Point of View


Brain Imaging and Psychotherapy: Why is it so controversial?

May/June 2014


Today’s highly informed, cutting-edge therapists take pride in their growing knowledge of brain science. Mountains of books and endless hours of seminars teach us about our left, right, male, female, and reptilian brains—all exciting knowledge we eagerly apply in our clinical work. We now know more than ever about the brain. Yet, according to California psychiatrist and eight-time New York Times bestselling author Daniel Amen, we’re still apprehensive about looking at it.

For nearly 20 years, Amen has led a controversial quest to make brain imaging common practice in the field. His prolific use of single-photon emission-computed tomography (SPECT) to detect various types of psychiatric disorders challenges the long-held belief that talk and observation are sufficient for diagnosis. Instead, he argues, we need to see the organ we treat.

Despite being admonished by prominent researchers for the unconventionality of his work, Amen continues to boldly advocate for the use of SPECT, train other clinicians to use it, and collect praise from clients who say his methodology has revolutionized their lives. Acknowledging both his detractors and extollers, he took a minute away from his work at the Amen Clinic to share his thoughts on imaging, diet, Adam Lanza, and the National Football League (NFL).

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RH: What first drew you to psychiatry?

Amen: I was drafted in 1972 and became an infantry medic, which is how I…

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