Can You Change Your Personality? with Dr. Earl Henslin

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Dr. Earl Henslin, author, psychotherapist, and board member of The End Mental Illness Now Foundation, found himself on the other side of the desk when he brought his own mother in to scan her brain. She had often been angry and detached, and both Dr. Henslin and Dr. Amen were horrified to see her scans showed signs of early dementia. What happened next changed not only her life, but the lives of those closest to her. In this episode, Dr. Earl Henslin tells the story of his mother’s transformation.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Welcome back. We are on day three with our friend and colleague, Dr. Earl Henslin. We've been talking about the brain and psychotherapy and how you have utilized putting images into your practice. One thing we didn't mention about you, Dr. Henslin, is that you're actually on the board for the foundation, for End Mental Illness Now.
Dr Earl Henslin: Yeah, because when I went to that very first seminar with Dr. Amen, on my drive home, I called a friend of mine who's... He and his wife are very successful business people. And I said, "You've got to go see Dr. Amen." I explained the SPECT scan and everything. The next week, they literally made an appointment and flew out to see you.
For him, it was the first time in his life that he was free from intense anger and from migraines. He'd been to all the best medical facilities around the country, and no one had been able to help. So then he called me up. It was a month or two later. He was talking with this wife, and he said, "We want to help people who can't afford to get these scans." It still gets me. Over the next 10 years, they basically contributed over a million dollars.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Earl Henslin: We were able to help people get scans that would never be able to afford it. There were pastors, missionaries, secretaries at a business, or a janitor. And then there were people that were doing well, but the money was so tight they just couldn't get the scan. It was so wonderful to know that scan would help them, and I would say, "Let me make a call. I have a friend who just might say yes. I can't promise anything." Literally, ever since then, that couple, they've only said yes.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Earl Henslin: They've continued to help people today. I walked in the building. There was a patient in the waiting room that they sent the money for to-
Tana Amen: Oh, funny.
Dr Earl Henslin: ... get a scan.
Tana Amen: Oh, that's so funny.
Dr Earl Henslin: So, to me, if anyone out there... because I know there's people listening that do have the means. And even if you can just make a small donation, whatever that would be...
Tana Amen: Or if you just know someone that needs help, even, that's-
Dr Earl Henslin: Yeah, to donate the money for them to get the scan because it's life-changing. I'll give you a quick example. A person on disability from working at a software company at a job she was not suited for and in abusive relationship, massively depressed, she came in with a medical file literally this thick. She had massive panic attacks, couldn't get out of the house, and then plus incredible GI problems and so on.
I paid for this file, and she'd gone through every test and MRIs, labs, and everything. I said, "Well, we need to get this scan." She said, "Okay." So we got the donation and then sent her. We got the brain balanced out for the very first time in her life. She went from being in an ER room on a quarterly basis for some reason... because her potassium and sodium had just suddenly dropped out. She couldn't eat. She was underweight. I mean, the anxiety was so intense.
So then, as we got the brain balanced out and the panic attacks down, then a flood of memories came back of being abused when she was a little girl. Only now we're able to work it through and have it be a healing experience. So within a two-and-a-half-year period of time, she went out and started her own business and is making her way in the world today, whereas before, she was being defined as permanently disabled for the rest of her life.
Now there's no more workman's comp, and she's producing and happy. Her marriage made it through it, and they have a lovely marriage. I literally could spend the entire day just telling story after story like that because hopefully someone there will want to make that call or go online to make the donation to help another person because it really is a gift of life. I mean, it's incredible.
Tana Amen: I've had the same experience. I mean, I end up adopting people, sort of. I mean, I do this all the time. But there's only so many people you can-
Dr Daniel Amen: No, you call me up and say, "You're going to adopt this person."
Tana Amen: Well, I... But we end up paying for it out of pocket, basically, because there are so many people out there suffering. So I'll be somewhere and I'll meet someone. I'll meet a veteran or someone who's just suffering horribly, and I just feel terrible. So I'll call him up and I'm like, "I need to bring this person into the clinic. We're going to have to do this, pay for it ourselves."
But there's only so many people you can do that for. So the foundation... That's the part of the foundation that really touches my heart, is when we can help people that really need help. We're just trying really hard to build that part of our foundation-
Dr Earl Henslin: Exactly.
Tana Amen: ... [crosstalk 00:06:21] help more people because families change. Another person we adopted literally is my sister and my nieces. We are completely, literally changing the dynamics of that family, which will now change the next generation.
Dr Earl Henslin: Exactly.
Tana Amen: And that's the point.
Dr Earl Henslin: Exactly.
Tana Amen: We're trying as hard as we can to do our part, but if there are people who can help other people... Some people can't, but some people can.
Dr Earl Henslin: Exactly.
Dr Daniel Amen: One of your stories that I really like the most is about your mom. Can you talk about that and what it was like for her when she got her first scan?
Dr Earl Henslin: Yeah. My mom has had depression and problems with anger and then, more recently, memory problems, and migraines for over 50 years. Our farm in Southern Minnesota is 15 miles away from the Mayo Clinic. I have great-uncles that actually worked with Charles and Will Mayo in the beginning. So our family always had the best medical care, and yet no one looked at her brain. So she never got the relief. She's on the typical meds for migraines and typically antidepressants, which now, looking back, actually made her worse.
So she was at probably the lowest point in her life and was really depressed. I had been trying for 10 years to get her to get a scan, and she kept saying no. Finally, she said yes. So after Mother's Day weekend, Monday morning we were down in the lobby of the office. I'm helping her fill out the forms. I said, "Mom, have you ever had any head trauma? Because I can't remember an accident or you falling or slipping on the snow or the ice or anything."
