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Longtime followers of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast will know that Dr. Daniel Amen believes the traditional psychiatric model for care is dysfunctional and in need of a revolution. Psychiatrists who do 15-minute checks and then prescribe potentially harmful medication are often hurting more than helping. In this first episode with “The Transformation” author Dr. James Gordon, the Amens and Gordon discuss how you can take your health matters into your own hands.
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 amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome everybody. We are so excited this week to have Dr. James Gordon with us, who is a Harvard educated psychiatrist. He's the author of the new book The Transformation" Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. He's a world renowned expert and using mind body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. He's the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Mind Body Medicine. I just love this.
Tana Amen: I do too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: He's a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine and Georgetown Medical School, which a lot of people don't know, but Georgetown is very forward thinking and a functional medicine integrative medicine psychiatry program. He served as chairman of the White House Commission on complimentary and alternative medicine. He's created groundbreaking programs for comprehensive mind body healing for physicians, medical students and other mental health professionals. He's worked with traumatized children and families in Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Haiti, Syrian refugees and Jordan post 9/11, post Katrina, Native Americans on Pine Ridge Reservation, veterans, active duty military. My goodness.
Tana Amen: Wow, I'm so excited.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And his book from Harper One is brand new, just out in September, and it's doing great on Amazon. I've been tracking it and I am just so honored to have you on our podcast.
Tana Amen: I know, I'm so happy to have you. This is such a great topic.
James Gordon: Well, thank you. I'm glad to be here with you with the work that you've done as well. So I'm really interested in seeing how we can put our heads together.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I have a new book coming out in March called The End of Mental Illness, and the tagline really is the end of mental illness begins with a revolution in brain health. And I started very early in my career, this mind body medicine by becoming a biofeedback therapist. And if you can increase your hand temperature with your thoughts, and just moment by moment your thoughts matter, that you don't necessarily have to go drugging everybody as the first step to getting them well. And what has happened in psychiatry since 1987 when I graduated from my child fellowship is I'm just horrified with the 15 minute med checks, and psychiatrists really went to psychopharmacologist rather than mind body healers, which is the tradition I was trained in.
James Gordon: It's the tradition I was trained in as well, and I share your deep concern. Psychiatry, which used to be in some ways the broadest of the medical specialties, in many ways has become the narrowest.
Tana Amen: Wow.
James Gordon: And I would completely agree with you that the focus always needs to be on teaching people what they can do to understand and help themselves in the beginning, and pharmacotherapy should be a last resort, rarely used, used only when really needed. The whole Hippocratic dictum, as we know who, is first do no harm and so you want to work with these approaches and techniques. These are the ones that I teach in The Transformation, including thermal biofeedback, which you mentioned, which is really so wonderfully simple and easy and inexpensive.
James Gordon: We use these little temperature sensitive dots that change color. They're kind of like the old mood rings. You may remember back in junior high or high school, you wore a ring and a when you had a test coming up and you got all tense and your hands got cold, it got black or Brown or yellow. And when your girlfriend or boyfriend walked in the room, you felt so good, the ring turned green or blue or purple. People, as you say, they can see for themselves that they have the capacity simply by relaxing, breathing deeply to change the temperature in their hands to change the color, and that gives them this crucial sense, "I can make a difference in how I feel."
Tana Amen: Yes. I was just thinking it would probably give them a sense of power.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you can start with, and too often, and 85% of psychiatric drugs are prescribed by non psychiatric physicians. And so in a 10 minute office visit, you leave your primary care doctor's office with Xanax and Ambien and Zoloft, or something. And it just horrifies me. Or we can teach people to warm their hands, to breathe diaphragmatically, to not believe every stupid thing they think, and it just seems like a no brainer, if you will, on where we should be going as opposed to where we are going. But tell us-
James Gordon: Yeah. What I wanted to say is there are two pieces here. One is psychiatrists and physicians don't seem to know any better. They're not trained the way that that we have, for whatever reason, we've chosen to train ourselves. So on the one hand, part of I would see our job as helping to, part of what I've been trying to do for years, is helping to enlarge the training of psychiatrists and other physicians, and we do that. But the other part is for people, human beings, not to wait for your doctor to tell you to do this because it may be a very long wait. What you need to do, and that's why I wrote The Transformation is to learn the techniques for yourself. There is certainly a place for psychiatrists and physicians, but in the basic primary mental health care that we need to deal with the life challenges that come to most of us, there's so much that we can do for ourselves.
Dr. Daniel Amen: How did you get interested in trauma?
James Gordon: Well, I suppose that there are many answers. One is I grew up in a fairly trauma causing family. I grew up in a family with two parents who were fighting all the time, and I was the oldest child in the family, and I became the de facto therapist for my parents. So I was interested in the trauma that each one of them was experiencing, and that they were inflicting on each other, and to some degree on me and my brothers as well. So I was kind of tuned in to that kind of high stakes emotional game right from the beginning.
James Gordon: And then what I discovered, as I went to medical school, is that I really liked to be with people when they were going through a crisis because that time is a time when I could be, even as a young medical student who didn't know much about procedures and sort of surgical procedures or pharmacotherapy for that matter, I could be helpful to people simply by being with them during the times that they were dealing with a trauma.
James Gordon: So I got interested by seeing that these are times of profound need and potentially of profound change. And it sort of continued from there. Most of what we suffer in our lives can trace its origin to one or another kind of trauma that we've experienced. And that became clear to me the more I spent time with people with both physical illnesses, which are traumatic in themselves, and certainly with people who presented with psychological problems.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you can relate to somebody.
Tana Amen: A little bit.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So Tana grew up in a fair amount of trauma and one of her questions to me this morning was, "If you think of trauma from 9/11 or from war, how does that compare to when you've grown up with an alcoholic parent or an absent?"
Tana Amen: Or even abused as a child.
James Gordon: What we've seen, what I've seen in working with trauma all over the world for the last 30, 40 years is first of all, comparing is an interesting sort of intellectual exercise, it's not particularly useful for people who've been traumatized because those comparisons get you into thinking, "Oh, mine is worse," or, "Mine's not so bad." A lot of people say what I'm going through isn't nearly as bad as what those other people experienced.
James Gordon: But still, coming back to the question, in a sense dealing with the trauma that comes from a single catastrophic event is not as difficult as dealing with the trauma that comes from an abusive childhood, I would say, or from a childhood growing up in a violent poverty stricken neighborhood. That's much harder. If you look-
Tana Amen: Because it's chronic?
James Gordon: Because it's chronic, because it was inflicted at an early age. And because it felt inescapable over a period of time. And especially the trauma of being seriously abused by your parents. These are the people to whom you are looking for safety, to whom you're looking for comfort and they're betraying. If they're using you, they're regularly betraying you. And it's terribly distressing, terribly confusing. And if it comes early in life, as I know that you know, it's terribly deforming to brain function and brain structure. So I think that's much more difficult than dealing with the immediate trauma of, even as painful as it is, to lose somebody.
James Gordon: What I've seen is the those people and a few... I'm working, for example, in post war situations where people have lost family members. If the family, the rest of the family is intact and cohesive and relatively healthy, we can work very quickly with those people to help them move through the trauma. There's a clip on our website from CBS 60 minutes, I don't know if you saw it, of me working with some war traumatized kids in Gaza, whose parents were killed-
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, let's talk about that some more, and then we'll also talk about, well, how do you know if the trauma's affecting you? What are some of the symptoms that you should be looking out for? We're here with Dr. James Gordon, the author of Transformation, brand new book. It's really great. I hope you pick it up. Stay with us.
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