between 25 and 40,000 people over the last 25 years, people out there whose lives have changed.
If you go to our YouTube channel, you can watch many of them and their stories are actually probably more powerful than me telling them.
But I’ll tell you a couple of stories that always stick in my mind. So I remember a girl I saw years ago and she came in a wheelchair and she couldn’t walk at all. And on the next day she came in and I said to her mum, how, you know, how’s it been? And her mum said, “It’s been a nightmare.” I said, “What’s happened?”
She said, well, we left here, she got out of the wheelchair and we walked to, it was in London. “I walked out of here, at one o’clock, we carried on walking until eight o’clock in the night. She then wanted to go to the London Aquarium. I was like, thank God it’s closed.” Because mum was saying “My feet are hurting. I can’t go any further.”
And they did the same the next morning. They would go up, and it’s just like extraordinary change. And her mother was like, you know, “I need to sit down now because my daughter has all this energy.” That’s amazing. And it’s amazing because it’s extraordinary. But also you think that I think she was about 12 or 13.
You think, we’ve all been teenagers. Those are super important years of your life. If you’re not able to be doing the things you want to do, learning the life experiences, you miss out on a chunk of stuff. And what is the consequence on your life from that?
Another story that I often think about is, it’s not such a dramatic story, but it really speaks to me.
It was about this woman and she came to see us and she, it was the second or third day, I said, you know, what’s the biggest change? She said, well, on day one, for the first time ever, I picked my son up from school. And he’s like seven, never had been able to do that. And the next day, she picked him up again.
And it still gives me goosebumps telling the story, actually. And her son looked at her and said, “Mum, can you pick me up tomorrow?”
And the mum said, “I will pick you up every single day until you’re too old to be collected by your mother.”
And you could hear in her voice that sound of, “I’m back, I’m here for my family in a way I really wanted to be, and I couldn’t be.”
And again you see, that mum having something massive coming into her life, but also the son and the rest of the family, because that’s the other cost, isn’t it? As you know, it’s not just you, it’s everybody who’s like, “Oh, where’s, where’s Liz? Oh, she’s, she’s not well.”
[31:20] Liz: Where did Liz go for those three years?
[31:22] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah. You know, I mean it’s huge, and if their kids are involved or it affects your income, it’s massive.
And it’s kind of one of the things that I’m really passionate about is like there are many, many things out there. Lightning Process is one, there are lots of other things that really work that really help people, and there’s still a huge contingent of people saying nothing works. And that’s just not true.
And we’re not saying everybody who comes to see me or comes to see somebody will get well. We’re not saying that, but we are saying so many people do.
And we’re very fortunate we’ve been working hard on it, but we have published peer reviewed research that says exactly that. So systematic review, there’s randomized controlled trials, there’s all sorts of stuff out there.
If you go to our webpage, look for research, you’ll see a list of all, in fact, there’s a case study, two case studies just published last week on Long Covid. So case studies are very early research where you’re saying, “Look, these are two cases. It seems like something’s happened here.”
Case 1: A 60-year old with Long Covid, showing multi-symptom improvement 2 weeks (T2) to 3 months (T4) after the seminar.
Case 1: A 52-year old with Long Covid, showing multi-symptom improvement 2 weeks (T2) to 3 months (T4) after the seminar.
Note: Outcomes were assessed using the 9-item Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS). These were completed prior to commencing the LP training (T1) and then at 2 weeks (T2), 1 month (T3) and 3 months (T4) after the final seminar.
We can’t say that’s true of everybody. This is a starting point. We need to do more research. And in these cases, we measure their fatigue using a standardized scale, which is the only way you can really measure fatigue. There’s no other measure of fatigue apart from “How are you feeling?” “How tired are you?” On some kind of scale.
[Liz note: I’m aware of CPET and VO2 max tests and lactate measurements for reflecting exertion tolerance, but I’m not sure how people who have severe ME/CFS would be able to do such tests for the baseline reading before the intervention. I’m also aware of things like heart-rate variability monitors, which reflects parasympathetic nervous system health, but don’t capture the whole picture or functioning of someone’s nervous system and wellbeing. Maybe there will be a way to easily measure fatigue beyond self-reported data, but self-reported symptom level data is what we have now.]
And their fatigue levels dropped and stayed dropped for three months. Their well-being scales, which a three point change is supposed to be huge, went up by like 10 to 20 points and stayed high.
So really, really big changes. We’ve had [research studies showing] changes with people with pain. With anxiety with going back to school, with depression, with wellbeing, with energy, with so much stuff and even some stuff on post-cancer fatigue, which is a very interesting thing.
So when people have cancer and have treatment, one of the side effects, they’ve recovered from it, but they have fatigue and they don’t know what to do with them.
So they’ve got rid of their cancer, they have massive fatigue. There’s no treatment for it. The Lightning Process did a study. Everybody got massive change. That’s the result of it. And that’s quite amazing. They’ve got over cancer, but their lives are not working.
[33:21] Liz: Well, the chemo and the treatments definitely aren’t easy. My aunt’s going through that right now. And when she gets out of the hospital, I can maybe talk to her about the neuroplasticity [Note: my favorite fabulous aunt is out of the hospital now after a long stay, supported by my amazing cousins, and is on the ups. She has such a wonderful spirit].
But yeah, this is so wonderful, the stories that you shared with me.
And I know I’ve interviewed a couple of people who did the Lightening Process on my channel.
Liz: I also want to talk about people who heal from things like Lyme, because there is research that is showing that for some people there could be pathogenic persistence. And for me, I definitely had viral persistence of EBV.
It’s called glandular fever in the UK, but I had acute reactivation (IgM). It came back. So there are these viruses and there’s all these things in the body and there is this research.
So how do you address people who say, “No I can’t heal, I have to kill the pathogen. That’s the only way, or I’m never going to get better unless I get rid of this.”
[34:27] Phil Parker, PhD: There’s two answers for that. One is to say to them, “Okay, go kill that virus and then come back.” The problem is often it doesn’t resolve it. The other interesting thing with these reactivation type things is so many people have EBV. Yeah, so many people get a bit by a tick, but they don’t all get this [chronic Lyme symptoms] response.
