Your Path to Health, Healing and Happiness with Dr. David Rabin

March 5, 2024
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

If you are not your own doctor, you are a fool.”

— Hippocrates

Dr. David Rabin has built a career out of curing the incurable. Now, he’s on a mission to revolutionize health and medicine – and reveal just how much power we have to heal ourselves from injury and illness.

Dr. Dave is a neuroscientist, board-certified psychiatrist, and health tech entrepreneur. His company Apollo Neuroscience has developed the first wearable technology that actively improves energy, focus, and relaxation, using a novel touch therapy that signals safety to the brain, all backed by science.

On the cutting edge of medicine and the mind, Dr. Dave has always been fascinated by consciousness and our inherent ability to heal ourselves from injury and illness. As such, he has specifically focused his research on the clinical translation of non-invasive therapies for patients with treatment-resistant illnesses like PTSD and substance use disorders, as well as chronic stress.

In addition to his clinical psychiatry practice, Dr. Dave is currently conducting research on the epigenetic regulation of trauma responses and recovery to elucidate the mechanism of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and the neurobiology of belief. He is also the co-founder and executive director of the Board of Medicine, a nonprofit organization of physicians and scientists establishing the first peer-reviewed, evidence-based clinical guidelines for the production and safe use of currently unregulated alternative medicines, including plant medicines.

Dr. Dave and his work has been featured in media all over the world, including The New York Times, Men's Health, Vogue, and on The Tim Ferriss Show. He has been married to his co-founder, Kathryn Fantauzzi, since 2016. 

In this episode:

  • The impact of chronic stress in how we live today
  • What role you should play in your own health journey
  • Why safety is the root of all healing
  • The #1 skill you should be teaching your children; and
  • How to kickstart your own health, healing, and happiness.

Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Dr. Dave Rabin!

James Whittaker:
Dave, how are you my friend? Thanks for coming on the show!

Dr. David Rabin:
I'm doing well. Thanks so much for having me. We've been trying to do this for a long time!

We have! To kick things off, was there a story of struggle or success from when you were younger that helped put you on the path you ultimately went down?

That's a good question. It's a mix. Our whole lives are up and down. Pendulum swings in both ways. So you have struggle, you have success, and ideally they're balanced. And ideally struggles – eventually over time as we learn to grow and adapt to them – turn into success and transform into growth. 

For me, what was most challenging growing up was two things. The first of which when I was very, very young, like many of us, I had very vivid dreams. So vivid and so real that at times I really struggled to identify whether they had happened in real life. Between four and seven years old, I'd be talking to my brother or talking to a friend from school and I would mention something that happened and they'd be like, "What are you talking about?" And I would instantly recall that this did not happen in this waking life, it happened when I was dreaming. So I would confuse those things.

Why would that happen? I didn't really have anybody to talk to except my parents about this. As I started to get older, and started to have more scary dreams, nightmares, as kids often do and I would ask them, "What's going on? What is happening when I'm asleep?" I think my parents told me what most parents tell their kids, which is to calm their fears, don't worry about any of that stuff. It's not real. But then you keep having those dreams and you keep experiencing things that feel real, as real as this when you're asleep.

And so for me, I think that really started off this questioning, what we call self-inquiry concept, which was: what is real? If I'm feeling something that feels so real and indistinguishable from waking life when I'm asleep, but the adults say it's not real, maybe we should be questioning what the adults are saying. That caused me a lot of trouble over the years.


You’re reading an excerpt of this interview. To access the full Win the Day episode with Dr. David Rabin, including bonus content that doesn’t appear here, check out the YouTube or podcast version. 🚀


I was going to say that would be good to recognize from an early age, but I can see how it would lead to trouble.

Yeah. And growing up Jewish in America. I was just talking to my wife about this yesterday. We have a culture that is very focused on questioning everything. Not to be a jerk, but just to understand why. The reasons behind doing things.

We have a culture that is very focused on questioning everything.

Our religious experiences, when we grow up and we go to synagogue or our equivalent of church or our holy place on Saturdays, people in the audience are encouraged to argue with the rabbi. The teacher. How many other religions encourage that kind engagement in a live and public setting?

They're all about conformity, right?

Yeah, it was very interesting. And I didn't realize the impact of that until later.

But ultimately I think that that idea of questioning and creating space where it's safe to ask hard questions was extremely beneficial to my development as a scientist, as a researcher, as a doctor – because as soon as I started to see things that didn't make sense in any way, I would just ask why, and then start to dive in and dig a little bit or pull on the threads and see where does this lead. Why is it that everybody thinks they know the answer to this question and they're giving the same answer, but they don't line up. There's something missing here.

As soon as I started to see things that didn't make sense in any way, I would just ask why.

To answer your original question of what were the challenges, that was a huge challenge because most adults don't like being questioned about the way they've always done things. Whether you're a school teacher or you're a parent or a doctor or anybody. When people, especially young people just come up to you and say, "Why are you doing it that way?"

While it did dramatically help my growth and my own brain personal development, it definitely caused challenges for me because people were like, "Who's this annoying kid always asking why about stuff all the time!?" But ultimately it worked out.

How do you share those religious tenets while encouraging so much creative expression and free thinking?

That's also a very good question. That’s not just a religious challenge, it's a challenge of society in general. Because for society to exist and to perpetuate over time, we have to have certain rules that everybody follows and that people, whether they understand those rules are not, they follow them because they're important for society to stick together.

If somebody doesn't understand why it's not okay to hit somebody else, whether they're a child or an adult, they still shouldn't do it because it is disrespectful and could cause harm to somebody. And so there are certain situations like that where we need these fundamental basic rules to guide people so that order is maintained and complete chaos and anarchy is prevented.

