The Chris Voss Show Podcast – In this podcast episode, I was an invited guest and I was pleased to talk about my life as a medical practitioner, my battle with Crohn’s disease, and my journey into the acupuncture treatment industry. Listen to the full podcast here or read the video transcription below.
The Chris Voss Show Podcast is rated Top 1% most popular shows out of 3,131,148 podcasts globally for 14+ years and 1500+ episodes. It’s led and hosted by Chris Voss, featuring great guests such as CEO’s, US Ambassadors, White House Presidential Advisers, FBI, US Justice Dept, Astronauts, TV & Print Pulitzer Prize Journalists, and more.
Chris Voss: We have an amazing gentleman on the show. He’s the author of several books. His latest book is Stick It To Depression: Get Back Your Life Naturally which came out April 13, 2021.
Dr. Alexander Joannou, who is on the show with us today, is going to be talking to us about his latest book and everything that went into it.
He is the founder of Transformational Acupuncture. He’s a conjoint lecturer with UNSW and an RACGP-accredited supervisor. He’s been training medical students, international medical graduates, and general practice registrars for more than 20 years to help people achieve that true feeling of peace that comes with healing. Healing is always good. I don’t like the pain of injury. I’m 55 so there’s a lot of damage that needs healing.
He’s learned about the human psyche during his 40-year medical career as the practice principal of Northside Health, a 12-doctor medical center. His practice has led him to additional training and nutritional and environmental medicine, counseling, and cognitive behavior therapy – sounds like something I need – And together with over 300,000 patient consultations, including performing over 35,000 acupuncture treatments, He’s witnessed firsthand the complex interrelationship between the mind the body and spirit. Welcome to the show, Doctor, how are you?
Dr. Alex: Very well. Thanks, Chris.
Chris: There you go. All the way from Australia. Is that correct, sir?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, just outside of Sydney, a place called Coffs Harbour.
Chris: There you go. As they like to say, “the down under.” Where does the down under come from? Why do they call it the “Down Under”?
Dr. Alex: You have to look at a globe of the world I guess.
Chris: Is it kind of rude that we always assume that North America is up here and Australia is down here? Maybe it’s the other way. Maybe if you flip it the other way, you know?
Dr. Alex: We’ll be on top of the world then.
Chris: Exactly, and that may explain the Tim Tams that you guys have. Anyway, give us your .com so people can find you on the interwebs please, sir.
Dr. Alex: It’s stickittodepression.com.
Chris: There you go. It’s very easy to remember, Stick It To Depression. What motivated you to want to write this book? Give us a 30,000 overview of the book and what you do.
Dr. Alex: Well, it’s a long story, but I’ve been a GP and a family physician for 40 years now. It all started when I was trained at Sydney University, and I thought I understood how the body works and so forth because I excelled in my studies there. After about 15 years, I developed Crohn’s disease. For those who don’t know, it’s quite a nasty disease of the bowel or the small intestine. Within a week of diagnosis, I had to have two feet of intestine cut out, I had two four-inch abscesses in my abdomen.
I had lost 20 kilos in the process. I wasn’t feeling so well. But I asked the surgeon just before discharge from the hospital, “What diet should I follow?” He said, “Eat anything you like, you’re cured.” The trouble was within six weeks of the operation. I started getting symptoms of Crohn’s disease again.
That really spurred me into looking at alternative therapies which was a journey through looking at mega doses of vitamins and various herbs, and ultimately acupuncture.
Chris: Was the alternative them taking out more of the bowel?
Dr. Alex: Yes, I was threatened about a year later with further surgery. When I got to that stage, I did shiatsu therapy which is an acupressure treatment. Within the first session, my symptoms disappeared, which blew my mind.
Chris: Wow. And that was under acupressure, and then you discovered acupuncture?
Dr. Alex: Yeah. So that was back in about ‘96. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve been well ever since.
Chris: Wow, that is awesome. Have you found that you’ve been able to help other people who have similar sort of traits?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris: Wow. That’s crazy.
Dr. Alex: Yes, I’m not on any medication for it anymore. I haven’t been on any medication for over 20 years.
Chris: 20 years for acupuncture. Wow. So would you say that most of your patients are walking around you on pins and needles? Sorry– I had to make that joke!
Talk to me about this book and what’s inside of it. You have two books and my understanding is one book is “Stick It To Depression: Another Tool In Your Doctor’s Bag” was targeted towards people in the medical field.
Dr. Alex: Yeah, to help them understand how acupuncture can help their patients.
