Are Psychiatrists Stuck In The Past Or Do We Still Not Know Much About Mental Health

By Lana Gilbert on November 15, 2017

With all the technological advancements in the past hundred years, it is shocking to think that the psychiatric practices used to diagnose Abraham Lincoln’s depression in 1840 are still the main practices used by psychiatrists today. While talking to patients and assessing symptoms can be effective in diagnosing patients with mental health issues, Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist, says solely depending on that method is like throwing darts in the dark at patients.


After years of feeling like he was doing a disservice to his patients, Dr. Amen added SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) to his arsenal to perform deep scans of the brain while diagnosing his patients. SPECT is a nuclear imaging test that measures blood flow, and Dr. Amen uses it to measure the blood flow in his patients’ brains.

Many professionals in the psychiatry field have criticized Dr. Amen’s use of SPECT. In fact some of the nation’s most prominent medical figures have called Amen’s claims of SPECT a myth. However, Dr. Amen suggests that his vast experience with imaging (including over 87,000 brain scans) only bolsters SPECT’s effectiveness.


Dr. Amen even has a personal anecdote about SPECT that involves his nephew, Andrew. Dr. Amen’s sister-in-law, Sherry, informed him that Andrew attacked a little girl on the baseball field for no reason. Sherry also found several drawings in Andrew’s room, and one included a picture of Andrew shooting other children. After asking Andrew a series of questions, Dr. Amen’s first instinct was to scan Andrew’s brain. The SPECT scan revealed a tumor and Dr. Amen urged local doctors to remove it immediately. Had the tumor not been detected, Andrew would have passed away within 6 months. However, after a successful surgery, Andrew returned to the normal and loving boy he once was.

Whether you believe in Dr. Amen’s SPECT methodologies or not, Kirsch, a Harvard psychologist says that SPECT scans may have a placebo effect on patients. In other words, expensive scans and good counseling advice may lead to therapeutic recovery even if the scans are bogus. Regardless, most psychiatrists would agree that there is still a lot of research to be done in the field. If you can afford Dr. Amen’s scans, then they are worth a shot. However, if $3,500 sounds too hefty, it might be more worthwhile investing in Dr. Amen’s much cheaper New York Times Bestseller book, which is filled with helpful counseling tips, here (


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