In this episode, Dr. Julie Lopez, author of Live Empowered, breaks down how to rewire your brain. Specifically, your implicit memory, which are the past experiences you can’t recall but that remain stored deep in your subconscious mind.
If you’ve ever noticed these invisible barriers that seem to hold you back from making desired changes, either in your business or in love or just in life, this is definitely the episode for you. These road blocks might seem like minor things or they might seem insurmountable. But with the approach that Dr. Julie Lopez specializes in, you can get past those roadblocks by hacking into the regions of your mind that influence your daily life.
This episode is really perfect for people who are super motivated and have tried different forms of therapy, they understand on an intellectual level what’s getting in their way but on a physical and emotional level, they’re not quite there yet. Without further ado, here is our conversation with Dr. Julie Lopez.
Dr. Julie Lopez: Twenty-five years ago, when I was fairly new to living on my own, I was cooking with oil and a grease fire started. Because I was pretty inexperienced, I threw water on this fire and the fire exploded and the kitchen caught on fire. In that moment, I was completely terrified, and I ran out of the house because I did not know what was going to happen, I kind of calmed down.
Went back in because the whole house hadn’t exploded, it was just the kitchen on fire. I went back in and I managed to mostly put the fire out, called the landlords, called my roommates and all that stuff. But for kind of a long time afterwards, when people—and one in particular, one teasing me when I was at the gym, kind of telling him about what had happened, in a good natured way, I was pretty cross with him. I lost my temper and actually it made me tear up a bit.
I was frustrated with that because I hadn’t died, the house hadn’t burned down, it was mildly inconvenient, we had to do some repairs. I was obviously through it, he meant nothing wrong by it, but I was really reactive when he was being playful.
It was frustrating because of all the things I just mentioned, it didn’t make sense. It didn’t make logical sense to me, and I was being kind of mean.
One of the things that was really major for me, and this was during a time before I went back to school, I was working as an engineer but I had been in therapy. I told my therapist I was frustrated.
“He suggested I try something that sounded crazy to me.”
It’s something that’s a brain-based therapy, which I know very well now. This brain-based therapy is called EMDR.
I tried it, and in one session, he did some kind of interesting things. I had to follow something with my eyes, and there wasn’t a lot of talking. But what did happen is that from that moment forward, from one session, I no longer had any other reactions to this fire I had been in that had really distressed me.
If someone teased me about it, I was actually fine. The things in my body that had been reacting—like the fear and my throat closing up and being agitated—totally went away. I thought it was pretty cool because I have had many other times in my life where I’ve known something logically but could not perform physically because I was having a reaction.
That really was the beginning of my introduction to this whole world. That works with a different part of our brain that holds kind of data that tells our bodies how to act, and it’s stored in our unconscious called implicit memory. What’s been really cool about it is seeing how realities can really shift when you get to the brain center where the messaging is actually stored.
Charlie Hoehn: What is EMDR? What does that stand for?
Dr. Julie Lopez: It stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which is why most people just call it EMDR. The founder is Francine Shapiro. It’s a whole theoretical orientation with eight different steps to it, but it uses bilateral stimulation of the brain, the right and left side of your brain.
It’s no longer just limited to the eyes, that’s what she used initially when she was doing her beginning research, but you can use sound. So you can stimulate the brain on the right and left side simultaneously with sound. You can use tactile, there are these tappers. This is all done with equipment, but this bilateral stimulation helps to open up neural pathways in your brain that control the messaging to the rest of your body.
Opening Up the Subconscious
Charlie Hoehn: It stimulates your senses on both sides of your body, and because of that, the pathways that may have been previously closed off start to open up again?
Dr. Julie Lopez: I don’t want to get too geeky because the thing that I worked on really hard with my book was to be able to tell things in a very relatable way.
I actually had one of my early reviewers say, “Wow, I thought I was doing you a favor to do this book review and read through it, but I didn’t know it was going to be such a page turner.” That meant a lot to me because he’s not a clinician. He’s actually a very successful international business person, and he said, “This was very easy for me to read, it was very relatable.”
