Seven Questions for Daniel Amen

Seven Questions for Daniel Amen

Posted Feb 04, 2009

In an effort to illuminate the various clinical approaches to psychotherapy, this series asks the same seven questions to influential authors, theorists and policymakers. Dr. Amen, a revered and sometimes controversial figure in popular psychiatry is our honored guest today.

Daniel G. Amen (MD, Oral Roberts University, 1982) is a psychiatrist, brain imaging specialist and the CEO and medical director of Amen Clinics, Inc. (ACI) in Newport Beach and Fairfield, California, Tacoma, Washington and Reston, Virginia. ACI has the world's largest database of functional brain scans related to psychiatric medicine, now totaling nearly 50,000 scans, and the clinics have seen patients from 75 countries. Dr. Amen is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. No stranger to the public sphere, Dr. Amen is one of the hardest working and most diverse MD's out there, sharing his wisdom in nutrition columns, on the Men's Health Q & A forum and even paid a visit to The View to discuss brain-based gender differences.

"Dr. Amen has rendered the growing trend of not treating the whole person, and of using prescription medicine as the first or only choice for mental and physical health, completely obsolete."

"Dr. Amen has rendered the growing trend of not treating the whole person, and of using prescription medicine as the first or only choice for mental and physical health, completely obsolete."

Dr. Amen shares his opinions on psychotherapy with us today. As a psychiatrist who believes in: "using the least toxic, most effective treatments for our patients, ... from natural supplements, medications, dietary interventions and targeted forms of psychotherapy," I knew he'd contribute some unique thoughts to the discussion. For example, his answer to Q3 is an important reminder that many psychological symptoms can have a biological etiology. Please enjoy Dr. Amen's responses to the Seven Questions.

Seven Questions for Daniel Amen:

1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: "What should I talk about?"

His or her biggest concerns. A good history is so critical to the therapeutic process. It starts with someone's concerns and then expands from there. I take a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to my patients and want them to talk to me about all of these issues.

2. What do clients find most difficult about the therapeutic process?

Being confused as how to help themselves. Most people who see me want to be better, but the therapeutic process is so foreign to them. I think they need very clear direction on how to be most effective in using the process.

3. What mistakes do therapists make that hinder the therapeutic process?

The biggest mistake I see is that they rarely consider the brain. I often say psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that never look at the organ they treat. How crazy is that! How do we know unless we look? We call people who have brain damage personality disordered? We call people with toxic exposure resistant to treatment? We think of depression as a singular illness, when it has many types, like chest pain. We need to do much better and it will start when we really take brain function seriously.

4. In your opinion, what is the ultimate goal of therapy?

Better brain function. I am convinced therapy goes much faster, and patients are better able to do their own lives when you help your patients have better brain function.

5. What is the toughest part of being a therapist?

Not having enough information to be helpful.

6. What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of being a therapist?

Helping people change their lives in a positive way. I have so many stories of how when a person's brain is better that they become more effective, more loving, more passionate ... that it brings me joy on a regular basis.

7. What is one pearl of wisdom you would offer clients about therapy?

Think about the brain, how to improve it and you will be more effective in all you do.


My gratitude to International Psychoanalysis, The Library of Economics and Liberty, Introductory Psychology Resources, Psychlinks Online and the American Psychological Association for blogging about or linking to the Seven Questions. There's even a European magazine named Charaktery asking seven questions to influential Polish psychotherapists. My goal was to get people talking about psychotherapy so it's nice to see interest from such diverse venues.