She started crying. She said, "When I was 12 years old, I was swinging on a rope up in the barn, and the two-by-four holding it broke." As she was falling, the board hit her in the back of the head. Her dad found her on the floor in a pool of blood. That would have been 1944. She had over 50 stitches to take care of the lacerations from that blow.
For me, what happened at that moment just with her hitting her head there, I knew there's going to be injury back here in the cerebellum, and the occipital lobe is going to bounce forward. There'll be injury in the frontal cortex. That's why, growing up, she didn't think before she said or did things. And the brain bounces around, and I knew there'd be injury in the temporal lobes. And with that anxiety center high, then I knew, finally, the source of the migraines and depression that no antidepressant could help because one of the things I learned that first seminar was that there are two systems of the brain that produce the same symptoms, but they require different strategies to help.
That's what gets confusing. Just the symptom of anxiety doesn't mean anything unless you look at the brain and know where it comes from. So we're sitting in Dr. Amen's office, and he brings her brain up. My heart just sinks because what I'm seeing is not pretty. So he said, "You tell her." My mom's there. I said, "No, wait a minute. I'm like a patient here. This is my mom. You tell her." She knows both of us, and so she says, "One of you boys say something." So I said, "Well, Mom, you're headed for dementia," because the longitudinal fissure was right down the middle. It looked like a Grand Canyon. You could see the frontal lobes were atrophying and the temporal lobes.
My heart just sank. But I said, "But, Mom, you show no symptoms." I looked at you and I said, "So if we improve the perfusion or blood flow in the frontal cortex and the temporal lobes, you should be better." I said, "Right, Dr. Amen?" He nods his head yes. And so we put her on gabapentin medication. It hits that anxiety center, dulls it down, and then supplements brain and memory power boost, which was highly successful in the NFL football player study. And then I got her to start reading anything and everything that you write. So she keeps your stuff on her computer, and she knows nutrition backwards and forwards. Plus she began walking every day.
Now, about 60 days later, I happen to get my dad on the phone. He was still alive then. I said, "Dad, what do you notice with Mom?" And he said this: "I gave her a birthday present, and she smiled and she said, 'Thank you,'" because before that, a spontaneous expression just wasn't there. And then, when I got ahold of Mom, I said, "Mom, do you notice any changes between you and Dad?" She says, "I feel so sad for how hard I'd been on him. I never had the ability to let things bounce off." That got me thinking about the role the brain plays in boundaries because people can say hurtful things or do hurtful things. It's not good to overreact, not good to underreact.
But calming down that basal ganglia, getting that frontal lobes working, actually gave her the ability to let something bounce off that would have made her angry before. Then what happened all of a sudden... I mean, that's 13 years ago. I was 54, I hate to admit. I started to get used to having a mom because then when I'd call, she'd say, "How are you doing?" And she just really wanted to know, and wanted to know what she could pray for and things like that. And then, in the last 10 years of my dad's life, I watched them be affectionate to each other. I saw love and I saw caring there that I hadn't seen growing up.
But the impact on that was across four generations. My granddaughter had me come and talk to her school about the brain. They got to the drug and alcohol part of their health book, and she said, "Let's ask my grandpa to come. He's famous and he knows a lot about the brain, and he'll show pictures." So I go and I show these kids pictures, the sixth graders. And the stuff that came out of the woodwork was just amazing.
But I started to tell a story about the importance of exercise because my dad, when he was given six months to live, he went out and got a job as a security guard. I was trying to figure out why. It took me two months. And I said, "Dad, did you do that because those doctors told you to walk, and the only way you're going to walk is if you get paid for it?"
Tana Amen: That is so funny.
Dr Earl Henslin: And said yes. Well, Georgia raises her hand, my granddaughter, as I start to talk about exercise. I said, "Do you have a question?" She says, "No, I want to talk about Great-grandpa. Great-grandpa took care of his brain, took care of his heart, and he lived 22 years beyond when he was told he had six months to live. He got a job that helped him to keep walking because his brain needed that and his heart needed that. And my great-grandpa, when he called me, he would ask me how I was doing. He'd ask me how I was doing with the things I asked him to pray for. He would remember that from one call to the next."
Well, I'm standing there in tears because I'm no different than anybody. You're doing all you can do just to get through the day. You never dream... I never sat down with my granddaughter and told her the whole story or anything. But that's what she had constructed out of that. So when we make this change, we're not making a change just for here. This is for generations.
Tana Amen: It's future generations.
Dr Daniel Amen: There are so many pieces to that story.
Tana Amen: Yeah. It's amazing. That's beautiful.
Dr Daniel Amen: So what's it like when you grow up with a mom who's had a head injury, who's depressed, who doesn't have a good filter, who when she does filter things, it's filtered through depression or negativity? And then the transformation, it's just so special for me to be a small part of that story.
When we come back, we're going to actually begin to wrap this up on how does the brain and the mind work together? If there's something you learned from this podcast, write it. Send it to us. Post it on any of your social media channels, and hashtag Brain Warrior's Way. Go to or Apple Podcast. Leave a review. We'll enter you into a free drawing for one of Tana's books.
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Tana Amen: And please share it. If you know someone who can use the information, don't forget to share it.
Dr Daniel Amen: Also, you can learn more about Dr. Henslin. One of his best books is Brain on Joy. Or you can go to his website at Dr. Henslin, H-E-N-S-L-I-N, Stay with us.
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