Coincidentally, the story I just told about the terror that happened for me in the moment when the explosion happened and flames happened, actually did ignite a very primitive part of my brain.
“You’re going to die—let’s kick it into high gear to do what you need to do to get out of it.”
It encoded a message in my brain, and it basically said fire equals die, right? It’s very primitive. So when my friend was teasing me about the fire, I reacted like I was going to die and that he was making fun of my death moment. I didn’t think that at all. The frontal lobe of my brain did not think that, but a different part of my system already had a different code in it.
For this particular one, most of the things that are stored in implicit memory happened with the hippocampus, and the amygdala is a part of the limbic system, which is what I was referring to. I feel like sometimes when I bring all these terms up that I lose people, but if you want to talk about it and get specific, the amygdala is part of your limbic system. That’s what happened for me, but with implicit memory, obviously I remembered the fire, but there were other messages that weren’t in words that were telling my system what to do.
I go more into details in the book about implicit memory, there are three basic arms…It’s basically telling my heard to beat faster, my throat to close up, the tears, I would get teary with this guy and he’s like, “What is wrong with you?”
He didn’t say that but I could tell by the way he was talking to me. Plus I had been kind of mean and so the messaging to the rest of my body was telling the rest of my body to do other things, you know? You don’t consciously tell your eyes to well up with tears. They do because you have a sensation. Just like your limbic system, we’ve all heard the awesome stories when there’s a real threat to survival and people get extremely strong. Well, why is that?
They’re not that strong at that moment, but all the blood rushes to their limbs because a part of the brain kicks in and says, “Your friend’s going to die. They’re trapped under this car, and you’re going to pick the car up.”
You could never do that without all of your adrenaline kicking in to do some pretty incredible things. We’re programmed to survive. We are telling our bodies to do that, our bodies do it naturally. I’m talking about how to very specifically recode our implicit memory to have it optimized for what we want in our present day life.
Charlie Hoehn: I’m curious with the instance of the grease fire and your friend sort of playfully teasing you and getting the strong emotional reaction. Had you struggled with that reaction for years or had this been the first time you’d really encountered this emotional reaction that you had?
Dr. Julie Lopez: Have I ever felt sensitive about something, like someone could tease me about? Yes. I mean, typically, I joke around with people. Like sometimes, especially now with my work where it’s super intense, I’ve pretty much been able to roll with difficult things. This one tapped into a life or death experience for me. It wasn’t that I’d had a history with it. It’s that only the week prior, this thing had happened and got encoded in that moment.
“Trauma encodes an image of the worst part of it.”
If you’ve ever had something happen where you’re just frozen—it happened 10 years ago, five years ago, you had to put your dog down or you lost a family member or you witnessed an accident or you were in an accident. Even though time has chronologically passed, some of those experiences can be frozen in our system, and then we react off of them if they’re triggered.
He was triggering me by bringing it up and bringing it up in a way that is making light of something that to me was encoded as something really serious. Not in my frontal lobe, right? I didn’t even think, I was like yeah, I made it through no big deal. But the reaction right away was tapping into that life or death feeling I associated with it.
Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the more common causes of these traumas that you see when you work with clients now? What are the common things that you’re helping people work through?
Dr. Julie Lopez: The book kind of has a nice array of different texts and examples. It’s very goal focused, it’s more present-day focused. I might be working with someone who wants to be able to be more social and go out more…she came in because she had some social anxiety and she had struggled with anxiety for a lot of her life and tended to be a bit perfectionistic.
She came in and we identified and broke down what her goals were and how we would actually measure what they changed.
This is the type of goal, underneath what was causing the anxiety were some very early distressing experiences. Experiences she did not remember but she had been told by her parents that she had gone through them before the age of two.
She had some trauma in her biological family, which caused her to have to be removed from her home. So she’d had some really rough beginnings and environments that were not ideal for like a little kid.
Again, she didn’t consciously remember it, and this is where the hippocampus comes in because it’s not fully formed till like you’re three or four. It doesn’t time stamp experiences, and it doesn’t hold chronological memory.