At the same time I think what Jewish religion and my friends who grew up in more Ayurvedic traditions, Hindu yogic traditions, I noticed they also share this concept of there being this incredible amount of respect for young people and their inquisitiveness and their desire to know why. That stood out to me as being so interesting because it teaches people how to critically think for themselves.

We get so wrapped up in everybody following the rules that we forget about the critical importance of independent empowered critical thinking.

If you can think for yourself and you can effectively teach young people how to respect their own ability to make decisions, how to take information in, process it, figure out where things don't all fit together, where are the missing puzzle pieces, and then find those puzzle pieces from doing whatever they have to do and insert them, solve the puzzle, you're creating functional, independent, empowered human beings.

People who are actually free to know how to learn, know how to intake information and process it properly, who are not going to be susceptible to groupthink. They're not going to be susceptible to conformity, they're not going to be as susceptible to peer pressure. You're creating emotionally resilient human beings.

We get so wrapped up in everybody just following the rules to maintain order that we forget about the critical importance of independent empowered thinking, critical thinking, because it can be annoying. We need to remember that as much as it can be annoying to have to answer questions for people all the time, that's how we teach each other. That's how we empower each other to really be our best selves is by helping people feel safe to ask the questions.

Does emotion come into it very often or is it very well separated with the work that you do and the people you're around?

I think therapy is a really good example because I am a psychiatrist, but I'm an unusual psychiatrist in that I do mostly talk therapy with people. I prescribe only when needed. Of course, I do have a general adult psychiatry practice, so you have to prescribe sometimes. But we try everything else first and least amount of side effect interventions first.

Therapy is a really, really great teacher as a way to understand what we have to do to be impartial and to understand our emotions as signals that are not good or bad. So think about that for a moment. This is one of the most common misunderstandings of emotions is that emotions are instantly judged as soon as we feel them. If it's anger, sadness, et cetera, something that feels unpleasant, it's bad. Something that we were told we were not supposed to feel as kids. It's not good.

If it's something that we were told we were supposed to feel as kids or it feels good, bring it on. Let's seek more of that. But that's us judging the emotion. The emotion is really just a signal. It's not good or bad, it's just a signal. It's just something coming in that's saying, hey, you should be paying attention to this because this makes you feel upset or angry or happy or joyful. You should pay attention to this. And there's a signal there that's trying to teach us something.

The emotion is really just a signal. It's not good or bad, it's just a signal.

In therapy, we learn this technique called observer mind, which is basically just undivided listening without judgment, without expression of emotion, with just watching and listening and making sure that you or whoever it is that's on the other side of the conversation feels heard and seen, and that I am just taking it in without judging you, without putting any of me on what you're expressing.

Then all of a sudden we have a really meaningful interaction where we both are learning from each other because we both do that same thing for each other. One of my core passions is understanding what emotions really are. They're signals. They're not good or bad. Neuroscience has proven this. Psychology research over decades has proven this.

We have really done a terrible job of translating that, which we have spent billions of dollars over the last 100 years proving to the general public for everybody to understand. So how do we start to take that information and then distill it down so that you don't have to go to medical school or graduate school or any school necessarily to understand how to interpret your emotions.

You're a human being. We should be teaching this to kids at the very beginning. How to breathe, how to think, how to feel. How to self soothe. How to take care of yourself. And all of a sudden the emotions become a tool that is like a superpower rather than something that starts to hold us back in all these different ways in our lives.

What are some of the most pivotal moments from your own health journey?

Very realistically, very candidly, it was the anxiety of growing up Jewish in America, in a world where from ... And I hesitate to bring religion into it, but it's hard to separate, right? Because it's also a culture. And anybody who has not grown up Jewish doesn't necessarily know this, but when you grow up Jewish in America, you are taught about how the world has tried to kill you and all of your family and ancestors for thousands of years, which I think in a lot of ways is similar to growing up as a person of color in America and studying slavery or as an Indigenous person.

You learn that there's this really traumatic aggressive history that involved one group of people trying to exterminate over and over again another group of people. And when you find yourself to be of one of the minority groups that was trying to be exterminated by the rest of the world, it creates a communal trauma, for lack of a better way of describing it.

When you teach kids how to breathe, think, and feel, their emotions become a tool – a superpower they can use.

It creates a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear of not belonging. A lot of fear of not being accepted by your community. A lot of fear of trust. Because when we learned about the Holocaust, one of the things that was emphasized so much to us, and this is to us as eight, nine 10 year olds, was that our own people were hired to turn us in and they did. Our neighbors who were our friends, the people who came over for dinner, the people that we saw at social events where our kids went to school together, they weren't Jewish, but they were our neighbors. 

In Germany, Jews were completely assimilated, more assimilated then than they are now in a lot of places, and their neighbors turned them in to the Nazis for extermination. For complete annihilation. How can you trust anyone who's not of your people or even of your people when you learn these stories growing up?

There's a collective trauma that happens and it creates an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. So for me, that was a huge part of it, and it impacted my parents and it impacted the way that I saw my parents befriend other people in the community. How they always had their guard up around others. We were a family that didn't have a lot of people over. My parents came from small families. Always seemed like they wanted big families, but were always afraid to let people too close.

And that fear of abandonment is one of the most basic fears that kids are born with.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right?

Exactly.

It's number one.

One of my most vivid memories is the first time we dropped our daughter to preschool. She’s banging on this wire fence, screaming in a voice more horrifying than you've ever heard, as the teacher reminds them the parents always come back. 

As the parent, your instinct is to jump that fence and take your kid with you but you can't. It's not good for you and it's not good for them. They need to be able to survive and adapt, and develop skills of resilience and strength.

In fact, my biggest fear that I have for my children is the day that I have to let them know, hopefully from me, not the world, that the world is a very big, dangerous, scary place. And that's something that I've been preparing for since day one, and I am terrified of it, but it's a very important responsibility that I'm very focused on and committed to.

