Stop Suffering: How To Overcome PTSD

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

Trauma can occur in many forms and degrees of intensity, but whether we remember it consciously or not, the past is always living in the present. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen dive into an examination of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learn about the many different faces of PTSD, along with ways you can stop suffering today.


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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. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment in natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

So we're back, and we're going to talk PTSD in the brain today. Really quickly, I want to read this because I love this. Wellness coaches' new favorite. So it says, "I love, love, love sharing these podcasts with my clients, as they are short, to the point, and touch on such a variety of issues; parenting, CBT, marriage, fitness, etc. Thank you. I can't wait to read and then probably share your new children's book." The new children's book is awesome, by the way.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Captain Snout and the Superpower of Questions.

Tana Amen: Really cute.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, I love the stories of parents and grandparents saying that the kids know all the words, and when they try to skip page to get the kids to bed, they're like, no.

Tana Amen: Somebody said recently, "Please don't bring anymore of Dr. Amen's books into the house" because they're not short enough and they can't get away with not reading every single page. It was hilarious. It was very, very funny. I love that.

So let's talk about PTSD. First of all, we should talk about ... A lot of people think PTSD is just for soldiers or it's just for people who have been through a war. But it's really for a lot of different types of wars. Let's tell people what that's about.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So I published a big study in 2015 on 21,000 people showing we could separate PTSD in the brain from people who had traumatic brain injury, so emotional trauma from physical trauma, with high levels of accuracy with SPECT.

Tana Amen: No so the problem there is because they would treat them the same, right? Because the symptoms were often the same.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The symptoms overlap significantly. And if you treat people with PTSD like they had traumatic brain injury, you'll actually ruin them, and vice versa.

Tana Amen: That happened with Denny recently.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, which we should talk about. We're going to have Denny on the show.

Tana Amen: Yeah, we're going to have him on the show.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So it was many years ago when I first started doing these scans that my assistant, who had actually been traumatized, she noticed the diamond pattern in the brain. And she said when people have this pattern, that's the [cingula 00:03:13] is lit up, the top point of the diamond, they're basil ganglia, the side points, the thalamus, the bottom point. When that's lit up, just ask them if they have trauma. And I remember my first case, he had the diamond pattern. And I said, "Have you ever had trauma?" And he said, "Emotional trauma?" And he said no.

And I learned from people with brain injuries, you couldn't ask once. You had to ask them 10 times. You ever fall out of a tree, off a fence, dive into a shallow pool, in a car accident, sports concussion, whatever, just like I did with you. And so I started asking him, "Well have you ever been robbed, raped, in a fire?" "No, no, no." "Did you ever have a time when you thought you were going to lose your life?" And he said no. And then he said yes. And I said, "What happened?" He said, "I was 10 years old. It was in the San Fernando Valley" ... where we're going to put a new clinic. I'm so excited about that, which is where I grew up. And in Encino, there are a lot of movie stars live there. And one of this friends was the child of a movie star who collected exotic animals. And he said, "I went over to his house. They had a lion. The lion got loose while I was there and actually had me pinned. And they shot the lion when the lion was on top of me."

Tana Amen: Oh my god.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I looked at him and I went, how did you forget that? Because that actually seems pretty intense.

Tana Amen: Traumatic, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He had nightmares for a long time.

Tana Amen: Okay so in defense of this guy ... So I think it's a defense mechanism that we use to stay sane.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's called repression.

Tana Amen: Right. When you come from an environment that's a little wacky, I call it garden variety dysfunctional. Call it what you want. But I think that we do that to normalize and be able to survive and function. Because I remember when I first met you, you were talking to me about some of my physical issues. I was really sick as a kid. I was, not kidding, kind of sick all the time as a kid and had not normal stuff. I had upper and lower GIs when I was four years old. And so the first thing you did is start asking me, "Well what happened when you were four?" And I'm like, oh my gosh, don't start shrinking me. And so I'm like, nothing happened when I was four years old. I was fine. I wasn't raped. I wasn't molested. And so you're like, okay. And so anyway, we were just talking for a little while and all of a sudden it comes out. And I didn't even connect the two. But we were talking a little while later, and I started telling you about when my uncle was murdered in a drug deal and the police came to the door, and I remember the whole thing, my mom screaming and my grandmother screaming, and they both fell to the floor. I was completely freaked out. And my other uncle was a heroin addict and his friends were there, and he was just a mess. I mean, the whole thing was just ... it was horrifying. And I just sort of disappeared into ... no one was there to sort of take care of me. And then two weeks later I ended up with these upper and lower GIs. And you just kind of looked at me and you were like, "And you don't think there's any connection?" And that's just one of many stories. But the way I often described it going up was that it was always like there was a tiger around the corner. You kind of never knew when something was going to happen. I remember one of my early memories was my mom and I coming home from the movies, which we didn't get to do very often, but we went to the movies and we came home and there was someone in our house robbing our house. We had a burglar in our house. My mom grabs a shotgun and chases the guy through the house, and she shoots the shotgun out the back ... Who does that? Nobody shoots a shotgun out the back window, you know? And she's like, "Well I wasn't actually aiming it at him. I was just shooting into this flower bed just to scare him." Now as I'm older I'm like, you can't do that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're actually still reacting to it.

