|Born||Daniel Gregory Amen
1954 (age 59–60)
Encino, Los Angeles
|Alma mater||Vanguard University of Southern California
Oral Roberts University School of Medicine (M.D., 1982), Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Tripler Army Medical Center.
|Occupation||psychiatrist, psychiatric researcher, medical researcher, author, lecturer, professor|
|Known for||Amen's Classification|
Amen's clinics offer medical services to people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disorders. They use single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) as a purported diagnostic tool to identify what he says are sub-categories of these disorders, as devised by Amen himself. Although highly profitable, Amen's use of SPECT scans to aid in psychiatric and neurological clinical diagnosis is based on unproven claims and has been widely criticized.
Early life and education
He received his undergraduate biology degree from Southern California College in 1978 and his doctorate from Oral Roberts University School of Medicine in 1982. Amen did his general psychiatric training at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and his child and adolescent psychiatry training at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. Amen fulfilled 200 hours of training to obtain his radioactive materials license from the Institute of Nuclear Medicine Education. He then carried out the required 1,000 hours of clinical supervision in reading scans. Amen is double board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in General Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Amen's practices use single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, scans of brain activity in an attempt to compare the activity of a person's brain to a known healthy model. John Seibyl of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging has stated that there is no debate that SPECT is not valuable for diagnosing psychological disorders. Amen's clinics say they have the world's largest database of functional brain scans for neuropsychiatry. As of 2009[update] Amen said he had scanned 50,000 people at an estimated cost of $170 million.
Amen has said that he prescribes both medication and non-medicative courses of treatment, depending on the case; he also performs before-and-after SPECT scans with the claim they can assess how well treatment is working. None of the major medical organizations in mental health or medical imaging validate Amen's claims. A 2012 review by the American Psychiatric Association found that neuroimaging studies "have yet to impact significantly the diagnosis or treatment of individual patients." He has written: "I learned that when the brain works right, you work right, and that when the brain is troubled, you have trouble in life. Brain health is essential to all aspects of the quality of life." Amen's work is not taken seriously by any major research institution.
According to cognitive neuroscience researcher Martha Farah and psychologist S. J. Gillihan, "The lack of empirical validation has led to widespread condemnation of diagnostic SPECT as premature and unproven," and the American Psychiatric Association has concluded that, "the available evidence does not support the use brain imaging for clinical diagnosis or treatment of psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents." A 2012 review by the APA found that neuroimaging studies "do not provide sufficient specificity and sensitivity to accurately classify individual cases with respect to the presence of a psychiatric illness." In 2005, Quackwatch released a paper written by physician Harriet Hall which questioned the effectiveness of the SPECT scans and criticized Amen for not declaring them as experimental. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman and Harriet A. Hall likened his techniques to those of phrenology, the 19th century pseudoscience that associated the shape of the skull with personality traits.
Questions have been raised about the ethics of selling SPECT scans on the basis of unproven claims: neuroscience professor Martha Farah calls such use "profitable but unproven" and says "Tens of thousands of individuals, many of them children, have been exposed to the radiation of two SPECT scans and paid thousands of dollars out of pocket (because insurers will not pay) against the advice of many experts". Professor of psychology Irving Kirsch has said of Amen's theory: "Before you start promulgating this and marketing it and profiting from it, you should ethically be bound to demonstrate it scientifically in a peer-reviewed, respected journal" as otherwise "you're just going down the path of being a snake oil salesman". In a 2011 paper the neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee discussed example cases that were found on the Amen Clinic's website including a couple with marital difficulties and a child with impulsive aggression. The paper noted that the examples "violate the standard of care" because a normal clinical diagnosis would have been sufficient and that there "was no reason to obtain functional neuroimaging for diagnostic purposes in these cases." Most patients do not realise that the SPECT scans rely on unproven claims.
Amen has responded by saying:
People need to understand. I don’t do this for the money. My family’s rich! . . . I’ve never said that you can make a blind diagnosis using SPECT scans alone. You have to talk to people. But scans add an important part of the evaluation puzzle. You can make it look like anything if you want, but why would I do that if I’m trying to help a patient?”
An intitial session at one of Amen's clinics costs about $3,500. Amen had a gross income of approximately $20 million in 2011. Amen's claims for the use of SPECT are "no more than myth and poppycock, buffaloing an unsuspecting public," according to officials at major psychiatric and neuroscience associations and research centers.
Work for athletes
One of Amen's clinics provides brain scans for current and former National Football League players. Amen made the initial diagnosis of brain damage in NFL kicker Tom Dempsey. During medical examinations and scans, Amen found three holes in Dempsey's brain, along with other damage. He has also provided diagnosis and therapy for hockey player Paul Kariya, related to his concussion issues; Amen advised Kariya to retire as a professional, which he did.
Writing and ideas
Amen's first book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, was published in 1999 and unexpectedly reached the New York Times best seller list after selling tens of thousands of copies in the first year. Publishers Weekly noted that the book "apparently struck a nerve with readers who love a 'scientific' hook."