Yeah. And it's a huge challenge. I don't know if there's a right way to educate our kids about that. Oftentimes we just wind up figuring it out on our own somehow.

Some of what I'm focused on will be things like exposing them to the standards of living that other people have, being of contribution and service to people who have far less than what we have. Making sure that gratitude is always such a big thing. 

I could think of nothing worse than having kids who are ungrateful and unappreciative for the immense amount of things that they have relative to what other people have. So as long as they're always focused on making the most of their potential, giving back, being grateful and being aware of what's going on in the world, to me that would be a good start.

Yeah, absolutely. I think there are a few things more important as fundamental skills than gratitude that we should be teaching our kids from a young age because it's something that you can always take with you forever. 

To come full circle on what you asked me earlier, which was one of the challenges that I faced and how I overcame it was gratitude. Growing up in a relatively small nuclear family, we didn't have a lot of relatives around and my parents didn't have a lot of siblings, let alone almost no one who lived around us, and we didn't have a lot of close friends. And so for me, a lot of the way that I started to help myself overcome some of that collective trauma was to prove to myself that I could trust people. Prove to myself that I could safely allow people into my life who are close friends that would not take advantage of me, that actually did have my best interest at heart.

As we practice gratitude, we train ourselves to self-soothe through discomfort, which is one of the single most important skills that we can ever develop as humans.

So I basically set out on a mission to find those people. I was like, I believe my parents in that the world is a dangerous place. We were taught about it from a very young age. However, I also believe in the goodness. And I think even if you go back and read the Old Testament, in Genesis alone, God threatened to destroy the earth and all of humanity multiple times. And there was always one human, at least one who stood up and said, "No. You have to save humans." There's a sparkle of hope in there that we are amazing and that we are worth saving. And I think we see those sparkles all around us all the time through the practice of gratitude. Gratitude helps us to walk down the street and see all the beauty rather than focusing on all the harshness and the things that make us afraid and uncomfortable.

Then as we learn to practice gratitude, we actually train ourselves to self-soothe through discomfort, which is one of the single most important skills that we can ever develop as humans, but is best trained when you're a young child. You start to feel upset, uncomfortable, don't run from it, don't avoid it. Let's figure out how to sit with it and soothe ourselves and show that, as you said earlier, that you're your own doctor. Kids can learn that. Kids can learn how to take care of themselves through breath and through soothing touch and through mindfulness techniques and all these different things that are way harder to learn as an adult. But gratitude's at the core.

From all your work in mental health, what insight or discovery has amazed you the most?

Oh, there's been so many. Really, so many. And I still learn new things every day from both my patients that I work with who have taught me so much, and also just life and being open to learning new things. 

I'll give you at least one and then we'll see where this goes. So one of my most favorite discoveries that I never felt was passed down effectively to the general community, the general audience as it were, who are not medically trained or scientifically trained is thinking about the sayings that our moms and dads told us when we were kids that we were like, “Whatever, that's not true!” Like “practice makes perfect” for instance. It in fact is true. 

Eric Kandel, who's also a Holocaust survivor, won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for discovering that in fact, practice does make perfect. There's no such thing as perfect so we'll say practice makes mastery. And whether you are training things consciously or subconsciously, meaning you're doing something on purpose because you want to get better at building muscle or you want to get better at practicing gratitude so you practice more gratitude for yourself, all of a sudden you feel more grateful more of the time. You're training those neural networks to become stronger.

Similarly, if you practice thinking about yourself as a crappy person who's unworthy of love, the more you think about yourself that way, the more you literally rewire and train your brain to default to thinking about yourself that way. And that's really, really interesting because that means that the things that we do and the way that we think even about things like our emotions as good or bad are all learned behavior. That means it's not personal. It's just what people taught us or what we learned growing up. It's learned behavior.

The more you practice thinking about yourself as a crappy person who's unworthy of love, the more you literally rewire and train your brain to default to thinking about yourself that way.

If it was learned, that means we can learn and automate a different behavior once we are aware that we've learned something that isn't serving us. And that is a huge component of the way that a lot of different psychotherapy practices work, but it's not taught that well from the neuroscience perspective, but the neuroscience is undeniable at this point. 

What's even more interesting about his discovery – and reading his autobiography, which I highly recommend, it's called In Search of Memory – you don't even need to have gone to college to read this. It's an incredible book about his whole life and leading up to the discovery that won the Nobel Prize.

And what's so fascinating is the way that we learn about anything: safety, fear, everything else in between, is the same way that ancient primordial sea snails learn. Same way. Same biological mechanism that's happening for them with fear and safety as it does for us. And they're 300 million years older than us.

Once you understand there's certain hardwired pathways in our bodies that are literally so hardwired, they can't change, it gives you a completely new perspective on how we cope with stress, how we respond to stress over time, what chronic stress does to our bodies and how we learn, which it completely shuts down learning, and why safety is so important to promote learning, neuroplasticity, emotional and physical and mental wellbeing. 

So it changes everything.

You can see the challenges then with trying to fight that!

Can't fight it! There's no fight.

Exactly. Embracing versus fighting is huge.

That's another one that neuroscience has proven that we found that was what a great discovery that was multiple discoveries from psychology and neuroscience. But that was another one that really stuck with me is that we grew up thinking we're supposed to be fighting against something all the time. That's not how it works. That's not how we actually invoke change.

Change comes from accepting what's going on, and then once you've accepted it, it's not a fight. You're just greasing the wheels trying to figure out, okay, what's the smoothest path through this crag or this cave or this, whatever it is, quicksand. How do I figure out using my great intellect and that of everyone around me how to get to the other side safely?

Change comes from accepting what's going on.