Tana Amen: Okay well anyway, so you know, life was always just sort of like, what's going to happen next? You know? There's this tiger around the corner, and what's going to happen next? So it was always just-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And that can happen with one event, one big event, like hearing about your uncle and witnessing what happened with your mom and grandmother. Or it can happen with hundreds of small events. So when I was little, because my bladder wasn't developing properly, I wet my bed probably until I was nine years old. And what that meant is I woke up every morning panicked.

Tana Amen: And that's hard, especially when you have siblings.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because you know, you just never knew. And nobody was terrible to me, and my mom was great. But it's to be embarrassed every day of your life, just not knowing. So what it does is it changes your nervous system to heighten it to always watch for what is that next bad thing that is going to happen. So it can be a big thing, or something that many people would think of not that big. I mean, I would think of it as big, which is why I'm really great at treating kids who have enuresis.

Tana Amen: But I still notice every ... I still am looking for the bad thing. We're walking and I notice if someone's drunk, if they're following someone. I mean, I notice someone who looks wrong to me. I notice everything wrong.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. Well, one of the things that happened to us last year is we were walking Aslan, our white german shepherd, on [inaudible 00:09:17]. So [inaudible 00:09:19] is one of the ritziest places in the world. But on the beat, sometimes there's a little bit of a seedy element. My favorite place to walk is right on the [jetty 00:09:30], right next to the water.

Tana Amen: As soon as you started talking about it, my heart started beating faster.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And as we go back, it's a little dark and you go, "Let's turn around." And I'm like, "No, let's go to the end."

Tana Amen: I'm like, "I don't want to go to the end."

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you were right. I was wrong. Two pit bulls-

Tana Amen: Off lead. They were fighting dogs.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... came and attacked our dog.

Tana Amen: And one of them bit you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I got bit in the process.

Tana Amen: And I almost went to jail because I went psycho. When I get scared, this psycho person comes out of me that's not human. So that's like the whole mama bear on steroids thing. I went completely insane.

Dr. Daniel Amen: With those gang bangers all tatted up.

Tana Amen: And I didn't care. It was like I had an out of body experience.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And I'm trying to calm her down.

Tana Amen: No, there was no calming me down. And I'm having this out of body experience going, I know I should probably not be saying what I'm saying to this guy, and it didn't matter. I couldn't shut myself up. But what happened was, I got triggered. And then recently, some lady wasn't controlling her dog, another pit bull, and she wasn't controlling him, and he almost bit my dog, but it wasn't nearly as extreme as that situation where we actually got attacked. And I lost my mind and I was not nice to her. Not even a little bit.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So the past is always living in the present. And if that's you, because 30 million people grew up in alcoholic homes in the United States. PTSD affects about 7% of the population. The next podcast, we're going to talk about post-

Tana Amen: But I want to add-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wait, wait. We're going to talk about post-traumatic growth. This one we're going to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. And people who have PTSD, the symptoms are often flashbacks of the event, nightmares. They can have panic attacks. Sometimes they feel like their-

Tana Amen: Can you get triggered really easily, like-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... future is shortened. They may feel numb. Yes, they can be easily triggered. If anything like what happened in the past ... and the brain is a sneaky organ. The brain works through association. So if you were attacked in a part, sometimes just being in another park, you'll start feeling panicky. If it was storming out, sometimes just a storm will trigger the panic. If you were in a place and you smelled gardenias, and all of a sudden the smell of gardenias is now associated with the trauma. So it can be anything that's related to the trauma.

Tana Amen: So let me connect this, because I've heard other people say this. I'm thinking if someone's had PTSD, they're experiencing the same thing. So I was attacked when I was 15 by a person who tried to rape me, and I got away. I never connected that to the dog attack. However, I actually did some [NLP 00:12:36] on this because I was so triggered. I was so triggered I couldn't talk about it without shaking.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Neuro-linguistic programming.

Tana Amen: Yes, neuro-linguistic program. But I couldn't talk about it without shaking and getting so wound up. So I did some NLP with it to help dilute that feeling and take that trigger away, and it helped a lot. And it was during that time that I put together that my reaction was exactly the same ... only time I've ever felt that same way was when I got attacked when I was 15. And then again when the dog almost bit Aslan on the beach that next time, how long did it take me? It took me 10 minutes to calm down. And I went off on that lady because when I get scared, that's my reaction. My reaction is to go crazy. So I went off on her, and I'm shaking. So that reaction, I noticed a pattern. I have that reaction every time.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. No, there's actually a technique in hypnosis, which I'm a huge fan of, called hypnoanalysis, where you go back to the trauma. You remember what you were thinking and feeling. And then you go back. You actually regress them to the first time in their life where they were thinking or feeling that. I treated a 16 year old boy. Maybe I haven't told you this story. He had panic attacks. So I put him in a trance, and last panic attack, what were you thinking or feeling? I can't breathe. I'm like, "Okay, think of yourself getting younger and smaller, smaller, and younger, to the first time in your life when you couldn't breathe." And he went back to when he was four years old and he had a piece of steak stuck in his throat, and then someone had to do the Heimlich maneuver.