So that’s interesting. What’s different? You know, they’ve had the same viral infection or the same bacterial infection. Why is their body responding differently? That’s an interesting question. Also with reactivation where it’s like, Oh, it’s okay. And then it got worse.
It’s like, okay, so what was happening?
What was going on in your physiology when you were pretty well and what was going on in your physiology when everything dropped and you felt awful?
That again suggests there’s some extra factors.
Let’s say there is a virus there. Sometimes your body is able to deal with it really well and sometimes it isn’t. So it’s not just the virus, it’s the combination of the virus plus what your physiology is doing.
We may not be able to do much about the virus or you can do whatever you want to do about the virus.
We’ll look at the other side of it is what is your body doing? How can we encourage your body to be as effective as that person over there who used to have EBV or Lyme and doesn’t have it now? What can we do?
Because if they can do it, why not you?
Now, if you insist, “I can’t do it.” Well, okay. That’s not my job to convince you, but I will offer these conversations.
And if you go, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” It’s like, “Okay, don’t do this now, come back another time.”
[35:50] Liz: Don’t do it now. Yeah. But often we have to go through that. We have to try that. I probably spent so much on Amazon buying supplements to kill the EBV that I funded multiple Jeff Bezos vacations.
That’s what I joke, because I spent tens of thousands of dollars on supplements from Amazon. All of them. And now there’s more supplements. There’s always the latest hot supplement, but you’re not hearing recovery stories from supplements alone. It might be like 5 percent of cases, but the people who are healing, it’s [mostly] the nervous system work. Often it’s brain retraining.
[Liz note: Nothing is medical advice. I encourage people to investigate healing blockers including those related to the environment and other stressors. I also acknowledge that because my story involved a holistic approach with a mind-body element, which could mean that those who may have healed from a medicine and supplements only route may be less likely to reach out to me to share their story.]
Some are helped by somatics as well and also the lifestyle (changes).
That [lifestyle] contributes to the stress because like you were saying, when I got the reactivation, there was always stress, whether it was just trying to prove myself doing too much or just a lot of stress, sleeping issues, all of these things.
But I love what you’re saying. It’s like getting our bodies by using our brains to be able to mitigate these things because there are people able to handle them.
And even myself, I had all these reactivations, and now I haven’t had any, and I’m doing great for the past. How long has it been since I healed? Three, a little over three years now.
[37:15] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah. And you’re living a super full life as well. You’re too little ones.
Let’s talk a little bit about stress though, because you mentioned the S word. I think a really nice way to think about stress. Cause when most people say the word stress, they think about emotional stress. You know, like overload. I’ve got so much on my plate, I’m really struggling.
When stress is used medically, they’re using this different way they talk about it like a bridge can tolerate so much stress before it breaks. You know, you can have so many trucks of a certain weight, and if it overloads it, then it crumbles.
And I think that’s a better way to think about stress, to think of it as load on your body.
That load could be emotional load, having two tiny kids running around, but it could be sunburn. It could be a reaction to vaccination or anesthetic. It could be a virus. All those things produce a load.
And then all those things do produce a load. So most people have a mixed load. Some is viral. Some is life. Some is past trauma. Some is shitty diet. Some is electro…, you know, all those things are potential stressors.
The best thing to do is go, like with a bridge that’s overloaded, “How can we reduce the load so that the bridge has a chance to be healthier and recover?”
And because obviously the body isn’t a bridge, it’s a living thing, it’s not just concrete and masonry that gets broken. So whatever it takes, and people like, you know, like you say, sensible, you go, I’ve got a virus, I’ll take some antivirals, I’ll take some nutritional supports, that would be a reasonable thing to do.
It just so happens that with these kind of conditions, we need to look at how we support the physiology.
An interesting thing with the nutrition is if your body’s under a lot of load, a lot of pressure, your digestion will probably fail because the physical stress response shuts down our digestive system and our immune system.
The physical stress response shuts down our digestive system and our immune system.
Our immune system is super important because it protects any funny byproducts of digestion, any bugs in the food. It also helps to move the food from the gut to the liver where it’s processed. So if we’re eating food and our body is in stress, we won’t digest the food, so most of the nutrition, goes straight out.
[39:30] Liz: Yeah, I had really bad digestion issues.
Oh my gosh. It’s just like, I tried to explain to the doctors, I was like, my body’s just not digesting the food. And I got these invasive procedures that triggered even more symptoms.
And I was looking for what’s broken, but it’s often not what’s broken. It’s the stress response in the body and my body was in a stress response.
Liz: But unfortunately, as you mentioned earlier, the medical world often doesn’t really factor the brain being part of the body and how it can influence that. And I think as more of us are talking about this and sharing our stories, we know how key the brain is. So I’m glad we could talk about this, it is so important.
[40:18] Phil Parker, PhD: You know, I’ve spent a long time researching, my PhD, writing papers.
If you spend a few moments looking at the research into how much the mind, brain, body affects physiology, there’s papers upon papers upon papers.
It’s not news. It’s just that people aren’t looking at it. They’re focusing on their own tiny little world.
You spend your whole life doing that. And the brain-mind-body thing, it doesn’t fit into a small space. It crosses so many boundaries. And it’s also considered a bit weird. It’s like “Who’s this weirdo talking about the mind body, brain body stuff? Walk away from him, he’s probably doing some weird stuff.” And so it’s seen as this odd thing.
But I’d point people, if they’re interested in this, to my podcast on the Mind Body Connection, where I interview the researchers who did the studies, and they’re really straight scientists looking at these really interesting phenomena and doing some amazing work because they’re saying, “Look, this is occurring, this is happening.”
What they usually do in placebo studies is they go, “Right, how can we make our pills that we give people better colored” or something rather than going, actually, what the placebo effect is, is saying somehow our body is internally switching on some kind of incredible healing process.
That’s the question I would ask, is how do we switch on this incredible healing process?