But it's not a fight. The battle and the fight is a preconceived notion that actually prevents us from achieving the success we're trying to get access to because when we fight, we create resistance, and resistance creates opposition, and opposition stops us from growing.

Is there anything that you believe to be true that hasn't been proven as yet?

You want to get at the good stuff, huh!?

Let's do it.

We don't have to dive too deeply into it, but it is based on Eric Kandel's work and Rachel Yehuda's work who also studied Holocaust survivors and both of them showed in different ways that when we experience trauma, like intense meaningful experiences that we perceive as threatening over time, after which we probably didn't have the support we needed, it's like the modern definition of trauma, that causes changes to our stress response gene expression that you can measure. 

If I am experiencing trauma and I haven't resolved or processed that trauma fully, that trauma is changing my stress response gene expression and what's called the epigenetic layer, which is the layer of code that's on the DNA – which is the same in every cell of our bodies except sperm and egg – it tells the DNA to turn certain genes up or certain genes down so that skin knows to be skin and brain knows to be brain and eyes know to be eye because all those cells the same core code.

If I don't do anything about my trauma, I pass that down to my children and then they pass it down to their children.

So the epigenetics say, turn eye up and turn down skin and brain. Does that make sense? So trauma causes changes to that layer on stress response genes. And if I don't do anything about it, I pass that down to my children and then they pass it down to their children. Of course, there's an environmental component of trauma like I described earlier with seeing the fear in my parents made me afraid, but there's also another layer that's happening where they have a change to the way their stress response system's functioning at a core, core level, and that actually gets passed down, which was not known before that that was even possible. I think Rachel Yehuda was one of the first people to ever prove that, and it was an actual fight for her to prove to the world that was what was happening because that went completely against the theories at the time.

So I had a theory after reading her work and studying Eric Kandel, that if trauma is one or multiple intense, meaningful threatening experiences over time and what could heal trauma, because we know that certain techniques heal trauma. For example, like MDMA-assisted therapy, which just completed FDA trials for phase three trials has the best treatment responses for trauma that we've ever seen in the history of psychiatry for any mental illness. 88% response rate in the phase three for resistant treatment refractory patients. And people continue to get better after the treatment has stopped. We've never seen anything like that before.

And what would a treatment window look like?

It's 12 weeks, three doses of medicine and 42 hours of psychotherapy with two therapists.

Always supervised?

Always supervised. That's 42 hours though. 

People go from 17 years average of never getting better, trying everything, to 55% getting better at two months out to 67% getting better. And by better, I mean entering near complete remission. No longer meeting diagnostic criteria at one year out. 55% goes to 67%. No additional treatment. We've never seen that before, ever. 

MDMA works by inducing safety states in the body. That's like molecularly what we know about it, how it works. So I thought seeing that, I'm like, well, this is how this is working and eye to eye contact and empathy are based on safety, and our patient-doctor relationship is based on you feeling safe with me in the office, which is why you tell me your deepest darkest secrets. Because If you didn't feel safe, why would you tell me any of that stuff? Then maybe there's something going on here with the safety pathway that we really haven't looked at and maybe safety's required for healing. True healing.

I firmly believe that safety is at the root of healing and that we can't heal unless we feel safe because our recovery nervous system won't function if it thinks it's under threat.

That was a theory that has been around for a while, but never really brought together in a cohesive way. And so I firmly believe that safety is at the root of healing and that we can't heal unless we feel safe because our recovery nervous system won't function if it thinks it's under threat. It shuts down under threat. So I had this idea that perhaps you can actually reverse trauma all the way down to the epigenetic code and the way it's recorded on our DNA with radical safety states. Why not? If trauma is radical fear, why can't radical safety reset that? And it turns out that it does.

We just published a small pilot trial in February studying the folks with PTSD, going through the MDMA-assisted therapy protocol. That was the first study ever. But we had a large enough sample to show statistically significant repair or remodeling at the cortisol receptor in the epigenetic layer that related to how much better people got. So literally, the radical safety state is impacting the way our stress response system is working all the way down to the DNA.

So if trauma is on say a spectrum from zero to 100, what would be the level of trauma on average that those people would be at?

Of those people? They were as traumatized as you could get without committing suicide. These are the people who are the most sick. Some of the most sick people that were ... I would say if you say 100 is somebody who has the most severe PTSD that is not able to live independently, so they're so sick, they have to be hospitalized, these people were so sick that they were not able to work jobs regularly. They were not able to have regular social relationships. They were constantly in mental, physical, emotional pain, but they weren't in the hospital. 

They were out in the regular world, but really, really struggling. So I would say they're probably 80 to 90, somewhere in there of the most severely ill. So that was a really interesting population to see get so much better because western medicine has basically given up on these people, which is really a shame.

It's so weird coming from Australia to the US where you see direct to consumer advertising from the pharmaceutical industry. Then you go to the pharmacy, and I feel like you get sick when you walk in the door, especially once you see the products they have for sale. It's absolutely mind boggling.

It's wild. It's very strange. 

I think most doctors who practice medicine and don't work directly for big pharmaceutical companies have never been a fan of that because why should the patients or individual consumers who don't know anything about these medicines be suggesting their own treatments? It doesn't really make sense. But what ultimately has happened is that unfortunately, doctors have only so much time to spend with you and if you're going to spend that time talking about a treatment you saw on TV that you really want and they can prescribe it to you and make you happy and get you out of the office and you could do a trial, and even if there's side effects, people will want that as the outcome because they don't know. They just don't know.

If trauma is radical fear, why can't radical safety reset that? And it turns out that it does.

I can't tell you how many people come to me and regularly ask for prescription medicine that is blatantly harmful to them because they've heard from another person or on TV that could solve their problem. And they just don't realize that that could actually be something that sets off an addiction or dependency or creates some terrible problem that would be actually much worse than what they're struggling with right now.

