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The term “hypnosis” may bring about images of psychiatrists who dangle stopwatches in front of their patients to get them sleepy, but in fact, “clinical hypnosis” is a very real thing based on the science of chemical change brought about through mental states. In the first episode of Hypnosis Week, Dr. Daniel Amen is joined by Dr. Mike Dow, and author and clinical hypnosis specialist, for a discussion.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody. Welcome to hypnosis week. Gonna be one of my favorite weeks. I am here with my friend, Dr. Mike Dow. Welcome.
Mike Dow: Thanks for having me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Mike is a psychotherapist. He's a best-selling author of a number of books, including The Brain Fog Fix, the Drained Brain.
Mike Dow: Heal Your Drained Brain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Heal Your Drained Brain, Heal Your Broken Brain about his brother who had a stroke. And there's so much you can do. People don't understand that. There's so much, if your brain has gone to the dark place, there's so much you can do to heal it. But you have a new book coming out.
Mike Dow: I do. Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life. So how did you get interested in hypnosis?
Mike Dow: So, Daniel, I obviously am a huge fan of the brain. I'm a huge believer that we all this inner ability to heal ourselves, to motivate ourselves, to make those everyday changes. And that's why I do what I do. And then I discovered clinical hypnosis. And to be quite frank with you, I went to this training partly because I needed some continuing education for my license.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Of course.
Mike Dow: And I was fascinated, and I was intrigued. And like many people, maybe somebody watching here today, I had some of those misconceptions, you know, is this Vegas? Is this gonna make me bark like a dog? Or can this really do what they say it can do? Because I read some of the literature. And I thought, "It sounds too good to be true. How does this really work?" And then I went into my first practicum. And I remember one of my professors was a dentist, and she had this incredible voice. And it was about 30 seconds in, and I just remember feeling ... I'd done all of these mindfulness meditation workshops with some great MDs and PhDs.
And I remember in about 30 seconds of 60 seconds going way deeper than I had ever achieved through hundreds of hours of meditation just like that, in an effortless way. And meditation is fantastic, and it just felt really different. And all of a sudden in that moment, in that experience, I got it. I got it. And I became a little obsessed.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So hypnosis is actually, it's a natural state.
Mike Dow: Yeah, it is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a state people go in and out of all the time.
Mike Dow: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I think yesterday I saw Mama Mia 2.
Mike Dow: So did I. I saw it yesterday as well.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It was great. I loved it. And a two-hour movie seemed like it went by in a half an hour. That's a hypnotic state.
Mike Dow: Yes, it is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Or if you drive. I went to medical school in Oklahoma. So I would go from Southern California to Oklahoma a lot, and there would be whole cities that I don't actually remember driving through. It's like all of a sudden it's four hours later, and that's called highway hypnosis. So they're natural states that we go in and out of a lot. And it's when time slows down or time speeds up. And hypnosis is just having a guide to go through those states or to be able to use that state in a therapeutic way.
Mike Dow: Yeah. And I think when people realize it, that they actually already do that when they get engrossed in a great book or movie or realize, "Well, I just drove home. I don't remember driving home." But sure enough I pulled into my own driveway," that somehow there are all of these things going on in our brains all the time, but we could use them for our own good, whether it's something that's a little bit more medical, something a little bit more psychological, something in your business, all of these goals. And instead of it being something scary or mysterious ... To be honest, it is a little mysterious sometimes to me, which I like.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, one of the reasons you're in the clinic is we did a scan on you today, a baseline scan, and tomorrow we're gonna do one while you're in a hypnotic state. So how cool is that? And we're gonna see there have been a couple of imaging studies showing it's not what you would expect. So what you would expect when you put someone in a trance, you know, obviously they're very relaxed. You would think their brains settled down. But that's actually not what happens. I mean, we'll see with you. But it actually, the frontal lobe's the most human, thoughtful part of the brain fires up. Meditation does the same thing. We just did a prayer study a couple of months ago.
Mike Dow: Oh, cool.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It was fascinating. So we will see. I got interested when I was a second year medical student, which was 40 years ago. It's disturbing. But I went, "Oh, well, how cool is this?" And I watched our professor hypnotize a couple of the other students. And then when he did me, I never felt more peaceful. I loved ... You don't tune out, you actually tune in. But you do it in a very sort of calming, relaxing, wonderful way. And then I took a month elective. And when I was an intern at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I virtually hypnotized half of my patients.
Mike Dow: That's incredible.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Everybody wanted a sleeping pill, and I'm like, "Well, yes. I'll give you a sleeping pill, but can I hypnotize you first and see if you really need it?" And everybody, they want more time with their doctor. And so everybody said yes, and I prescribed half the sleeping pills that my fellow interns prescribed.
Mike Dow: Isn't that incredible?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because what did they teach us in medical school? First do no harm. Use the least toxic. And so if you can heal with words and what is really directed attention, how cool is that?
