“Did you know that psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that virtually never look at the organ they treat?” This is what Dr. Daniel Amen, a famous psychiatrist who specializes in brain disorders and Times bestselling author, has to say in his TED talk.
And it’s true. Psychiatrists diagnose a patient’s condition by talking and “looking for symptom clusters,” as they did in 1840. This outdated approach, which doesn’t take brain scans into consideration, has led many people to health complications and even greater brain disorders.
From the 83.000 brain scans of different individuals with various brain disorders, dr. Amen has a different story to tell when it comes to psychiatric treatment, which needs to be implemented as a rule of thumb.
His conclusion is that psychiatric treatment should look at the individual characteristics of each brain before deciding on what to do next, as each brain is unique, especially when it comes to brain disorders.
As an example, he points to two different brain scans of patients suffering from depression. In one of the scans, the brain shows increased activity, whereas the other scan shows an underactive brain.
Understanding the way the brain of the patient functions reveals some very important features that can provide life-changing information about the patient and the way they should be treated.
Dr. Amen notes a very important thing: The brain can be changed through proper therapy and rehabilitation and this can change people’s lives for the better. Many issues are a result of some kind of brain damage, and this damage can be reversed.
Memory loss, dementia, and brain trauma related issues can all be reversed through proper treatment tailored to the individual’s brain. And this can only be achieved by first looking at the person’s brain.
One such case was Dr. Amen’s study on the brains of NFL players who demonstrated poor brain function. After being put through the Brain Smart program, 80% of the players showed great improvements in memory and mood.
When it comes to behavioral issues, Dr. Amen scanned the brains of 500 convicted felons with the effort to find a pattern in their brains which contributed to their deviant behavior.
He found that not only did these people have troubled brains, but that instead of jailtime, they should go through a rehabilitation process that will potentially change their outlook on life.
Another case that Dr. Amen mentions is that of a 9-year-old boy with extreme violent tendencies. He would attack other children for no particular reason, and draw disturbing pictures of him killing other children.
While most psychiatrists would prescribe medication to treat him, the boy’s brain scan revealed that the issue came as a result of a brain cyst. After the cyst was removed, the violent tendencies disappeared and the boy returned to his original peaceful nature.
The boy’s name was Andrew and he was Dr. Amen’s nephew.
Just like all other doctors use scans to reveal any underlying causes for their patients’ health issues, the same should be done when psychiatry is in question.
And indeed, why would psychiatrists resort to guesses, when they can have a close look into the issue and understand the problem right away? It’s not only more efficient for their practice, but it’s also much safer and more reliable for the patients.