Chris: And this [“Stick It To Depression: Get Your Life Back, Naturally] was kind of more for the general public?
Dr. Alex: Yes, I’ve been told it’s quite readable. It’s about how we came across acupuncture as a help. I first learned acupuncture in about 1998, but it was around 2010 when I came across a method of acupuncture that helps the mental state. I realized that that ultimately was where the real power lies. It’s easy to try and paper over problems by making you feel better in terms of the symptoms of whatever problem you’ve gotten. But the deeper level of healing, which you spoke about, comes at a much deeper level of mind, body, and spirit. And I found that acupuncture was doing it.
I’ve been telling my wife for some time, who’s also a medical doctor in the practice, that a lot of the patients who were treated for whatever medical problem they had said that they felt a whole lot better and that they weren’t having arguments at home and problems at work wasn’t getting to them. So my wife kept telling me I should look into this and sort out what was going on. So it works. I didn’t know how to prove it works but I know it works. So, like most guys, I ignored my wife’s advice.
But then I had one particular patient who was seeing me, she was in her early 60s, for osteoarthritis and arthritis that got bad enough that another doctor in the practice put her on Opioids and oxycontin. She didn’t want to be on that, because as you know those are really quite addictive and it tends to dull the mind. Within three weeks of starting the acupuncture on her, she was able to get off those. And that was really good. We kept going to see how long we could do it and how good we could really get her feeling. After she had been having acupuncture for about a month or two, she asked if she could stop her antidepressants. Apparently, she had been taking antidepressants for 16 years.
I thought, well, I assessed her from the medical viewpoints and demonstrated with the DASS – which is a depression, anxiety, stress score – that she wasn’t actually depressed at the time, so gradually we withdrew her antidepressants. And then she was fine. Not only fine, she said that she felt a sense of joy and happiness.
It was particularly typified by one incident. It was just approaching Christmas and some Christmas carolers came to her door and started singing Christmas carols. She burst into tears, but it was tears of joy and happiness because she could really feel the joy in her heart. She said she hadn’t felt that for so many years and that she had been sort of in a numb state.
Chris: Wow. So you find it helps depression a lot; in the book you target depression.
Dr. Alex: Yeah. That was where I thought, okay, this is meeting a real need because antidepressants can help severe depression but there’s still no evidence that it really helps mild to moderate depression, which is what the vast majority of people have.
It works basically by tending to numb the emotions, which is really good if you’re severely depressed. It tends to decrease that depressed feeling. But on the other hand, it tends to inhibit laughter, joy, and exuberance.
Chris: So it does take a lot of sessions to break through that, you said, with your Crohn’s?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, that’s right. Within eight weeks, just treating once a week, most people feel better. Some people feel extremely good in that time. It’s usually by the end of the eight weeks, you’ll know if it’s gonna work for you or not. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been on antidepressants for years or whether you haven’t been on any antidepressants, it still seems to work.
Chris: Acupressure or acupuncture has probably been around for eons of time isn’t it, to my understanding?
Dr. Alex: Yeah about 3000 years.
Chris: It’s probably one of those things that must work since it’s been around forever. It’s kind of like stoicism or old wisdom.
Dr. Alex: Yeah.
Chris: I mean, I used to deal with depression with vodka, but that didn’t–
Dr. Alex: Yes, well, that has problems in itself.
Chris: That’s been around for eons of time as well.
Dr. Alex: The side effects of that are much worse.
Chris: That’s very true. I totally agree with you. So you delve into this medicinal art. Some people’s perception is that it feels or looks like it hurts, and I’m one of those.
Dr. Alex: Yeah, I understand that.
Chris: I’m one of those people who’s not into needles.
Dr. Alex: It’s amazing. Because I’m a doctor, I see people who wouldn’t normally go to an acupuncturist and I sort of have a discussion with them and talk them into trying it. And I say, well, let me just put one needle in and see how you go. And then as soon as I put it in, they say, oh, is that all there is to it? That’s a big surprise for people because it looks far worse than it feels. A lot of people fall asleep during the treatment.
Chris: You found this really works well in healing people and getting people engaged in overcoming it. Why do you think it’s better? This is gonna seem obvious, but I want to hear your words on this. Why is it better for acupuncture to be used over Western medicine where we just throw in drugs?
Dr. Alex: Of course, it can be used together. But the big advantage of acupuncture is it helps shift blocked emotions. People seem to store emotions in their bodies. And under Chinese theory, it’s quite acceptable that various organs are associated with various emotions. Like sadness and grief are stored in the lungs. Anger and frustration are stored in the liver. If you work on those points, you can release those emotions. What we tend to do in the West is suppress our emotions. We don’t want to express things because we’re told it’s naughty to do that. It starts back in childhood when you’re taught to suppress your emotions.