And so a big part of our job – and we do this a lot with our nonprofit, The Board of Medicine – is how do we educate the medical community, the clinician and treating community, but also the patient community to understand and be empowered like we were talking about earlier, to actually take in all this information and know when they can trust their doctor and their clinician and know when they have to ask the hard questions. 

We want our patients to ask questions, but most doctors don't want their patients to tell them how to practice medicine. As they shouldn't. We should be able to deliver care effectively and we can in most cases, but it creates a lot of challenges.

As a medical professional, the patient believes what you tell them, good or bad. If you could give someone a false positive label that's actually going to give them a better chance of healing, would a medical professional consider that, or are they too worried about liability? Is there a world at some stage where a false positive label is applied?

Like a placebo? It used to be done all the time. One of my colleagues who was an anesthesiologist in the '70s and '80s, they used to call it the placebo. And it worked. Because they're telling somebody it's going to make them better, but it's just sugar water or saline salt water. Can't hurt them but they're in pain, give it to them. They don't actually have a reason for the pain that it's identifiable. They give it to them to get better. Because the mind is a powerful thing. 

This is one of the things that's also most poorly taught in medicine and to the general public, which is that the placebo effect is actually the effect of belief that something will or will not work for us. And it has nothing to do with medicine. It has to do with belief that something, anything, whether it's going for a run, whether it's taking a bath or a shower, whether it's taking a pill, any of those things, it's belief that it will or will not work.

If you believe that something won't work, you can shut it down almost every time. 

And to give you an idea of how powerful the mind is at changing an outcome, you can give people a mental health medication, but you can give people a physical health medication and the placebo effect is thought to be somewhere between 20 and 30% of the effect. The belief in whether it works or not. 20 or 30% of the effect. That jumps up to 30 to 50% for mental health medications. It's even higher when people believe that something won't work, which is called the nocebo effect.

So if you believe that something won't work, you can shut it down almost every time. I've seen people shut down full doses of ketamine. Full doses of ketamine that would knock anyone out for a psychotherapy session that would take anybody into a deep meditative state. I've seen anxious people who just are so uncomfortable with letting go of control of a situation, that they're like, "I don't want it to work." And it doesn't. And they're completely intact conscious the whole time. It's incredible.

I've seen people shut down lots of other medications. I've seen red pills ... And this is one of my favorite studies. Red pills work better than blue pills. They're the same contents! But people believe that red pills mean therapeutic so they’re more likely to be the thing that they're supposed to be making them better and they work better. So yes, this happens. 

The most important thing is how to educate people to understand the power of belief and align your actions with your intentions in the healing process.

With all the stuff that you've just spoken about there, do you have any idea how much of our brains we're actually using or how much we're scratching the surface on what's possible? What can people do to move from the performance they're doing today versus what they could be doing based on their potential?

I love this question, and I generally start all of my patient encounters with new clients, I always start out by asking them, “Is it possible that who you know yourself to be and what you know yourself to be capable of in this life is not the complete story?” Just that simple question. 

All we're asking is whether it’s possible. Can you accept that it could be possible? And almost everyone can say, yes, it's possible. And if you can accept that it's possible that what we've been taught about ourselves, who we are, what we're capable of is not the full story, then it starts to unlock a couple of doors in your brain, in anyone's brain that's like, well, what is the full story? What am I actually capable of? What is this thing they call the unknown about me?

In the healing process, understand the power of belief and align your actions with your intentions.

Then all of a sudden the questions start coming. And so again, it goes back to what we started talking about originally, which is especially important for human potential, for accessing more of ourselves – probably similar to what Einstein said – maybe we're only using 10% of our brains or something like that. 

We are capable of so much more than what we do on a regular basis and what we’re taught that we're capable of. It starts with that simple question asking yourself, “Is what I was taught the full story?” If it's not, if there's any single little tiny part of us that thinks that, hey, maybe it's not the full story, let's figure out what that story is. 

Then that actually leads people down this beautiful journey of what we call self-discovery. Which I would argue is the entire meaning of life and existence, is to figure out what the purpose of us as individuals being here in this world is. It's ironic in some ways or paradoxical. We're here, we want to figure out why we're here.

Maybe the whole point is not to know why, but the why is the process of discovering the why. And then that unlocks your potential because it opens you up to all the possibilities of what you can actually do and be.

I love that.

But how do you help someone else (e.g. spouse, friend, business partner) gather that awareness or start to take that action?

It depends on where people start.

Just leave a red pill on the bench!

Everybody starts in a different place. I think the core of it is really going back to this idea around safety. And when we're afraid, our body physiologically opposes change and learning because anything that is new to us when we're already afraid, or for example, chronically stressed from too much work or too much news, or too much X, Y, Z, everything, emails, et cetera, that puts the body into a state that is very similar evolutionarily going back to the Eric Kandel ancient sea snails model of a predator chasing you in the jungle. 

Our bodies don't know the difference between being chased by a predator and being stuck in traffic in LA. They react physiologically the same way. Heart rate goes up, respiratory rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, our thoughts start to get fast, we start to sweat a little bit.

And being stuck in LA traffic actually feels like you're being chased by a tiger.

It really does at times!

So it's really, really important to train ourselves to remember that we're not under threat. What puts us under actual threat? Being chased by a predator, lack of food, lack of water, lack of air, lack of shelter. Everything else, not actual survival threat. Being excommunicated by our community, yeah, that also could be considered a core survival need. But other than those five things, everything else is considered to be not actually a real threat, not a real survival threat.