In his book Making a Good Brain Great, he provided his analysis and recommendations for brain improvement purported to enhance a person's overall happiness and ability. For example, he suggested that hobbies which challenge the brain are important to ensuring a happy life, as he believes they force the brain to learn and evolve over time. Davi Thornton characterized the book as consisting of "commonplace recommendations for self-improvement."
Healing the Hardware of the Soul, written by Amen in 2008, was reviewed in the American Journal of Psychiatry by Andrew Leuchter. "Dr. Amen makes a good case for the use of brain imaging to explain and medicalize mental disorders," Leuchter said. "However, the reader who has any degree of familiarity with mental illness and brain science is left unconvinced that his [Amen's] highly commercialized use of scanning is justified." Leuchter concluded that Amen "has not subjected his treatment approaches to the level of systematic scientific scrutiny expected for scientifically based medical practice."
In 2013 Amen co-authored a book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, with pastor Rick Warren on "how to lead a healthy life". Amen was one of the people—the others included Mark Hyman and Mehmet Oz—that Warren recruited to help devise the program outlined in the book, called "The Daniel Plan". Warren encouraged adoption of the plan by all member churches in his network of Saddleback churches. According to Janice Norris, "The Daniel Plan is ... more than a diet. It is a lifestyle program based on Biblical principles and five essential components: food, fitness, focus, faith, and friends." Amen, Warren, and Hyman appeared on the television show The View to discuss the Daniel Plan and 3,000 people came to a rally at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California to hear the three talk about the plan.
In 2013 Amen released an updated version of his book Healing ADD from the Inside Out: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the Seven Types of Attention Deficit Disorder.
Amen has produced television programs about his theories. One of them, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," was aired by PBS affiliates 1,300 times in 2008 during fund-raising drives. Another, "Magnificent Mind at Any Age with Dr. Daniel Amen," was aired before January 1, 2009. Neurologist Michael Greicius, director of the Stanford Center for Memory Disorders and principal investigator of the Functional Imaging in Neuropsychiatric Disorders Laboratory at Stanford University stated, "The PBS airing of Amen’s program provides a stamp of scientific validity to work which has no scientific validity." These programs have been described as infomercials for Amen's clinics. The program's depiction of the "wonders of ginkgo and other 'natural' products such as St. John's wort." was also criticized. Alternative-medicine skeptic and physician Harriet A. Hall and neurologist Robert A. Burton criticized PBS for the airing of these programs. Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, replied that "PBS had nothing to do with the 'Brain' program's content and did not vet the program in any way." Local PBS affiliates "make their own editorial decisions based on their own guidelines about what to air," he wrote.
Amen's websites market vitamin supplements and a branded range of other dietary supplements. These supplements have been promoted for a number of health benefits, including a claimed ability to prevent or stop Alzheimer's disease—there is however no known benefit from taking such supplements except for specific substance deficiencies. Neurologist Robert Burton has written that he was "just appalled" by the things offered for sale on Amen's "big business" web sites, and Harriet Hall has said that Amen prescribes "inadequately tested natural remedies" and "irrational mixtures of nutritional diet supplements" as part of his treatment.
Amen's popularity and financial success have been discussed in the media. In 2012, The Washington Post Magazine ran a cover story entitled "Daniel Amen is the most popular psychiatrist in America. To most researchers and scientists, that's a very bad thing." The Washington Post detailed Amen's lack of acceptance among the scientific community and his monetary conflict of interest. Journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya wrote that Amen's critics likened him "to a self-help guru rather than a scientist, on account of all the books, DVDs and nutritional supplements which he hawks so shamelessly on infomercials" and that Amen was "the most controversial psychiatrist in America [who] may also be the most commercially successful." Amen stated he felt the accolades went hand-in-hand and that "One reason why they hate me is because I make money. [...] our biggest referral sources are our patients. If I'm defrauding them how would I stay in business for decades?"
- Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness (1999) ISBN 9780748114689
- Healing Anxiety and Depression Amen and Lisa C. Routh (2004) ISBN 0425198448
- Making a Good Brain Great: The Amen Clinic Program for Achieving and Sustaining Optimal Mental Performance (2006) ISBN 9781400082094
- The Brain in Love: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life (2009) ISBN 9780307587893
- Magnificent Mind at Any Age: Natural Ways to Unleash Your Brain's Maximum Potential (2009) ISBN 9780307339102
- Change Your Brain, Change Your Body: Use Your Brain to Get and Keep the Body You Have Always Wanted (2010) ISBN 9780748124046
- The Amen Solution: The Brain Healthy Way to Get Thinner, Smarter, Happier (2011) ISBN 9780307463616
- Unleash the Power of the Female Brain (2013) ISBN 9780307888945
Award, memberships and positions held
Amen is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Amen has also been an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine. This was an untenured volunteer position, of which the College had more than a thousand in 2008; he was not affiliated with the university's Brain Imaging Center.
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