Chris: I was just gonna say, too. When my vodka drinking was going on, there was a lot of anger stored in my [liver] but is that where the chakras are what you were talking about there?
Dr. Alex: Yeah. Well, that’s because the chakra system was developed by the Hindus, which is in India, and parallel with the Chinese system in Jaya. There didn’t seem to be any real communication between the two systems of medicine over the 3000 years. Back in 1997, an acupuncturist recognized that certain acupuncture points correspond to various chakras. And therefore, you can manipulate chakra energy through acupuncture.
Chris: So you do two lanes, you’ve got the book that tries to help the general public be aware of acupuncturists and stuff. Can the general public interact with different variations on your website and offerings there?
Dr. Alex: Yes, if they click on the “Start Here” button, they can communicate directly with me.
Chris: There you go. And then you also have a thing for practitioners to be able to adapt and learn this sort of system.
Dr. Alex: Yeah if you’re already an acupuncturist, it’s quite easy to pick up the system. I now teach it online as a weekly session. And by the end of even the first night’s session, they can go out and treat somebody straight away.
Chris: Can you treat yourself with acupuncture?
Dr. Alex: That’s a bit tricky. I had been known to, when I played on the soccer field to pull out some needles, to my knee or something.
Chris: I know the older you get, the more you have different pains and different things, and it’s interesting how the body works. Decades ago, I used to have to go into massage every weekend. I was running a lot of companies and there was a lot of stress. I had to go have a two-hour massage. And if I didn’t get that two-hour massage, they would explain the chakras to me. They tell me, you’re going to be a bear for the rest of the week and be angry, miserable, and stressed out, which is pretty much my current condition at all times. So this is pretty interesting.
What are some misnomers or myths that people have about needles other than the fact that you know, there are needles involved?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, that is a big factor for a lot of people. But as I say, just try it. One needle and you’ll be convinced it’s nothing like you’re expecting. The needle itself is blunt on the end. It’s rounded and fine as a human hair so when you insert the needle, it tends to push blood vessels and nerves to one side or the other. This is why you can leave the needle in for 40 minutes, take it out, and there’s no bleeding.
Chris: Ah, so it’s not like we’re stabbing people to death, and they’re just gonna know–
Dr. Alex: No. If you have a blood test or a vaccine, for example, then the needle has a beveled edge. It’s sort of beveled sharp, so it cuts through the tissue.
Chris: You counsel these practitioners on how to do it better now, is there a specialized method you do that’s different than what maybe other people do in the field?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, it is based on chakra energy and I have developed a questionnaire to assess which chakras the person has issues with. From that, I use various combinations of needles in the form of a pattern of sacred geometry to trigger the chakra into shifting.
Chris: So people can add this to their current lineup of maybe health resources. Do you find that a lot of people who come to you are people working in the holistic area or medical staff?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, I’ve helped a lot of massage therapists and other medical doctors as well. The medical students that come to my practice, usually get offered a session to just experience it for themselves.
Chris: Are you doing a lot of online teaching? You know, we’re in this COVID world where everything is done online.
Dr. Alex: Yes, if you go to my website, there are the details there.
Chris: Do you do any localized thing where people fly out to you there in Australia?
Dr. Alex: In Coffs Harbour… But on our website, I’m developing a list of practitioners who’ve studied under me. It’s a list of certified practitioners. So hopefully, we’ll get somebody in your area soon.
Chris: There you go. I need as much acupuncture as I possibly can. Here around the house, we don’t have acupuncture close by so I just use a hammer in the head. That seems to be working for a while, I don’t know, I can’t feel my legs.
Dr. Alex: I was just gonna say it will make you forget about everything else.
Chris: That’s true. My psychiatrist is recommending the frontal lobotomy. So I think that’s what we’re doing next week. So when people see me smiling on the show and drooling down the side of my mouth, well, it’d be like the last 15 years of the show.
When you help people with depression, do you find there’s any certain thing that you help people with, like any certain target of depression that helps the most? Or does it help all the different variations of depression? I know there’s ADHD and more.
Dr. Alex: It’s more in the mild to moderate range. I have treated some patients with severe depression, who have improved quite dramatically, but it does take a lot longer. It takes some sort of commitment. But also it helps people with PTSD and various phobias, like claustrophobia, agraphobia, that sort of thing.
Chris: Now, if I have a phobia against needles, it probably helps fix that phobia for me?