We don't want our bodies to react that way where we're taking all our precious resources and sending it to heart, lungs, and skeletal muscle and fear center of the brain when we are supposed to be giving a presentation or hanging out with our children and families or driving in a car and we make irrational decisions and get into an accident. So there's that core system and how that functions is so important to understand because then that helps us to learn that by allowing ourselves to feel safe, the tunnel vision clears. Tunnel vision, narrowing a sensation to just what is right in front of me right now is a core survival, what we call sympathetic fight or flight response.

Is it possible that who you know yourself to be and what you know yourself to be capable of in this life is not the complete story?

Again, not useful. When you're doing regular life stuff or recovery stuff or sleeping or trying to be empathetic or creative. It's really only useful for getting away from a predator or getting to safety. So by doing things that remind ourselves that we're safe, all of a sudden the healing process starts to be able to just get more resources and vagal tone goes up and you talk about that and rest and recovery, nervous system starts to get more blood and resources. Your heart rate comes down, your blood pressure comes down, your thoughts slow down. And then your reproductive system, digestive system, immune system, all of that starts to get what they need to function and then we feel healthy naturally. 

Again, that’s something that just wasn't well taught. But that safety is the core of how we learn new things. And so if we don't feel safe enough to settle down and be present because we're so focused on protecting ourselves from the future or from past threats, then we can't learn new things and the things we try to learn don't stick because our brains are focused on other things.

What should people embed into their daily routine so they can start to implement some of this wellness and health and recovery and healing that you talk about?

So I break it down into six things. It's really four that you can do anytime, anywhere you are, and then two that are really equally important, but usually require you to be in your own space. Not always. 

But they are intentional breathing, intentional listening, listening to music, listening to anything, just tuning in, listening, intentional touch, soothing touch, intentional movement are the first major four of which you can do at any moment. And the reason why these four are so important – breathing, movement, soothing touch, and listening – is because each of those activities reminds us that we are in control. 

They're things that we have control over at any time unless we're actually in a real survival threat situation. So it instantly shows you if you can do those things, if you can stop and take a breath, you can stop and wiggle your arms around or do some stretching, dance, if you can tune your mind away from whatever it is you're doing and listen to something else, or you can touch yourself or give somebody a hug or receive a hug, you're safe instantly.

The source of all anxiety comes from thinking about things we don't have control over. So the antidote is to think about things you do have control over.

Then you can express gratitude for regaining control over your attention, which is the gateway to our consciousness. So you show yourself you're safe by doing a safety control practice, one of those four, and then in any situation, any moment, totally free, most economical healing ever. And then over time, you're retraining your brain to master safety control techniques.

This is another great thing from neuroscience. This is one of my favorite things that I learned through my training and through my work with my patients. The source of all anxiety comes from spending time thinking about things we don't have control over. So what's the antidote to that? Spend time thinking about things you have control over. Movement, touch, listening, breathing. 

Then the last two that are critically important on more of a long-term basis are rest, sleep, and nutrition. What we put into our bodies and how much real recovery time we get, because sleep is like our single most important recovery time.

So by making sure that we prioritize those six things throughout the day, every day, as much as we prioritize practicing this or this or texting or whatever it is that we're doing, watching movies, playing video games, looking at anything on the internet of things, if we prioritize those control safety techniques, then we are building resilience. We're building our emotional muscles. Literally like going to the gym, but you can do it anywhere you go.


You’re reading an excerpt of this interview. To access the full Win the Day episode with Dr. David Rabin, including bonus content that doesn’t appear here, check out the YouTube or podcast version. 🚀


For someone who's dealing with a severe anxiety disorder, would all of those things work for them when applied consistently, or would there be another level of medication or belief that it has to work? Obviously the individual is important, too.

Yeah, it's very individualized. But I think the core of these techniques that's so interesting is that I didn't come up with them. There are things that came from thousands of years of eastern tribal medicine and were echoed by Hippocrates, who you mentioned at the beginning of this show, who is one of my favorite western doctors. The founder of Western Medicine who had so much to teach us. 

So I think the core concept, and again reaffirmed by Eric Kandel's Nobel Prize winning work about how we learn, is that it doesn't matter what level of sick or well you are, these techniques are critically important for managing anxiety. And anxiety is also not good or bad. It's a signal that's telling us to pay attention to something in the environment. If we judge the anxiety and say, "Oh, that's bad, I hate that feeling," then we're not actually taking the time to feel it and understand by feeling it what it's trying to signal to us. 

if we understand that we can feel it safely and process it, then usually within 30 to 60 seconds what is causing that comes to us and the solution therefore also comes to us, which is, okay, I'm thinking about something I can't control. Let's redirect my attention to something I can. Let's take a deep breath. Let's go for a walk. Let's go hug a friend or get a hug from a friend. The solution becomes apparent. Let's solve X problem that is preventing me from feeling safe and in control.

Anxiety is not good or bad. It's a signal that's telling us to pay attention to something in the environment. Take the time to feel it and understand what it's trying to signal to you. 

Of course, some people do benefit from medication, whether it's plant medicines or natural or standard prescription western medications depending on where you are at the spectrum. But the beauty of these techniques is they work for literally every human being because we have so much more in common than we do different. 

And diagnoses are not for you. That's another thing that Hippocrates said: First, do no harm. A diagnosis is not for the patient. It's for us as doctors and clinicians to communicate patterns of illness with each other so that we can figure out how to treat things better. If we tell a person that they have depression or PTSD or whatever illness, especially with mental illness, and the common public understanding is that that illness is a lifelong illness that will never get better or that most people never get better from, we are literally dooming people to identifying with that. It starts to become their identity. But that's not the goal. 

That means that their treatments are going to work less well because they think they're sick forever. If I'm taught by my doctor who I respect that I'm sick forever because they thought they should tell me my diagnosis, then of course my treatments aren't going to work as well. So then you'll have to then spend all this time fixing that, which is what we call illness identity disorder, which is the most common thing that I treat in my practice, other than people who've had really challenging psychedelic trips. 