And that’s one of the things that Lightning Process is really interested in. We know people, you know, placebo studies tell you that pretty much any drug, you will have a chunk of people responding to an inert substance, which gets rid of their heart attacks, their eczema, their baldness, their whatever. And how’s that happening when they’re being given a pill that has nothing?
Well, something really quite magical is occurring that their body is changing without any pharmaceutical intervention.
How do we channel that? How do we hack that? Because that’s extraordinary.
[42:06] Liz: Yes, exactly. And my twin sister works in pharma, so I know all about the placebo. Yeah, but most pharmaceutical drugs have lots of side effects.
So, I didn’t want to take the drug route. And to people who do, this channel is all about healing and whatever you need to do to heal and consultation with a trusted doctor.
But for me, I wanted to give myself the placebo and I saw the stories and I was like, “What do people who are healing, what are they doing?” And it involved the nervous system, and brain retraining really resonated with me personally.
[42:46] Phil Parker, PhD: The story just reminded me of somebody who came to see us and they said, I was going to do this like 15 years ago. And I looked at it and I thought, it’s just nonsense. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Cause in their worldview.
I’ve got a virus. I need an antiretroviral or something, and then one by one more of their friends did the Lightning Process and got well and eventually they came 15 years later and they went. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I’m well.”
But on reflection, they thought, “If I’d come 15 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have got much from it because where I was was like, this isn’t gonna work.”
If you go into any training program, you go and try and learn French going, “I bet I can’t, it’s going to be impossible. And what’s the point anyway? It’s a stupid language.” You’re probably not going to do as well as somebody who’s like, “Ah, I’m really fascinated by learning French. I’m really up for it. I already learned Spanish.”
So these things are super important in any kind of endeavour. And in fact, not just in training, even in medicine. So if you have an operation, or if you have drugs, and you don’t think it’s going to work, and this is Irving Kirsch’s theory of expectancy, that you have less chance of them working, even if they’re really strong medicines.
[43:53] Liz: So there are some people who say, “I’ve tried brain retraining, I’ve tried the nervous system regulation, but it doesn’t work for my very real physical symptoms. It’s helped me be happier, but I tried it and it didn’t work for my very real physical symptoms.”
[44:09] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah. So I think there’s a couple of things going on here.
First of all, to do brain training, it takes a lot of work. You know, you’ve done some, and if you don’t get the changes you want, keeping going when you’re not getting the changes you want is a big ask.
And reasonably some people go, I’m not seeing enough change in this. Remember I talked about my finger right at the beginning, the tiny little change.
I saw a guy once and he’d had a stroke and with strokes, if you don’t get change within six months, they reckon that’s probably as good as it will get in recovery. He came to see us about six or seven years after it happened. He did the Lightning Process. So what changes have you noticed? And he said, nothing really.
I said, well, anything at all? He said, well, this last night I was a bit hot and I managed to wiggle my toe, the foot that didn’t move, to move the blankets off. I was like, “That’s amazing,” because that is really amazing, because that means something’s rewiring. And he went, “No. What good is a toe? I want to walk. I don’t want a wiggled toe.”
It’s like, yeah, but you’re right, “It’s just the starting point. There’s more to do. But this is good news.” He was like, “No, I just can’t be bothered with this.” And he didn’t, didn’t follow it through. He didn’t use it ever again, because as far as he was concerned, it wasn’t really making a big enough difference.
So that can be an issue if you’re not seeing the change you want or not big enough change or some things are changing but this thing isn’t, and this becomes your entire kind of like [focus], “This is annoying me,” which then puts further load into your body, that can be an issue.
It could be this isn’t the right time for you.
It’s like you kind of thought, I’d like to give it a go. I don’t think I doubt it’ll work, but I’ll give it a go. That’s not a very good place to come from. So usually those things tend to be factors in this.
It could be, you know, that what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to be aware of when you’re accessing neurology that isn’t useful.
Have you done that enough? Are you aware of what’s going on? Is it some old trauma that you’re not even aware of that needs to be resolved? Could be that, you know, inner child work or resolving old stuff that hasn’t been dealt with yet. It could be that.
It could be that when you move towards coaching yourself, you’re not very nice to yourself.
Or you’re just going through the routine of going, “Yeah, great job,” when you don’t really mean it.
So there are lots of things.
Usually what I find when somebody gets stuck, if you work with them, if they work with their practitioner, normally they can get unstuck. Usually there’s some pieces missing.
Is that true of everybody? Probably not, because everybody’s slightly different. But in the majority of cases that we’ve seen, you can identify, “Oh, yeah, this bit needs to be changed.”
So we’ll see people who’ve got really well, do fine, and then they have a relapse or they get another bug or they get COVID and then it becomes Long Covid, and they’ll come and see us and they go, “I’ve been trying to do the process. I can’t make it work.”
And within 10 minutes of taking them through it, they go, “Oh, I completely forgot how to do that part of it in that way.” And then they’re good.
Because there’s quite a lot to learn. You know, from your experiences, it’s quite a lot of nuance to how to do these processes.
[47:07] Liz: Yeah, I think what you said really resonates because I’ve been talking with not 25,000 people, but about a thousand people by now from sharing stories. I get messages every day and the common blocks for brain retraining.
It’s yes. If they have a trauma that’s affecting their beliefs and things like that.
If there’s other things that are going on [adding to stress on their nervous system]. For instance, you can be doing the brain retraining, but if you’re on Twitter reading about all the horrors of your illness for an hour a day, some people they spend five hours. But if you’re doing that for an hour on the day, that’s telling you you’re in danger.
So for me, I had to really commit, and it’s often not just – I say, subtraction is often more important than addition sometimes, because what negative stuff are you reading that’s sending messages of danger? And I know the Lightning Process talks about that. So that could be a thing.
And then the third thing is what you had said is some people go about it with a self critical approach. So it’s working with a coach to develop that self compassion and that inner child work is something people often need to explore deeper, maybe beyond just the initial seminar to really have support in that regard.
And do you have any examples of that? Maybe someone who was very harsh on themselves. And then… [turning that around with coaching].
[00:48:43] Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah, loads, actually.