Dr. Alex: Well, once you have the needle and think, oh, it’s not that–
Chris: That’s what the nurse keeps telling me every time I get the vaccine, but I don’t know.
Dr. Alex: No, It’s much, much less painful than that.
Chris: It’s like jamming and all in there in the doctor’s office… you just give me a little pinprick. So, there you go. But that’s interesting PTSD. We’ve had a lot of people on the show who suffered PTSD from the military. There’s talk amongst psychologists that people experience PTSD with childhood trauma or trauma that happens in their life that can really shock the brain and stuff. So you find that [acupuncture] will help release that and deal with it?
So it’s really based on that science of, we store a lot of pain in the body and a lot of our mental pain in the body?
Dr. Alex: Yes, absolutely.
Chris: This is amazing. I mean, especially when you had Crohn’s disease, and you got over it. Any other diseases that you found that you’ve helped overcome, or maybe improve the condition of the patient?
Dr. Alex: Yeah, asthma and hay fever.
Chris: Really, asthma too wow, holy crap. My mom suffers from really bad asthma. That would be ideal. I know some people who have asthma, and they usually have some trauma from their childhood. They say that sometimes people with asthma, they have overbearing parents who are just really micromanagers, overbearing, put a lot of fear into the child. And so the child ends up with a lot of anxiety that turns into asthma… that’s at least some theories that I’ve heard.
I remember growing up with one of our Boy Scouts that was in my troop who had really bad asthma, and he had the sort of parents who would never let him out of the house, they barely had him come out to the Boy Scouts with us and they controlled everything he did and how he did it. He was terrorized to do just about anything. Then he told us he had asthma we’re like, yeah, you probably have high anxiety. Somehow, we knew that at the time. I don’t know, we were just kind of aware of it, even though it was the 70s.
And so you know, that kind of makes sense. People store anxieties, maybe in the body too?
Dr. Alex: A large part of it has to do with the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. If you’re constantly in a state of fear or fight or flight type thing, the sympathetic nerves are firing in excess. It’s the parasympathetic nervous system that enables you to relax, whereas the sympathetic nervous system is all about preparing you to run away or fight.
Literally within three seconds of a scare, like if some guys coming up with clubs are threatening to hit you, your liver releases clotting factors to help your blood clot quicker so that if you’re cut or bleeding, the bleeding stops quicker. And your blood pressure jumps up because it’s pumping extra blood to the muscles carrying oxygen and nutrients that have muscles to help you run or fight. It tends to shut down the signals to the stomach and intestine. The reproductive system switches off because that’s the last thing you want to be thinking about when you’re confronted by an angry mob.
Chris: Yeah, you don’t want to be sitting there and going, I wonder if I should do something about this angry mob or this crazy guy coming up at me.
Dr. Alex: Yeah, you just got to act and, that’s what it’s designed for. As soon as the emergency is over, the sympathetic nerves switch off. But the thing is, nowadays, you get stuck in a traffic jam, and you’re tooting the horn, [like when] I went to New York recently, and I couldn’t believe how much people are blowing their horns and nobody’s moving, but they’re all taken away on their horns. That just raises everybody’s blood pressure and gets the sympathetic nerves going. You think you’re gonna be late for work or you haven’t finished or met your targets or whatever. And so if your blood pressure is constantly elevated, and the clotting factors are constantly being released, then you’re more likely to get a stroke or a heart attack, for example.
Chris: You know, that makes sense. We saw that with the COVID crisis, and the fact that there was so much inflammation in the body where the body was trying to fight off the virus and we don’t have a blueprint yet on how to deal with this new virus. It was over-inflaming the body. And by over-inflaming, it was damaging organs. It’s a response for your body to defend itself.
It can go overboard. We see that with ADHD, or you’ve got too many things going on in your brain, it overloads the brain. I was just recently reading David Goggins’s second book, and he was talking about how at one point he got pulmonary edema. It’s a condition where the fluid builds up in the lungs. It happens a lot with people like him who are Navy SEALs. In fact, many died during training because of it. The training is so grueling. What they do in the water. It’s very hard the hell week they go through to become navy seals in the US. There are people who will literally die in the training because they’ll get these lung diseases, pulmonary edema. He finds that a lot of seals will have these issues throughout their lifetime, like issues with their knees, because they’re just overworking the body. So that makes sense.
Dr. Alex: Yeah, definitely. Part of the training that I teach acupuncturists is certain points that can help switch off the sympathetic nerves and switch on the parasympathetic nerves. So most people leave their treatment feeling a lot more relaxed and calmer than when they walk in. So the effect can be that quick.