But whenever you go back to the first event, you want to make sure it's actually the first event. And so after we cleared that out, you can breathe, you're healthy, you're grateful because someone was there to help you, you don't need to be anxious and nervous about that anymore. So you clean that out, and then you go, "Now I want you to get smaller and younger. Is there any other time in your life when you couldn't breathe?" His mother's in the room. And he starts choking. And he says it's dark and it's wet and I'm going to die because I can't breathe. He was born with a cord wrapped around his neck. And his mother starts crying because that's exactly what happened. And even though he didn't have language then, there was part of his soul that remembered it.

Tana Amen: The trauma stayed.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So when he was four and he couldn't breathe again, that reinforced the trauma, triggered again when he was 16 and he started having panic attacks. And after that hypnosis session, he never had a panic attack again.

Tana Amen: That's very similar to what they did in NLP with me. It's not the same, but it's a similar type of technique where you go back and you sort of clean up what happened in the past.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Isn't that interesting?

Tana Amen: Really interesting. I like that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He was such a special kid. And I saw him three times and he was better.

Tana Amen: I like it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So lots to do. If you've had trauma in your life, we're both huge fans of NLP. We're huge fans of EMDR.

Tana Amen: EMDR.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Tapping. Havening. You can learn all about those if you Google them.

Tana Amen: Hypnosis.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But they are so much help. And you want to talk about Denny just quickly?

Tana Amen: Yeah. So Denny, he was a Marine, and I actually met him when I went on a survival training weekend with my daughter.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because there's been assaulting.

Tana Amen: I told you. Yes. I'm telling you, this is not ... I have 11 cameras around my house.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So this is how PTSD comes around.

Tana Amen: But my way of dealing with it is to be a fighter. My way of dealing with it-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Okay, we're going to talk about that next under post-traumatic growth.

Tana Amen: Right. So anyway, I take my daughter on this survival weekend where you have to basically survive with nothing. It was not easy. Anyway, you have to learn how to do everything with nothing. So this kid ... to me he's a kid. He's not a kid kid, but he's a kid to me. He was one of the lead instructors and he is an ex-Marine, and he tells his story and it breaks my heart. So he's this Marine who tried to commit suicide actually. It was just a horrible story. When he was in ... Was he in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Iraq, I think.

Tana Amen: Iraq, okay. Anyway, he was in a vehicle that was blown up and two of his friends with him died in front of his eyes. You know, he's trying to help save one of them, and he died in front of his eyes. He had a massive head injury. One of his friends survived and lost a limb or something like this, but he had this huge injury so he's in the hospital. He goes through hell with the whole VA treatment. He ends up almost dying. Then when he finally comes to, he ends up trying to kill himself because he's on the wrong treatment. Right? So it's exactly what you talked about, not knowing the difference between head injury and PTSD.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But he had both.

Tana Amen: He had both, severe, and he's had 12 concussions throughout his life. It's just a really sad story. So I hear his story and I'm like, okay, you gotta come see us. And he's just the nicest kid. So he comes to see you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And he had severe brain trauma and he was on the wrong medication, the wrong treatment. And when we helped to balance his brain, what did he say?

Tana Amen: Well, it was pretty crazy because I'm following this kid so I want to make sure he doesn't fall through the cracks again. So I keep hounding him. I can be that way. I can be sort of a nag. And so I'm following up with him, I'm following up with him because I didn't hear from him.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Really?

Tana Amen: Yeah. So I'm not hearing from him. I'm not afraid of a little Marine. Just kidding.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're afraid of a psychiatrist.

Tana Amen: Yeah, but Marines are a little different, so. So anyway, so I'm following up with this kid. See, you can see through us, and I don't like that. So I'm following up with this kid and he's like, "Well I haven't written back." Basically he was like, "It's only been less than two weeks and my diet's better. I'm sleeping better. My thoughts are better. My memory's better." I'm like, wow, this is pretty crazy. He just that quickly started to feel so much better. And he's got hope again-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And that's how people feel better fast. It's not, take this drug and hope you feel better fast. It's you get brain healthy habits into your life so your brain can help heal. You have to put the brain in a healing environment.

Tana Amen: So when we open the next one, I want to start with his ... I'll read what he actually said, and then we can talk about growth.

Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, stay with us. Post-traumatic growth coming up.

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