I mean, I tend to get the people who exactly that, you know, “I did Lightning Process, I’ve got some change, but I’m a bit stuck with this.”
And I’ll see them start doing the Lightning Process. And it turns out, there’s, you know, they’ve been abused as a kid, and they’ve never quite dealt with it, or it ended up with them becoming anorexic, which is a quite a common consequence of that to try and not be seen or to keep yourself young and not develop, that can be an effect, or to have control in your life because you don’t have control.
So you can have that. Now, if that’s still hanging around, that is going to, we talked about load earlier, that’s going to put a huge amount of load. It’s going to give all sorts of interesting neurological conversations about food, about wellness, about feeling good about yourself, just for an example.
Or you could have someone who grew up in a family where there was a lot of angry shouting and everyone had to be alert and aware, all the time aware. So my dad was a bit like this. He was a very shouty guy, very big guy. And we were like, “What’s, what shape’s he in today?” You know, and you’d be playing with him and suddenly he’d snap and you’re like, “Wow.”
So you have to be on alert like a meerkat. And that’s interesting training for you at a young age to kind of have that level of hypervigilance. So those things, for instance, can show up.
Now that’s not caused your illness. The bug has caused your illness. Let’s say it’s COVID. But that may have been a factor in setting the scene for why the bug got such a good home.
Because if we’re under chronic stress, super large amounts of research on this, chronic stress suppresses your immune system.
It just does. It’s one of those consequences. If your immune system is chronically suppressed, you’re more likely to get bugs.
When people go on steroids, so steroids given to people to suppress their immune system. So if they have really bad eczema or maybe they have an organ transplant, they give them steroids. So their immune system just quietens down a bit. Steroids are naturally produced by the body during stress. Particularly long term stress, so cortisol and cortisone, which is one of the steroids that we give people.
The brain produces hormones that affect the body, and one of the things that can trigger it is what you’re thinking about, which pathways you’re using.
So it’s really, really important to consider [stress] load and think about “How can I reduce my load in all sorts of ways?”
[51:14] Liz:. You had in the beginning of our interview, said also that the way that people speak about their illness, and that could be because the doctors say, “You’re going to have this for life.”
And when I first interviewed people, when I wanted to do a website, it was originally going to be a diet website. This was before I fully healed through the brain retraining. I had gotten like 40 percent better [through diet, meditation, supplements, and fully quitting my job].
[Liz note: I conducted user research in 2018 for a potential website/app for ME/CFS about diet, which never came to be. I interviewed about 12 people finding them on a neighborhood forum and in online forums. My background is in user research, and I know the importance of getting qualitative insights on people’s full stories before creating anything that can help people. The conversations I had opened my eyes that the diet and meditation might not have been the full answer. I’d ultimately heal by late 2019 when all the pieces came together. Looking back, I can also see how I was pushing myself to help others and be productive before fully healing wasn’t helping me or anyone.]
I was like, “This is the way out: my perfect diet!”
And I was interviewing people [with ME/CFS], and what I noticed was it wasn’t the people who were eating the perfect diet who were doing better.
It was how they talked about that. One was using language like “my doctor told me I need to eat like a baby.” This is “impossible.” And another was drinking wine.
[Liz note: The wine drinker was doing the best in the group.]
How are you drinking wine if you have CFS? I couldn’t even like look at wine with the side of my eye without, you know. [I was only able to drink water and eat about 10 foods at the time without negative effects.]
But it wasn’t the food. So that was one of the first things I was like, “Okay, it’s not this perfect diet.”
[Liz note: I certainly couldn’t just think “It’ll be okay” and drink some wine at that time (which some suggested I do). While those I interviewed who were struggling the most more often used limiting language regarding prospects for recovery, I’m not saying our language causes this. I also know the worse you have ME/CFS, the more hell you’re in, and the longer you have it, it can make recovery seem less attainable.
Among the people I interviewed with ME/CFS, I also noted those who struggled more: 1. Described pushing through to prove themselves whether in exercise, their work, or taking care of children. 2. Lacked healthy boundaries and continued with work/relationships that they knew were toxic/stressful. Some told me this directly and gave me advice not to do this myself, which I found helpful. 3. Had minimizing parents or siblings with their own issues who denied their struggles resulting in them spending effort proving how bad things were, being hurt from that, and/or turning to activism for validation and purpose. 4. Received permanent prognoses from a doctor and/or were given strict protocols from an expert. 5. Were alone.
I observed those who were doing better had someone understanding physically in their life, and their time together was about quality time.
I can’t underestimate how convinced I was before I spoke to people about how much I believed the perfect diet and supplements were THE answer. I’d mail people with ME/CFS supplements and give them my very specific diet plan.
But I spoke to people and my views opened. And then I’d discover my own full path out. I kept on with my restrictive diet for a long time, but over time, with healthy lifestyle and brain retraining practices, my digestion fully improved. I now enjoy all food groups.]
So the diet helps, of course.
There’s also a lot of functional medicine clinics. They’re so great because they’re looking at the body, not just the basic labs. They really go deeper.
Functional medicine clinics are really validating, but they’re a lot of money.
You can spend from like five thousand to a million dollars. I know someone who I just interviewed who spent a million dollars on these clinics.
I know people who have mortgaged their homes to fund these clinics.
And it can be helpful, but at the same time, they’re often making people more afraid about the pathogens within their body.
So that’s one thing I did want to mention because one of the things people say about brain retraining, people are like, “Oh, it’s pretty expensive.”
But from where I’m sitting myself who has gone through the journey, it’s a tiny fraction of the cost* of what you will get at a functional medicine clinic [regarding what moved the needle in my own personal experience].
[Liz note: *I do not want to minimize anyone’s financial struggles, knowing so many people who lost everything. I know the LP is not in many people’s price range, because it’s taught live 1-2-1 or in small groups, and I know even lower cost out-of-the-box programs are also out of people’s price range. In the independent Programs Guide I helped make with Lindsay Vine, we clearly state the prices (based on the latest info we have) of every single program, so people can consider all their options and also if they have any free or low-cost educational resources available.]