I wouldn’t have even known this or gotten into it so much if we weren’t using a brain-based approach, which is nonverbal.
“We did the processing and we changed the coding in her system.”
The beautiful thing about doing this type of work is it’s usually not very long term. I only worked with her for about three months. Not only did all of her anxiety go away—she didn’t like social environments because she felt like she couldn’t control what was going on and that she shouldn’t think this. She felt like she might be in danger. So not only did all of her anxiety symptoms go down…but she had psoriasis. It is an inflammatory skin condition that had been medically treated for over 30 years, and it completely went away.
That was really cool, because we’re one system but we tend to think of it separately—like physical health, mental health, you know, these different aspects of wellbeing.
But it’s all integrated, so it was really cool. Frankly, she was like, “My dermatologist wants to talk to you, she cannot believe what she is seeing.” I am not a dermatologist, and she did not come to me saying, “I want my psoriasis to go away,” but it did after we did the work. It was super cool.
Success with EMDR
Charlie Hoehn: What kind of success rate do people tend to see with EMDR?
Dr. Julie Lopez: Well I couldn’t tell you the exact statistic. There has been a lot of research done on it. I can tell you for me with my clients it is very high, but part of that is that I am very careful about selecting the type of treatment that might be best for them and making sure that we don’t jump into the full protocol until they’re ready.
So some people come ready, and this is going to get pretty complicated pretty fast, but some people come ready. Some people might not be so ready for different reasons. They might have some pretty significant issues with trust, they might have lower resources around being able to shift from one emotion to the other. All of these things when you are in a state where you’re going into the different parts of the brain can make it hard for someone to follow the process. Not because there’s something wrong with them. They just might need to build up some resources.
They’re not quite ready, and because they’re not controlling what’s happening or this is just not going to happen, then I won’t suggest it. I am very candid with my clients. I tell them what’s happening and we will work to build that until they’re ready.
Charlie Hoehn: So who is an ideal candidate for you?
Dr. Julie Lopez: Okay, so an ideal client for me honestly is someone that’s really motivate. Maybe because of where I am in Washington DC, or maybe because of some of the networks because I have this big center, certain people ask for me specifically. My ideal client is someone who is very motivated. They’re motivated because they’ve tried a bunch of other things and they’re really frustrated that they haven’t gotten the results they wanted. Or they’re frustrated that they understand intellectually every aspect of what’s getting in their way with job performance or relationship struggles or what have you, and they’re not making that progress that they want.
I love that because I think what really motivated me to write the book is the number of people that I have met in my personal and professional life who legitimately do not understand that at that moment—where they feel like they’re backed into a corner and there really are not other options. They have checked the check box of all the things that they need to try to move forward or to have success in what they want for their life, and they realize and they’ve come in contact with a whole other set of opportunities to make change and I love that. That’s the type of client I like.
“Honestly, a lot of times these clients are learners.”
They have come across this because they have researched it on the internet. Or they’re very motivated to have the life that they want to live.
So that is my favorite type of client, but to be honest, it’s so gratifying just to see people in the reality that they didn’t realize even existed, right? I do tell a lot of stories in the book about pretty drastic changes that happened for people, but it is the way they actually feel in their bodies.
Results and Healing
Charlie Hoehn: Within three months is when you tend to deliver results with them, right?
Dr. Julie Lopez: It depends on the person. It’s been less than that, it’s been more than that. I actually had a client who was in a plane crash. It was a professional trip and she had to travel for work. She had a very prestigious job. She survived the crash, blacked out during the midst of it, had a pretty significant back injury but survived. She did her physical therapy for her back but could not get on a plane. She actually couldn’t really tolerate even being in an airport.
Because if she heard the sounds that had become encoded in this part of her brain and her implicit memory, she would have a full on panic attack and would be immobilized.
She had worked extremely hard to be where she was and her job required travel. So she was referred by another therapist as the best way to do the brain based work, and she was really working hard not to have to get on a plane. She would take a train across the country, but some of her flights were international.
“It was not sustainable.”
