This book is a New York Times Bestseller.
As a registered mental health counselor intern, one of the things I do is use talk therapies to help people dealing with emotional and mental issues like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder . , substance abuse problems, etc. Mental Health Counselors treat these problems with many therapies that involve changes in thinking and behavior that cannot necessarily be ‘seen’. What is fascinating about this book is that Dr. Amen, a clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist, explains these problems as “brain disorders” that can actually be detected scientifically with imaging tools. His work opens a window into the metaphysical reality that is the ancient mind-brain problem that philosophers and scientists have wondered about for centuries. Dr. Amen writes, “I always believed there was a strong connection between spiritual health and mental health (Amen, 4).”
I work from a spiritual, rational and physical perspective that is holistic and based on a philosophy that includes the three metaphysical (aspects of being) and epistemological (aspects of knowledge) planes. We cannot discount the importance of spiritual intuitions and the heart where we speak and experience things like trust, faith, hope and love. I draw my philosophical understanding from my studies in intellectual history. I draw particularly on one of my favorite philosophers, Blaise Pascal, who gave me a good case for a spiritual, rational, and physical perspective for my practice that includes a strong theological and scientific foundation.
Long before we could detect the smallest particles of matter in the atom, the Greek philosopher Leucippus hypothesized their existence around 450 BC. (a-, “not”) and τέμνω (temnō, “short”), meaning indivisible, something that cannot be further divided. Some of the greatest discoveries have originated from the insights of the human heart, only to be empirically “detected” and rationally (if not perfectly) understood, if not seen and touched. Mental health has been a soft science with classified categories of symptom groups in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but without necessarily an empirical form of detection and diagnosis. Many of the symptoms described in the diagnoses are based on behavior and reports.
Dr. Amen here explains how science can empirically detect and measure activities in the mind-brain connection. This book has a lot of information about mental health problems gleaned from Brain SPECT imaging, an empirical tool that Dr. Amen uses to detect ‘brain disorders’ or diagnosed mental health problems that meet DSM criteria. These are nuclear medicine studies that measure blood flow and activity levels in the brain (Amen, 5). Dr. Amen also discusses the use of PET (positron emission tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CAT (computerized axial tomography), and EEG (electroencephalograms). Seeing that many mental health problems can be detected empirically in brain function using these tools can be helpful in dispelling stigma and false guilt when there is a medical problem and a brain disorder. Without some evidence of the medical problem, people may think that ‘it’s all in their head’ and they just need to figure it out, or that they are just a ‘bad person’.
What the information in this book adds to my practice is a holistic perspective that includes referring and recommending information about medications, nutrition, exercise, social interactions, behavior change, along with the talking therapies and other treatments I offer as a counselor. mental health. Dr. Amen states that he is one of the few psychiatrists that offers this type of brain scan and consultation on mental health issues. They are also quite expensive. He states that the purpose of the book is not for everyone to go out and get a brain scan, but rather to explain a wide variety of human behaviors in terms of the images that SPECT provides and to show that they can be treated in a medical model as well as in the traditional psychological and social models (Amen, 15).
Dr. Amen is by no means arguing that talk therapy is not effective in treating these empirically detected ‘brain disorders’. His point is not that physical things can only be treated physically, but to show a fascinating explanation of thought and behavior using the images of the brain. For example, his research shows that depression is associated with overactivity of the limbic system (an area of the brain) and that bonding can decrease this overactivity (Amen, 41). An example of this is that orgasm is like a mini attack on the limbic system and decreases deep limbic activity (Amen, 41). He found that when a patient who was depressed underwent a scan before and after having passionate sex with his wife, his brain scan showed that his limbic activity was significantly reduced (Amen, 41). He then goes on to explain how casual sex doesn’t work and is so damaging to many women because they have a larger limbic system than men that bond deeper, crashing harder when a bond is broken. He also writes that the healthy bond between mothers and children, between family members, friends, and even pets positively affects the limbic system.
Dr. Amen has a whole chapter on how to improve positive thought patterns. Dr. Amen’s prescription for curing these limbic problems includes: “…accurate thinking, proper handling of memories, connecting pleasant smells and moods, and building positive bonds with oneself and others.” others (p. 55)”. It is common knowledge that research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a talk therapy) is highly effective in treating depression, but it is effective in treating a wide range of psychological problems (Corey, 288, Beck, 2). Cognitive behavioral therapy deals with changing distorted thinking and core beliefs about oneself and the world, such as that one is unloved or helpless. Bonding also occurs in talk therapy between a client and therapist and can improve relationships and bonding with others.
Understanding that there may be a physical problem with the brain is therapeutic and can help us find more ways to improve our mental health. This book is a great read and a good reference for any specific illness or mental health issue. I would also highly recommend This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin with a foreword by Dr. Amen. As well as good information and explanation of the parts of the brain (use a cartoon) and how they relate to different patterns of thought and behavior, there is a lot of good advice to help with specific problems including many different treatments, what foods to eat, vitamins, aromatherapy and cinetherapy.
Amen, Daniel G., MD (1998). Change your brain Change your life. New York: Times Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Beck, Judith S. (1995). Cognitive therapy: basic concepts and beyond. New York: Guilford Press.
Corey, Gerard. (2005). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Seventh Edition. Belmont: Thomson Brooks/Cole.