And while functional medicine clinics can be supportive and they can catch things, and it’s good to do a little of that, in my case, not medical advice. So it’s good to check it out.
But for me, 90 percent of my healing was the brain retraining and the lifestyle choices, and the things that I could control.
[Liz note: In my Doctor Strategy for ME/CFS and Long Covid post, I talk about what tests might be helpful, and how best to navigate the system in a more efficient way than I did. This is not medical advice, but I hope it helps.]
Liz: So do you think that people have to go down those routes a little bit and spend some money before they can commit to this? Is that what you find? Or?
[53:43] Phil Parker, PhD: I think it’s different for different people.
It depends where they are in that conversation. I think the reason that that happens is people are more familiar with that route. It’s like, “I go to the doctor, I get the meds. If they don’t work, what’s the next? I heard diet can make a difference.” That’s kind of where people go on that journey.
One of the things I would like to see change, and it may take a while, is where people have ME and CFS and Long Covid and loads of other things that they kind of think about. I’ll go and check out with the doctor to make sure what it is, and then I’ll do brain retraining, because the chances are that’s going to make the most difference.
The diet thing is super interesting. We know that diet is really important, but we also know there are people who have shockingly bad diets out there and they’re not as ill as we are, and we’ve got this like incredibly like our body is a temple diet and we’re not well.
What’s going on?
[00:54:34] Liz: Exactly. Oh my gosh.
[00:54:36] Phil Parker, PhD: It won’t be the whole story, it, you know, I’m a vegetarian myself, I advocate eating well, but I remember somebody came to see me and they were doing the Gerson diet, which is like raw food, it was an anti-cancer diet because they had cancer and got rid of it. So they were eating on an organic raw food diet, and they lived on a little island outside England called the Isle of Wight.
And they said, “Oh my God, I spent all week trying to source an organic avocado.” Right? And they spent all their time driving around, a long time ago, 20 years ago now, they couldn’t find one. And then we’re getting more and more and more stressed.
It’s like that physiologically, the balance of that is not worth doing.
You’re better off eating some potato chips. And not being stressed, then being stressed and eating an organic avocado at the end of the day.
So, our body is incredibly resilient. You know, it must be, consider the diet that you see some of the teenagers eating and they’ve managed to survive.
So I do think diet is important, but people can become really fixated on it in a way that’s not healthy.
Rather than going, this is a healthy part of my journey. And often it doesn’t make enough of a difference. And then people go, “Oh my God, I must have to throw out that food and that food.” They end up eating a tiny fraction of what’s possible.
[55:50] Liz: And then they try the next, they go on the other diet.
[55:52] Phil Parker, PhD: And we get why, you know, people are trying to find their way through and there’s not enough information out there, which is why this channel is so important. So people can go, “Oh, there’s real people. With real stories, clearly they’re not crazy and they’ve got well. I wonder what’s in it for me.” Yeah.
[56:05] Liz: Yeah.
So I love what you said.
I totally agree brain retraining should be what the doctors say. But they don’t say that.
What they say is, “You’re anxious. You should see a psychiatrist.” That’s what I got.
[Liz note: Here is the approach that I believe doctors should take – see last toggle ‘Final Thoughts: A Better Standard of Care,’ including addressing environmental drivers. Not medical advice, for info only.]
I was told I was anxious about my heart condition. Now looking back, I definitely had like, POTS or whatever, the sitting to standing thing. But I don’t need the label. I had that and you know, moderate to severe, in the beginning, CFS. [My baseline was moderate before my upward trajectory].
But I was told, initially, before I then was later diagnosed, you know, “Oh, you’re anxious,” and I had to drag myself to see this, she was a psychiatrist, a psychiatrist MD.
And then she was like, “Oh, you’re really sick.” But I was told that [by the initial doctors]. It was like just “You’re anxious, do some CBT.”
And that’s what people often hear when you’re saying do brain retraining.
Oh, you’re just telling me to see a shrink because I’m being crazy or whining or just stressed and anxious.
[57:06] Phil Parker, PhD: And that’s the big problem. With brain retraining is that history in the ME/CFS world of people not being believed like your experience where people go “She’s crazy, go to the psychiatrist,” and you’re like, “No, I’m really ill.”
They go, “Well clearly not, because we’ve done the tests and there’s nothing to see,” and this is a big problem. It’s like you’ve done the tests and you haven’t found anything. That doesn’t mean to say there’s nothing to see. It’s just the things you’re looking at are all fine.
There is not a very good test for what are your stress levels? How much load have you got? What’s your neuroplasticity like? How are you steering your neurology? There aren’t any tests for those. We can’t do that.
There’s no really good way of measuring that. So that’s the history is like people haven’t been believed. When doctors can’t find something back in the day, they go, Well, it must be psychosomatic meaning in your brain and not real.
And so when people then hear, “Oh, I got well, not by using drugs, but by changing the way I use my brain,” people have a red light flashing and go, “Uh oh, this is going to fuel that conversation that we weren’t really ill,” which is, once again, exactly what we’re not saying.
We’re saying, actually, people are properly, physiologically not well.
What we’re looking at is, what is the most effective method to access that to change the physiology to get well?
[58:22] Liz: Exactly. Yes. I’m so glad we could have this conversation and it’s so validating and informative, and I’m just so grateful to you, Phil, because I know back in the day when you started this program, it’s since spun out so many programs [they are all independent from one another].
I know Annie Hopper, DNRS, she did the Lightning Process and then so many programs came from people who did her program, and so many other programs came from people who directly did the Lightning Process, like CFS School.
So it just, there’s like a wonderful ripple effect. And I think in the past three years just the different channels out there and Long Covid, and more recovery stories, and people sharing their stories.
The people who criticize it for the reasons that we mentioned, because they’re wrongly equating brain retraining with being brushed off by their doctors.
I think the conversation is changing.
[59:24] Phil Parker, PhD: Well, one of the things we’ve been doing a lot of is research, working with researchers, because that is one of the ways. to shift the conversation. You said earlier, you know, I went to the doctors, they said, go to a psychiatrist. We’re getting a lot more direct referrals from GPs and doctors now. People going, you need to see these guys.