Mike Dow: I recently was diving into the literature and research, and I came across this story of yours that you saw people changing, really, the body, really, and blood flow, which other studies have really shown that people can do this.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, when I was a medical student, and I was taken my elective at UC Irvine, Don Schaefer was my teacher. He was awesome. He showed us a video of an Indian psychiatrist who put a patient in a trance, had them pop up the blood vessels in their hands. So purposefully, directed attention to their hand, pop up the blood vessels. And then he put a needle through the blood vessel, and he pulled the needle out. And so it's bleeding on both sides of the blood vessel. And in a trance he had the woman stop the bleeding on one side while it's going on the other side then stop it on that side and get it to bleed on the other side.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like so wild.
Mike Dow: That boggles my mind.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You would think you had to set up some illusion in Hollywood to do this. So when I was an intern, my first rotation was in the emergency room. And at Walter Reed in Washington DC it's a busy emergency room. There's a lot of noise going on. But I walk on the ward, it's like 6:30 in the morning. And there's a woman screaming. And I'm super curious, which is not always a good thing. And so I pop my head in, and saw this woman whose leg was swollen. She had something called a DVT or a deep venous thrombosis. She had a blood clot in her calf that was preventing blood getting out of her leg. And so she has this big swollen leg. And the chief resident, her name was Wendy, she was not nice. She's not nice.
She was screaming at the patient, because every time she stuck the patient, the patient screamed louder, and Wendy was getting frustrated. And what happens to blood vessels when you're upset is they clamp down. They're not helping you when the patient's upset. And so I felt so bad for Wendy and for the patient. And I said, "Do you mind if I try?" And she said, "I've been starting IVs for years. What makes you think you are so special? But if you want to try, hot shot, go ahead and look stupid." And she threw the IV set at me.
The first thing I did was not poke this woman. The first thing I did was go around to her head. She was just screaming at her from her feet. And I said, "Hi. I'm Dr. Amen. I need you to slow your breathing." And I said, "When you breathe too fast, all your blood vessels constrict, and there's no way we're gonna start an IV in your foot. Breathe with me." And so I slowed my own breathing thinking Wendy was going to kill me when I failed, right? Because I had no expectation this was actually gonna work. I just seen the video.
And then I had her focus on a spot on the wall, right? It's the first step. You know, you take outside focus and all the distractions. You bring it to a point, and then you get the focus internally. So I had her count to 10, had her close her eyes. And then had her breathe and then imagine relaxation. And then while I'm doing the whole induction thing, I'm going, "I bet you didn't know that if you focused on your feet, you could actually make a blood vessel appear and really help me in this situation. And a blood vessel just popped up as soon as I made this suggestion.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I put the needle in. And then I kept her in the trance just to relax her, and I wheeled her to x-ray. But the one mistake I made is when Wendy saw this and her mouth was like wide open. And I just winked at her. And she never looked at me the same way. And I don't mean that in a good way. But it's so powerful.
Mike Dow: It's powerful. What I love about that story, Daniel, is it's this integration. Not only is it powerful, it reminds me that our bodies have this ability that our brains can help tap into. But it's also the integration between ... It's not saying, yes, hypnosis by itself was used as anesthesia before modern anesthesia. We're not-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And during the Civil War.
Mike Dow: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, it was used in World War I when they actually ran out of the anesthesia that it was actually brought to the US, if I remember right, by an OB/GYN who helped deliver babies. I actually have a friend who delivered all three of her babies using hypnosis without any epidurals.
Mike Dow: It was the anesthesia. It was the go-to before. And I think today people are just, maybe they're listening saying, "Well, I don't need it. It's out of date." But today they're publishing these trials. This one boggled my mind. Of course, Europe, because I think we have Vegas, I think Americans are a little bit less likely to accept hypnosis. We have to back pedal. We have to sort of prove it first, which is why I'm so glad. Thank you for doing this brain scan. We're gonna scientifically prove it to ... I think especially Americans who are a little bit apprehensive. But they did this hypno-sedation study first in Europe. And now they're using it in the US.
The subjects in this trial, and it was women with breast cancer. And they gave them hypnosis first or the same amount of time just relaxing. And I believe in the trial they gave them as much pain medication and sedation, local sedating medication, as they wanted, as they needed. And then they measured pain and then they also measured inflammation. They found that the hypnosis actually, number one, saved the hospital money. It decreased the surgery time. It really increased the pain scores, not only in the short-term, but also long-term pain.
And it decreased inflammation. So it's sort of this, "Oh, maybe this isn't something that we should just throw out as this outdated model, and maybe there are all these fantastic ways to integrate it with these modern practices, which I just think is just really exciting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, stay with us. When we come back we're gonna talk about the different uses of hypnosis, and I'm gonna tell you a fun story that got me into all sorts of trouble. Stay with us. Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.