I always do some preparatory sessions. I do a few follow ups just to get them into the groove of how to integrate the work that we have done but we only had maybe three sessions of the actual brain-based work. She was fine to get on the plane, no problem, and that is pretty awesome.
Now, this was an adult trauma, single incident. She had no significant family of origin kind of disappointment, neglect or any of that type of thing.
I do end up seeing a lot of clients who come from affluent families. What the picture looks like is a white picket fence, mom and dad, everything like the way you see in a storybook, but their actual childhood was one where they were pretty neglected. The parents were working, no one was around, didn’t really get a lot of their emotional needs met. So that is an interesting one. I am a trauma specialist, but you see some of the same symptoms. Something that society says it’s fine because it all looks fine on the outside, but it is not actually really fine on the inside.
I really like working with those clients too because they’re puzzled or they often times feel like they’re broken, like there’s something wrong with them if they’re having struggles with relationships or having struggles with public speaking or things like that.
More about Live Empowered
Charlie Hoehn: Is there anything else that you want to touch upon that they might get excited about and get them off the fence to go buy your book?
Dr. Julie Lopez: What I really am proud of is that there is a really nice appendix on the back. You asked me specifically about one of many types of brain-based therapies and there are many types of body-based therapies that also are effective at getting into some of those codes that are stored in implicit memory. There is a full appendix with lots of websites.
That is built to empower the reader to say, “Hey reader, things aren’t what they seem and there is a whole other world out there. Let me empower you with a little bit of brain-based anatomy.” So just to give the reader language and the ability to ask for what they want, in the conclusion there’s specific things to ask someone who provides one of these different types of modalities. The table is pretty expansive.
In one of my chapters I actually break down a methodology that I developed for people to discover what is actually coded in their implicit memory, which sounds pretty simple, but it’s not because it’s in your unconscious.
So it is very hard to do on your own, but in one of these chapters it actually breaks down this four part methodology called packs, so that the reader can do this on their own. Not to recode it, but to actually identify what might be in there, and it’s a wild process. Often times once they hear it and they sit with what the code might be, they’re like, “Wow, yeah that makes a lot of sense.” It’s not something typically that they would come up with on their own, because they’re sitting there going, “Why can’t I do this? Why is this not working out? Why do I still struggle with drugs or eating or avoidance?”
I work with a lot of people who want love in their life or want relationships, but they themselves sabotage it and they are very puzzled about why they would do that. Because if you ask them, “Do you want this?” They’re like, “Heck yeah, I totally want this.”
Yeah and so, that’s why the title ended up being Live Empowered, because many, many empowerment movements in our history begin with the idea of seeing what is not visible—the subtle things that keep us held back. So the whole book is designed to empower people.
Connect with Dr. Julie Lopez
Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you, to follow you, to potentially even work with you?
Dr. Julie Lopez: So let’s see, well my center in Washington is www.vivapartnership.com, that’s Viva. More information about my speaking and training and this workshops that I do and facilitation can be found at drjulielopez.com.
I will tell you a personal favorite of mine, this isn’t necessarily helping any listener find me, but we recently developed a free online mental health resource called The Resilient Brain Project, and that is where you can find it. It is 100% free, and it is built to empower the user through apps and blogs and information.
Here now information is scientific information, groups where they can connect and feel normal around struggles that they might be having and it’s also for allies like family and friends.
“I am really proud of it.”
It is a personal love offering project that I’d love to see getting out to the world because it is free.
I do retreats, not a lot of retreats. I get asked to come in and facilitate other people’s retreats and then I have an annual retreat in the dead of winter in Washington DC. It gets very cold—yesterday it was 12 degrees here, and in another week I’ll be heading out to the Caribbean. Off to an island with a group of women to work together for a week, I love it.
Charlie Hoehn: Excellent. What is the one thing listeners can do this week from your book that will have a positive impact on their lives?
Julie Lopez: So what I would say is to actually go to that site,The Resilient Brain Project, and take a look at one of the topics that you might struggle with right now. If you just look at one you will realize there’s a way out of it.