This is what works. Here’s the research that says it’s really effective. And that’s good. That’s a really good change. What’s interesting is that when we do research, the people who have already decided the Lightning Process couldn’t possibly work, they try and undermine the research or say, “Well, the research isn’t right, because it doesn’t say the answer they want it to say.”
Scientists should have an open mind and look at the research. There will come a point, and I think we’re moving in that direction, where there’s enough research and enough people who go, actually, this is providing solutions for people out there. Because, in the anti-change brigade, they’ve not got any answers.
They’ve not got any better solution apart from abandon all hope.
[1:00:19] Liz: Yeah, that’s the tagline of one of the organizations. It’s “no hope without a cure.”
And what they mean is no hope without a pharmaceutical cure.
[Liz note: While the top ME/CFS organizations are doing great work for better diagnostics, validating people with this historically ignored disease, and advancing research for pharmaceutical treatments, it would be great if they gave people options for living life today. Unfortunately, the standard of care they fought for is nothing. Or rather: ‘Stop. rest, pace, so you don’t get worse, and you won’t improve.’ To doctors they say: ‘Don’t recommend any programs, just give them pills to manage their symptoms.’ It’s why some of us who recovered are trying to get our stories and resources out there, even at a cost to ourselves.]
[1:00:30] Phil Parker, PhD: And they’re bought into that model. And the problem with that is you can’t produce a pharmaceutical cure unless you can find the agent that you’ve got to be attacking.
So you’ve got to find the bug or the dysfunctional mitochondria. And they’ve been looking for years and they cannot find a thing that is consistent, not only everybody, but most people with ME and CFS. And if they haven’t found it yet, yeah, maybe they will find it.
[Liz note: I’m an advocate for biomedical research of all types for both treatment and biomarkers for faster diagnosis, so people don’t go through the rigamarole most of us went through. But I also always felt like there were so many things wrong when I had ME/CFS, how could one pill fix them all? Though I tried that with supplements. I eventually looked to ways I could help create/build health on my own.]
But meanwhile, while they’re doing that, we’re actually helping people get well, you know, by the thousands.
So what about those people?
And then they go, “Oh, they didn’t really have it.”
It’s like, that is the argument that you hate people making about you, and yet you’re happy to say that about people.
[1:01:10] Liz: Exactly! Because I’m like, how can you do this? I’m like one of you. I had, I mean, I have almost no photos and videos of when I was ill, but there’s a photo of me with a black t-shirt over my face in July, and I’m bundled in a blanket because I was like freezing in July.
And couldn’t look at light. And just so when they say that, it is triggering, and I realized I needed to do more inner child work there on why I need to prove myself as good. So that was an opportunity.
But even just, it was a few people attacked me, and it [felt like] a lot. And I know you probably, since you were the originator of the brain retraining program, you, I know, got a lot of criticism, but you kept [going]. I mean, the program is continuing to help many people. So just want to give you kudos for that, Phil.
[Liz note: I support and validate everyone’s experience and continue to learn through other’s stories. While I’ve spoken to people who the Lightning Process was a gamechanger, I also know some who it didn’t come at the right time or was not a fit for them, and spoke with others who it helped, but they found other modalities or programs helpful as well. I collaborated with my friend Lindsay Vine to make an affordable Lifestyle & Nervous System Regulation Programs Guide, factoring in input from real people who did these programs, so people can find the best fit for them or learn about their options. Nothing is medical advice, and the guide recommends consulting trusted health providers and addressing potential healing blockers.]
[1:02:01] Phil Parker, PhD: Well, thank you. It just feels like this is too important.
I was listening to, a different podcast completely about a politician who said, “You know, I got trolled, particularly on Twitter, all the time. Thousands and thousands of trolls. It was horrific. My wife said, don’t look at social media. It’s probably the best thing I ever did. But whenever I looked, it was horrible.”
He said, “I walked,” he was Canadian, “I wandered around Canada when I was campaigning. I met hundreds of thousands of people. Only three people were rude to me. Only three people, face to face, went, ‘I hate you, and I think your policies are shit.'”
But on Twitter, like thousands of them, and it’s like people, if you met them in real life, they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this.
It’s the protection they feel in social media that’s really destructive. And there’s another problem, which is we know that the algorithms in social media, they want to get people looking at things.
And they know one of the things that really gets people is outrage.
If people can feel as outrageous. That they try and stir up as much stuff as they can. Things that produce outrage comments will get raised higher. So, yeah, it’s a pretty toxic environment.
[1:03:07] Liz: I know people who help make these algorithms on social media, and that’s exactly right.
It is. “What’s going to get people to comment?” And it is, sadly, outrage. Hopefully, the people behind these algorithms can give people more hopeful content rather than what’s gonna trigger their nervous systems. But these places online, they purposely do that.
And I’m not saying I’m perfect either.
I’ve kind of gotten in the fray a little bit, punched back. But yeah, it makes you… like it can suck you in!
[1:03:42] Phil Parker, PhD: All the advice is don’t engage because it’s because like that politician was saying, you know, if you had a chat to those people, you could probably talk them around.
But on Twitter, that’s not the space they’re coming from. They’re coming from, “I already know the truth. And I’m not interested in what you got to say.” They’re not after a rational conversation. Yeah, they pretend to take some kind of scientific high ground when they don’t know about everything.
I don’t know everything, but I do know quite a lot about research.
[1:04:06] Liz: And I often think it’s like, maybe the people who are attacking, it’s not really us.
It’s maybe like their dad who didn’t validate them or it’s the doctor who brushed them off. And it’s easier [to take one’s hurt out on someone online], yeah. And there is that trauma there. So what you had said, oftentimes it might be trauma holding them back.
But also just being in that environment. If that’s where you spend all your time in all these hopeless places, it’s just going to further that neurology.
[1:04:37] Phil Parker, PhD: Unfortunately, yeah.
You’re not likely to be building positive, health giving, salutogenic neurology by sitting in that conversation.