Chris: There you go. So in many ways, people can heal, and everything else. So I guess you’d recommend people pick up your book and then maybe try and find a local practitioner. Is there a way that people can look up a directory of folks that have worked with you?
Dr. Alex: As I said it’s on my website a list of certified practitioners.
Chris: Okay, so that you can find a local practitioner who has worked with your method, and then see if you can utilize them and all that good stuff. And you will keep adding to the website as things go. So what’s the best way people can onboard with you to get to know you better and reach out to you?
Dr. Alex: Just click on the start here [on my website] or I’ll reply to their email.
Chris: There you go. So what haven’t we covered that we should talk about that we haven’t touched on?
Dr. Alex: There’s a million things, I guess. One thing is actually– which you’ll probably appreciate– the World Health Organization’s definition of health, which is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And that sounds fantastic.
In a room of about 100 people, I asked, who at the moment is in a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being? And I think four people put up their hands.
The thing is, even today, the training of doctors is to look for disease and infirmity. They’re not trained to help assist people to get into a state of joy and happiness. And so the whole of the focus, especially with depression, where there’s no specific blood test or X-ray you can do that will show this person is depressed. It’s based on a questionnaire, and the questionnaire that’s commonly used has no questions about happiness and joy. It’s all negative stuff about depression. If your score is less than four, you’re said to be “not depressed.” So as far as the doctor is concerned, if you have an absence of depression, everything’s fine. However, the absence of depression does not equal the presence of happiness. There’s a world of difference between the two.
Chris: This is really interesting. I’ve got a couple of friends that were in the military who had PTSD, and they struggle with it and I’d make a recommendation for them to check it out and see if it can get some support there. So I’m glad you came up with this, this is really interesting. It’s just amazing you overcame Crohn’s disease and different things.
I know that sometimes, you go to the doctors, and they’re just like, well, let’s slice and dice you up into little pieces, I’m sure you’ll feel better then. Or here take these 50 pills… Here in America, we’re like, here’s a bunch of pills, and then half of them have horrible side effects and the other half will interact with each other and actually make things worse. And then you’re gonna have to take a third pill to counteract the two pills you’re taking.
Dr. Alex: Exactly. It’s all too common actually.
Chris: We actually have commercials on TV that like, Hey, are you taking that one pill? So you got side effects… we have this new pill that helps counter the side effects of that. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched American TV, but then they read off like a list of all the potential side effects of any drug.
It’s like, Hey, do you suffer from depression? If you take this pill, you won’t have depression anymore, but you might have colonic bleeding or liver disease, your kidney might just wander out of your body, and you’ll probably see everything in double for the rest of your life, but it will fix your depression. And you’re just like, what?
Dr. Alex: It’s not good. The thing is, people want a quick fix and things like depression take a lifetime of learning. You’ve got to unlearn bad ways of thinking to improve your life and that takes effort. But at least with acupuncture, the calming and relaxing effect can work from the very first treatment so that helps give a person hope and motivation to keep coming back.
Chris: Well hopefully that’s what we’ve done. We’ve given some listeners hope out there and that there are practitioners they can reach out to. If they’re just your average everyday person they can grab your book and they can maybe seek out some local help. Anything further you want to plug before we go out?
Dr. Alex: Oh, no, that’s all. Yeah, I’m just looking out for any acupuncturists who are interested in learning this method. I’ve trained some Canadian acupuncturists, but no American acupuncturist at this point.
Chris: Maybe we need more of that. We’re too much in deep in America into this whole pill-popping culture and just doing surgery. I’ve learned a lot about holistic health. I mean, just eating better sometimes, or maybe getting off the vodka can help too. My body is like, thank you very much. We’re going to treat you better and we like you better now that you cut off that booze. And now if I can just get off the heroin and meth I’ll be fine. I’m just kidding people. I’ve never done that. Don’t do that. The attorney says we have to say that even though there are jokes.
So thank you very much, doctor, for coming on the show. We’d really appreciate giving us your dotcom so people can find you on the interwebs
Dr. Alex: Yes, stickittodepression.com.
Chris: There you go, folks. Let’s stick it to depression once and for all. I’m for that [as] I’ve suffered depression most of my life. Thanks so much for tuning in. Go to goodreads.com/chrisvoss, youtube.com/chrisvoss, linkedin.com/chrisvoss and @chrisvoss1 in tiktok. Thanks so much for tuning in. Be good to each other. Stay safe. We’ll see you guys next time.
Dr. Alex: Thanks, Chris.