Then take that and effectively separate identity from what they're actually experiencing so that they know they're not the same.

Your business, Apollo Neuro, is kicking big goals at the moment. What's the problem that you wanted to solve when you launched that business?

Apollo came out of the work that we were just talking about, and Eric Kandel's work really inspired me around stress and how we manage our stress response system and how important safety is. 

What I realized in my practice between starting around 2012 and then moving forward, was that I was working with a lot of veterans, a lot of folks who are amongst the most highly trained humans on the face of the earth and then trained for stress. Then they come back to America and they can't reintegrate or they struggle every day to reintegrate back into society. And many of them tragically take their own lives. 

The suicide rate in veterans is substantially higher than the general public, which is incredibly tragic and avoidable. And so working with these people, I was asking the question, how is it possible that these people who are so highly trained to survive and work in these horrifying situations that none of us would ever normally volunteer to participate in, can't come back to regular calm civilian life? What is going on here? This is so bizarre. 

So I started to study that and pull on those threads. And most of our treatments at that time were also not working. So we're taught to treat PTSD with Paxil, Zoloft, psychotherapy and a few other things. Most people, especially veterans who wind up on those treatment protocols, over 50% don't experience symptom remission long-term. They are actually sick for life. And that was really discouraging for them and for us because we want to make people better and they want to get better, and it wasn't working.

We started to explore, well, the safety idea. And the idea with MDMA-assisted therapy that we talked about earlier, which was extremely influential to me because it was getting better results healing veterans than anything we'd ever seen. I met Rick Doblin in 2016 in person who's the founder of MAPS. And I said, "Rick, your studies are incredibly groundbreaking. It's so inspiring to me as a psychiatrist to see what you've done and these results you're getting with these incredibly ill people. Can I work with you to figure out how this is working? What is the medicine doing to get this effect?" And he wasn't convinced at first that that was important from a resource perspective, but then we talked a little more and he came around and he got me and a few of my colleagues MDMA therapy trained in 2016.

Then we started that trial, the epigenetic trial that published in February. Then we started the Apollo project. And the Apollo project was, if safety is the key to healing, if safety is truly what unlocks this door to healing and recovery, even from things like severe PTSD and veterans, is it possible to give people some of that feeling of safety on the go without a drug like MDMA?

A diagnosis is not for the patient. It's for us as doctors and clinicians to communicate patterns of illness with each other so that we can figure out how to treat things better.

And so asking that question led down this path of exploring everything that makes us feel safe. Holding your furry friend service animal, hugging a loved one, feeling ocean waves wash over you, smelling your mom's chicken soup. All of these feelings are so undeniably pleasing and soothing and safe, and they're almost universal experiences for humans. Almost universal. So as we started to look at those, we realized that soothing touch really came to the top because it is the most highly evolved pathway, hundreds of millions of years old from the oldest mammals that started nursing their young. Before they could communicate with any sounds with their young, they nursed them and touched them and hugged them. And that's how they conveyed safety to their newborns. We still do that today with our babies.

So I thought, well, touch must be more important than we let on for it to be because it's existed for all these hundreds of millions of years in a therapeutic way. What if we could deliver soothing touch to somebody in a wearable? What if we could leverage modern wearable technology to give people that feeling of being calm, present and safe in your own body just like when somebody you love holds your hand or gives you a hug on the go? That might solve a lot of problems for people. 

We started to test that in ourselves and healthy subjects and through studying electricity and sound, and we found that sound was actually the most effective. And it's basically Apollo is what you see me wearing on my chest. You wear it anywhere in your body and it just delivers soothing vibrations to your body. That could be through clothing or on your skin, that induce the ideal breath rhythm that we enter when we meditate, which comes from biofeedback literature, which is about five to seven breaths per minute.

When you send that signal to the body as music or as soothing touch, the body starts to breathe at that rhythm on its own and then it starts to activate vagal tone and recovery and sleep, decreases pain and helps people with severe trauma start to feel safe and recover. This came from my research at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Department of Psychiatry. And as we started to test that more in double-blind randomized placebo controlled crossover studies and then real world trials, people were having basically life-changing experiences where they were going from not being able to work to working. Not being able to sit at the dinner table with their family, to having conversation and holding court at the dinner table with their family. 

It was stuff like I'd never seen before in my entire career from a physical object that you could just hold to your body or wear on your ankle or your wrist or your chest.

Incredible.

It was one of those moments in your career where you've been hoping for it for so long, especially as a researcher. Most research projects fail, and by fail I mean not necessarily total failure. Maybe they're successful and they demonstrate something cool, but they don't necessarily change the way we live. They don't change the way our friends and our communities connect with each other and really change society for the better. And when this happened, we were just like, whoa, this can't actually be real. This has to be placebo. 

Then we went and did these double-blind randomized placebo controlled crossover studies and we found out that in fact it was not placebo. That's how scientific methodology really helps you to go into it is you have to disprove your own bias. And then we showed that people not knowing what they were experiencing, not knowing what vibrations they were getting, their bodies were changing and their cognitive physical performance and recovery were changing with just these soothing vibrations and not placebo vibrations, without the belief involved at all because they didn't know what they were getting.

That was just really incredible. Now full circle where Apollo's a consumer product. It launched in 2020. Anybody can buy it because we wanted to make access to this feeling available to everyone. We are also taking it through FDA trials for PTSD and ADHD and a couple other indications that are in the works. But that's the gist.

Incredible. Obviously well deserved for all the work you've done, but it must be very rewarding to see some of these transformations that are happening. Congratulations.

Thank you. It's very rewarding and we are very tired!

What tips have you got for parents to be able to help develop their kids and equip them to be able to succeed in this world that we're entering?