There is some research between Twitter uses language and death by heart disease. I’ll send you a link to it. It’s quite an interesting study, have a look.
[1:04:52] Liz: I believe it, because getting off Twitter was a part of my recovery.
[1:04:55] Phil Parker, PhD: And Twitter is probably the worst one out of all the platforms.
[1:04:59] Liz: Yeah, Instagram’s really nice, though it can get addicting, but yeah.
Liz: This was such a great chat. Thank you so much. I am just so grateful, and because I discovered brain retraining neuroplasticity, I have two very active, joyful sons now.
So if you hadn’t said no to all those doctors who told you, then I might not be sitting here today, interviewing you so we could have this wonderful conversation. So just wanted to say thank you and wanted to know if you had a final message.
[1:05:39] Phil Parker, PhD: Thank you, Liz, for doing this, you know, because it’s such an important part of people’s journey to hear this conversation, not just with me, but with loads of people who have recovered, it’s so important.
And I think that goes to my final point, which is, if you’re dealing with this illness, chronic fatigue, ME, or something similar, if other people have recovered, and they have, by their thousands, then it’s possible.
The only question you’ve got to ask yourself is, okay, what’s the route for me? But it is possible.
So don’t listen to people say it’s not possible. It’s just not true. Don’t buy into that. Don’t let them win.
Instead, find your way, whatever that way is, but there is a way for you and you will get there.
[1:06:20] Liz: Wow.
Yes, you will get there, whether it’s with the Lightning Process, another brain retraining program, or another modality that supports your healing. It definitely is possible. I have many friends who have healed, and there’s also many people who have recovered who just are shy and haven’t come out here publicly.But yeah, thank you so much, Phil. Have a wonderful rest of our evening. I know you’re going through a heat wave over there. You can turn the fan back on. But yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for this wonderful chat.
[1:06:58] Phil Parker, PhD: Well, thanks, Liz. And I’d just like to say again, you know, I think that what you’re doing is amazing.
It’s really, really good. It’s really important because they’re not enough of these conversations going on, and the more there are, the more it starts to weaken the more dominant narrative that it’s impossible, you know, which is supported by all these charities and everything. So I think it’s so important.
So keep doing what you’re doing.
[01:07:21] Liz: I’m like we donate to research.
I donate to research, and I’m still going to save myself.
I’m not going wait for research to live my own life, but I still care very much about research and that includes the research on neuroplasticity as well.
That to me is also biomedical because our brains are in our body.
Phil Parker, PhD: Yeah, absolutely.
Liz: Oh, and since we’re still recording, I do want to ask about your new book. Can we talk about that for a minute?
[1:07:48] Phil Parker, PhD: I’ve got a copy of it here, actually, because I keep on waving at it. This new book. Yeah, so this book, The Coach That’s Always There: Inner Wisdom, Whenever You Need It, is a kind of part of the Lightning Process, which is this recognition that we need to be kind to ourselves, we need to change our internal conversations.
And another thing within the Lightning Process, which is, what if we consider you know yourself better than anybody else? And if we can turn, find a way, because the problem with inner wisdom is quite often it’s not there when we really need it. How do we switch it on? How do we get in touch with that?
Knowing that this is the right thing for me. How do we do that? So there’s a whole bunch of techniques, similar but different from the Lightning Process on how to do that. How to resolve inner conflict, resolving stuff with your childhood, being able to think about how you relate to the world that you’re in.
It talks about what’s called gateway states.
So we’ve talked a little bit about states that, you know, taking yourself back to a time when you felt really energetic would be extraordinary because that would. Help you to feel energized. Taking yourself back to a time of calm would help you to be calm. But, having worked with people with a Lighting Process who’ve made huge change.
When you take them back to that time when they made huge change. So for you, if you think about that moment and go, “Oh my God I’m well,” if you could channel that. That, that quality, what we call the gateway state of shift into all sorts of other areas of your life. What would that be like? What if you could really channel the quality of being incredibly kind to yourself everywhere?
So it talks about some really interesting ideas. I enjoyed writing it and a lot of people very much enjoy reading it.
[1:09:25] Liz: Oh, that’s awesome. I’ve got to check it out myself as you know, I’ve healed from the physical stuff. I am continuing always on a learning and transformation journey. And that sounds really cool because in this next part of my life, you know, learning to trust my gut and that inner wisdom.
I really liked that versus always having to look for external support or a coach. It’s always there.
[1:09:50] Phil Parker, PhD: It’s one of the things that happens often when people are ill, they stop trusting themselves. So I can’t count on my body anymore. So they go, what do you think I should do? Should I do this? And that disempowers them instead of going actually.
Maybe I know. Maybe I know the answer. Maybe I just need to find a way to get back in touch with that.
[1:10:08] Liz: Ooh. Well, that’s so wonderful. I’ll include a link to that book, to your other book, which does include some of the outline of The Lightning Process, Get the Life You Love Now, The Lightning Process, and to your podcast.
So I’ll put that in the description. All right. This is so wonderful. Have a good rest of your evening.
Phil Parker, PhD: My pleasure. Good to see you, Liz.
Liz: All right. Bye.
[1:10:47] Liz: So after we recorded this interview, we recorded another one because I had three more questions for Phil.
And the first one was, I asked Phil, “So you had shared how receiving a negative prognosis is bad. But what about those of us who were told we’re fine, ‘there’s nothing wrong,’ so we pushed through. And particularly athletes I know who did this, who ended up getting me CFS and Long Coivd. “
And he actually has a good response to this as a driven person himself, who hates being sick. So he answers that.
And second, he responded to a lovely newsletter reader’s question, she wanted to know how to make sense of something like brain retraining when you’ve fought so hard for recognition, you’ve had this for 20 years, what do you tell people? And she actually did the Lightening Process herself seven years ago. And she said initially she saw major improvement. Then she said the pressure she put on herself started to really get to her. So Phil has some thoughtful insights on that.
And last Phil answers the question, “So who’s the Lightning Process for, and who’s it not for?”
Coming soon: I will embed our follow-up mini interview here with Dr. Phil Parker’s 3 answers.
[1:11:55] I just want to add my own two cents on that one. And that’s before I was able to do brain retraining successfully, I had to first learn how to say “no.” And I believe that our body needs us to know how to say no before it can say yes. So, if you go to my blog, there’s an article, it’s called Nine Boundaries to Live My Best…I forgot what the exact title is, but I’ll put it in the description. And it’s nine boundaries that were really essential for my healing from ME/CFS.
And the second thing I’ve observed over the years is that your dreams for your future have to be greater than the anger at what they did to you, what they didn’t do. If you were dismissed, and many of us were, whether by doctors, by family. I know some people have it a lot rougher than others, but having that North Star guiding you is essential, I believe, for this work.
If you appreciated this interview today, please leave your feedback in the comments. Thank you so much, and we have some more recovery stories coming up.
Here is a page containing of links to research that support the theories that the Lightning Process is based on.
Here are links to research on the Lightning Process including a randomized controlled trial, pilot studies, cases studies, an ME charity survey, and proof of concepts.
Here are some Phil mentioned in our interview.
1. Randomized Control Trial in Pediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
2. Long Covid Case Studies
A 60-year-old female with onset of acute symptoms on 25th March 2020. She first contacted her GP on 27th April 2020 with her symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, cough and continued fever. The patient was given a SATs probe for remote monitoring of her oxygen saturation, which remained at 97-98% (normal). She was prescribed oral doxycycline in accordance with the recommendations at the time, and a salbutamol inhaler to treat suspected bronchospasm. At follow-up in July 2020, the GP confirmed the presence of chronic symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of taste, headaches, body aches, unrefreshing sleep and impaired concentration.
A 52-year-old female reported onset of COVID-19 symptoms including a fever, dry cough, breathlessness, headache, fatigue and loss of appetite, starting on 16th March 2020. She was assessed by her GP and treated with oral doxycycline in April 2020. She later attended A&E and was told she was in the recovery phase of COVID-19. Her GP records show in July 2020 she reported headaches, tiredness, recurrent palpitations, fatigue and feeling unwell for the past 3.5 months. The patient added that she was also experiencing a sore throat and low self-confidence at this time.
At the time of diagnosis, laboratory tests were not standard practice for confirmation of diagnosis which was made using the approved procedure for acute COVID diagnosis at that time (March 2020). Due to COVID-19 swab tests being unavailable in primary care at the time of initial presentation, for both cases, a diagnosis of COVID-19 was made by the patients’ GPs in April 2020 based on symptomology and this prior COVID-19 status and their symptoms supported a diagnosis of LC. Neither case was hospitalised, and no further diagnostic tests or medical interventions were applied.
Following a diagnosis of LC the two cases were signposted by an NHS GP to an accredited LP practitioner. The LP is an intervention designed to help individuals to develop conscious influence on their neurological function and affect change in physiological processes . It utilises discussion, gentle movement and meditation-like techniques developed from Positive Psychology, health education theory, mindfulness, and coaching [see full protocol] .
The LP concurs with the hypothesis that post-viral syndromes are a consequence of a disruption of the normal recovery process expected after the viral infection . This incomplete recovery places further allostatic load on the individual’s unrecovered physiology, triggering further maladaptive responses, including chronic activation of the humoural stress response and central nervous system sensitisation, as suggested by Craddock . To help resolve this the LP encourages the development of self-compassion and flourishing ,, through a self-coaching approach, implementation of salutogenic and active language and improved physiology through savouring of memories that recall previous experiences of desired health goals and states ,. It is taught by registered practitioners who undertake an intensive 18-month clinical training programme, run by the Phil Parker Training Institute. The training includes modules on anatomy and physiology; mind-brain-body and neuroplasticity concepts and research; group dynamics management; positive psychology; rapport, communication, linguistics in a clinical setting and group delivery skills; brief-solution-orientated change, state management approaches and humanistic coaching. Trainees are assessed by written and viva examinations and on graduating agree to abide by the LP Register’s Code of Conduct, hold up-to-date DBS certificates, and maintain a continual professional development portfolio. The cost of attending the seminar varies by practitioner and country but in the UK the average cost is £650 and has been covered by some insurance companies. The LP was provided at no cost to participants for this study. An RCT evaluated the LP’s cost-effectiveness and reported ‘The LP is effective and is probably cost-effective when provided in addition to SMC for mild/moderately affected adolescents with CFS/ME’ 11 .
Following referral, the two patients received an information sheet about the LP and consented to take part in the intervention with the understanding their cases may be published. They listened to Part 1 of the LP, a 4-hour audio program focused on fatigue, prior to discussing their issues with their LP practitioner and receiving some initial coaching. Part 2 consisted of 3 × 4 hr interactive online seminars delivered in July 2020. The sessions were designed to help individuals understand and apply the LP technique to their own symptoms. Three hours of post-seminar support was also provided.
FOLLOW-UP AND OUTCOMES
Outcomes were assessed using two validated measures: the 9-item Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS) and the 14-item Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) . These were completed prior to commencing the LP training (T1) and then at 2 weeks (T2), 1 month (T3) and 3 months (T4) after the final seminar. The patients also detailed their mental and physical symptoms of LC at baseline using a pre-specified list with the options to add ‘other’ symptoms. Subsequently, at T2, T3 and T4 they reported whether the symptoms were improved, the same as or worse compared to the previous time point.
Case 1 initially reported seven symptoms of LC at baseline. All symptoms improved from T1 to T2, with further improvements at T3 (and these were maintained or bettered at T4: ). demonstrates that Case 2 also initially presented to LP with seven symptoms which improved following treatment and further gains were made at each subsequent time point (with the exception of anxiety at T3).
3. Pilot Study for Youth Cancer Survivors Experiencing Chronic Fatigue
The Lightning Process home page
Get The Life You Love Now – UK link (explains the Lightning Process)
The Coach That’s Always There: Inner Wisdom Whenever You Need It – UK (Phil’s new book)
Extra audio companion for The Coach That’s Always There
Phil’s podcast The Mind Body Connection, where he interviews special guests and experts: Listen on iTunes.