Well, I think knowing that our children are like sponges basically. So they absorb us as we spend time around them when they're growing up. The most important thing is to know that as a parent. Whether you can remember that effect for yourself as a child, just to remember that our children are like sponges. Their brains are incredibly good at learning things, and they tend to by almost default respect us and look up to us a lot whether they are willing to admit it or not. And so that is just really, really important to understand because if you know that they're hyper, hyper fast learners by default most of the time and that they really respect us, even though they don't always let on that they do, which is challenging in and of itself, but something important to know, then we become their most important role models.

So the best way to teach a child is to role model the behavior under stress or in not stress times. To role model that behavior for the child. If our children see us respond to stress in a self-destructive, hurtful way, and they see that that's something that gives us some subjective benefit or comfort or et cetera, then kids will often take on those behaviors because that's what they see their parents doing and it works. It works for them. And so I think that is one of the best tips. 

Another one that we also don't talk about enough that we touched on a little bit is self-soothing techniques. Discomfort is not a bad thing. Discomfort is an inevitable thing. It's going to happen in your life and hopefully often, but not too often that you're uncomfortable all the time, but often enough that you grow and learn from adapting to the discomfort.

The best way to teach a child is to role model how you respond to the stress in your own life.

If we weren't challenged, we would never grow. Challenge makes us uncomfortable because it's new, and then we have to figure out how to adapt to it and grow from it. So creating safe space for our children, no matter what age they are to be able to feel uncomfortable, and then helping guide them to figure out how to feel comfortable in a situation that previously felt uncomfortable could not be more important for our children's development because it teaches them to self-soothe rather than every time they get upset, grab a phone and start doing this, which is a distraction technique that is actually very disruptive to learning how to soothe yourself.

Because when you grow up and as an older adult, if you could just grab something like a phone and start scrolling on it every time you're feeling upset, then why wouldn't you grab a bottle of booze or why wouldn't you grab a cigarette? They're not that different in the immediacy of the effect, but they are the same in the fact that you're still not solving the problem that was causing your discomfort.

The best thing to teach kids to do is to breathe. Just breathe in for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds. And that's just that simple. Or even if you don't want to worry about time, just fill your lungs as big as you can and then empty your lungs as much as you can. And with each breath, try to fill your lungs just a little bit more and just try to empty your lungs a little more with each exhale. Even if they do that for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, two minutes, and you just gradually increase that as they get older, they will become so much more resilient and high functioning because they're able to tolerate discomfort. 

When we tolerate discomfort, our ability to learn and overcome challenges goes through the roof.

On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?

Carl Rogers, a very famous psychologist, said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Because if you haven't accepted where you are right now, then rather than trying to change, you're just going to spend all your time thinking about why you wish you were somewhere else or why you wish things were different, and that's not actually changing anything. So it's a really funny paradox there.

The best thing to teach kids is to breathe. They will become so much more resilient and high functioning because they're able to tolerate discomfort.

So one of the affirmations that has been really powerful for me is really that everything is as it should be right now. It's this affirmation of acceptance that just reminds me to let my guard down and reminds me to not resist and not fight so much because everything can often seem like a fight. It could seem like a struggle. But sometimes it's really just as simple as reminding ourselves that everything's as it should be. As hard as it seems, as painful as it seems, as uncomfortable as it seems, everything's as it should be, and I'm going to figure out how to get through this.

I'm going to figure out how to take what I know is happening and make a change based on what I know, not spend all my precious human resources thinking about how I wish things were different. I'm actually going to change based on what I know them to be. 

So it's also like a call for being proactive in the future as well about the situation that you find yourself in.

Exactly.

I'm here. I can do something about it now.

Right. Because all our power really lies in the present. It's ancient Buddhist teaching as well, is that all of our power lies in the present. If we spend our time thinking about the past or thinking about the future, then we're not present. And if we're not present, we can't actually be intentional with our energy because we're not here now. We're somewhere else.

Final question – what's one thing you do to Win the Day?

One thing I do to win the day is to wake up reminding myself of how grateful I am to have another shot at another day.

What a pleasure, my friend. Thanks so much for coming on the show.

Thanks so much for having me. This was great.


Final steps to Win the Day...

💕 Share the love:

I hope you enjoyed that interview!

As you heard, our guests love to hear positive feedback, no matter where they’re at in their careers. Share a comment on the YouTube version of this episode with your favorite takeaway so our guest knows they made a difference in your life today.

Also, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one out there who needs to hear this episode – or could use some help to Win the Day – share it with them right now.

🤗 Subscribe to the Win the Day podcast:

If you’re new to the Win the Day show, hit the subscribe / follow button so you can get access to episodes like this one as soon as they are released.

The Win the Day podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Google, Audible, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

🙋‍♀️ Join the Win the Day movement:

We’ve created a safe space for the Win the Day tribe to connect with each other, share ideas, and upgrade their mindset. You’ll also receive access to content that you won’t find anywhere else.

Join the Win the Day Facebook group


That’s all for this episode! Get out there and win the day.

Until next time…

Onward and upward always,

James Whittaker

PS - If you have a question and want it featured on the Win the Day podcast, email your question (in writing or as an audio message) to: info@jameswhitt.com


Resources / links mentioned:

⚡ Dr. David Rabin website

⚡ Apollo Neuro website

📝 Dr. David Rabin LinkedIn

📷 Dr. David Rabin Instagram

🎬 Subscribe to Win the Day YouTube channel

💚 Give the Win the Day podcast a 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts

🙏 Give the Win the Day podcast a 5-star rating on Spotify

💕 Win the Day Facebook group

Back to Newsletters >

Ready to win the day®?

Get actionable tips from James and the world's leading experts. Delivered to your inbox every two weeks ?
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram