Customer Reviews: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness
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on April 22, 2001
Since both myself and a loved one have been diagnosed and treated at Amen's clinic, I'd like to respond to this book from the view of my actual experience.
First, I agree with most of the what is said in the other positive reviews. The book is engaging, informative, and most importantly, it offers a great deal of hope. It breaks new ground, and it allows the layman to make better sense of the complexities of brain biology, personality, and behavior. To those few reviewers who insisted that Amen does not actually tell us "how to change your brain" - this is simply not true. Amen offers a variety of options including traditional meds, (even a nice chart to help with the benefits of each), and alternative treatments such as herbal and dietary suggestions.
As many know, Amen's use of SPECT scans is very controversial. Although he has a following of professionals, he is also careful to say that the scans are NOT a primary diagnostic tool - only a way to confirm a tentative diagnosis. This may be because SPECT is not approved by the DSM, nor the APA(to my knowledge), as an accepted and reliable diagnostic tool for ADD or any of the other problems Amen discusses. Given the stodgy psychiatric mentality in the US toward new approaches, this should not be a problem in and of itself. Yet given the controversy, a serious flaw of the book is that it does not address the number and types of cases in which this approach does NOT work.
But I also want to offer some cautions to those who might be tempted to passively accept the book in its entirety.
1) In my own case, two Drs and a thrapist in Amen's own office had different interpretations of my loved-one's SPECT scan, yet there was no consultation among them to resolve the issue. 2) In this layman's view, the book also seems to show some inconsistency in interpreting the scans. Why does the same over-active image area become the diagnostic key in one case, but then seems irrelevant in another ? 3) Again in my personal case, the drug protocol for my loved-one was the opposite as that described in the book. Despite my questions, this was never explained to me. 4) A recent read of another book by a different author using PET scans showed completely different parts of the brain producing some of the same symptoms as Amen describes. But I suppose this doesnt matter as long as the treatment works.
So what is the upshot of my review? My experience causes me to question the credibility of some parts of the book. Interpretation of these scans needs refinement, and Amen may need to get his own house in order as well. Yet, I have found no other professional who understands the intricacies of ADD and the associated problemsas well as he does. Amen truly cares, and this book is a 'must-read'. Regardless of the imperfections, his approach DOES work for many, many people. But do not be lulled into a passive acceptance by the enticing simplicity of the diagnosis and explanation.
Feel free to email me your thoughts. And to those dealing with the pain of ADD its related problems, I wish you peace and comfort. Remember that the heros in a race are not only those who win, but also those who continue to struggle until they finish.
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on August 12, 2001
This book shows you that there is hope for everyone! Though the title is a little silly, it is appropriate. This book actually shows you pictures of brains with different emotional/chemical imbalances. Give it to anyone who questions whether diet or medication really affect their feelings and relationships. Many people believe that medication is for weak people and that they should be able to conquer their problems through sheer will. I have known countless people who have tried everything to overcome emotional issues but actually changing their physiology. This book gives indisputable evidence that problems like depression, aggression, ADD and Alzheimers are physically based. The changes in patients' brains before and after treatment (often, but not always medication-based) are phenomenal. It demonstrates with the SPECT series brain scans that our brain chemistry rules our emotions.
I learned that even minor bumps to the head can change people's personalities and ability to learn. Dr. Amen shows pictures of brains with little or no activity in areas that have been injured, mirroring the patients' emotional or intellectual difficulties.
Amen is very clear that he always uses talk therapy and teaching communication skills before he contemplates having a SPECT series done. His point is that many people can benefit from learning new skills and ways of looking at life, but some are truly stuck because their brain activity keeps them looping on negative thoughts, reacting with extreme anger, obsessing about limited situations, or shutting down when they try to concentrate. When medication is used these patients can finally put the communication and coping skills they have learned to good use.
This book helped me understand people in my life who have seemed hopeless, shallow and even vicious. It showed me that there is hope for everyone who is willing to open their mind, get proper treatment, and challenge how they have viewed the world up until now. The exercises he gives the reader are very specific and helpful. If another reviewer thinks that there is nothing concrete in the book, then they aren't willing to look at their diet, their habitual way of thinking, and herbal and medical treatments. The prescriptions are plentiful and very specific.
It is an easy read, very accessible, with fascinating stories that pull you in. It is not academic or inaccessible. Quite the opposite. It's a great book for anyone who wants to know more about themselves and how their body works.
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on July 31, 2007
I admire Dr. Amen's ability to explain the complex interworkings and relationships between different parts of the brain. I also appreciate his ability to relate these concepts to practical everyday problems and common psychological pathologies such as anxiety, ADD and depression. He even talks about some case study information on relationship dynamics.

While Amen is a controversial figure in some ways, he still has much to stay about keeping your brain healthy and he has the credentials and clinical experience to go along with fact that he has scanned more brains than anyone else. This does not make him infallible, but it certainly makes him an important player in pushing the frontiers of knowledge forward. On the other hand, he seems to have a bias toward SPECT scans that is not fully warranted based on other scientist and clinician's work. It's difficult to reduce the functioning of the brain to an in the moment scan or even multiple scans over time.

Suprisingly, this book is very readable for the average layman and equally fascinating. It has a number of quizzes and checklists for determining the strength of functioning of various areas of the brain and useful supplement suggestions. While this book is about 10 years old, it certainly contains lots of useful information. If you want an updated version of this, then I recommend his other book Making a Good Brain Great: The Amen Clinic Program for Achieving and Sustaining Optimal Mental Performance. This book is aimed less at pathology and more about what you can do to improve and take care of your brain in general. While not brain specific, Andrew Weil's book Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being is a nice compliment to both of these books and focuses on the health of the entire body.
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on March 23, 1999
I read this book three weeks ago and am performing as an actor in a stage musical for the first time in over a decade. I have to admit that I first took it from the shelf in the "new books" section of the library because it struck me as having (my apologies to the designer) the ugliest cover I had ever seen! In spite of my having been on Prozac since 1996, I have experienced continual mental problems which resulted in periods of severe depression. The first sentence on the inside cover grabbed me: "Do you panic at the thought of walking into a room full of people you don't know?" I checked out the book. I am, as I write this, in the process of ordering my own copy and one to send to my sister. I am a 45 year old male teacher/ actor/writer. I hold a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theater Arts and have previously made my living as a working actor as well as having had books, plays and songs published since 1976. My spouse of twelve years died in 1994. Suicidal, I returned to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, after living fifteen years in New York City and Los Angeles. I have not been able to work on a regular basis since. Going back on stage and working as an actor was not even a consideration. Since 1995, I have only been successful at doing sporadic tutorial work with English Composition students at local colleges and universities.
The suicidal tendencies I was suffering stopped with the administration of Prozac, but I have spent the past two and one-half years wondering what was wrong with me because I could not focus long enough to complete any of the dozens of projects I would start. I had no patience and could not even keep still long enough to attend a film. I have been in grief counseling during this period, but have not seen a psychiatrist (poor insurance). Fortunately, my regular physician is very receptive and listens to his patients.
I did not know adults suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. I thought it was something children suffered but outgrew (I have no children, but have four out of nine neices and nephews on Ritalin). I took the test for Cingulate problems at the end of Chapter 9 in Dr. Amen's book by asking myself what I had been like, before I began taking Prozac, compared to my present state of mind. I went from almost all 3s and 4s, indicating serious problems with worry and obsessiveness, to 0s, 1s, and 2s. This was an obviously improved state, and very much in line with Dr. Amen's findings. I read the entire book in two nights, and did the remaining four checklists. I had very few 3s and 4s with the exception of a huge majority of those numbers on the Prefrontal Cortex Checklist. Not only did I discover adults can have ADD, but that there may be a genetic tendency. I spoke with my Mother who said the pediatrician had her give my brother and myself coffee in the early sixties before sending us to school and it seemed to help, to a small extent, with our behavioral problems. I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and showed him where Dr. Amen had used the combination of Prozac and Ritalin. He prescribed Adderall and I began to see results in only two or three days. My doctor immediately ordered a copy of the book from He was going to have his daughter read it. Her son is on Ritalin. She is on Prozac, but suffers many of the same problems I described.
I began taking the Adderall with the Prozac three weeks ago. During that time I have submitted lyrics to the composer with whom I had written songs, but not been in touch for several years. I have completed a play upon which I began working in 1992, and it is being produced at the local University in May.. I had been offered a number of stage roles by local directors since my return to Birmingham, but turned them down. As previously mentioned, I have just agreed to perform in a musical this summer for the first time since 1988.
Dr. Amen offers many, many suggestions for ways to change your brain and your life which have nothing to do with prescription medication, but he convinced me to explore every possible avenue available, without any of the reservations I originally had about going on Prozac. Just knowing my debilitaions can be physiological instead of "all in my head" has made me view my total self differently than at any time since realizing I was "different" around the age of twelve years. I have, at this point in time, had the most productive, fulfilling three weeks of my adult, possibly entire, life. I am literally able to maintain a peace of mind I truly believed impossible.
Dr. Amen's writing style is most accessible to the "lay-reader". The book is a blessing. Anyone who has ever doubted his or her "sanity" should read this work, and find a doctor willing to listen to its message!
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on March 29, 2008
Dr. Amen should have his medical license taken away. I spent $5,000 going to his clinic for supposedly severe ADHD, ingested a radioactive solution, performed mental agility tests, and then went under an MRI machine. The purpose was to show where my brain was deficient and take certain drugs to cure these deficiencies. Over the course of 3 years in San Francisco, I must have ingested 12 to 15 drugs to help me though none of them did.

Thank god I came back to NYC and saw a Columbia-trained psychiatrist who not only said that I was mis-diagnosed with ADHD but had anxiety which he immediately alleviated with Lexapro and ordered me to stop taking the other meds. He politely chuckled at the photos of my so called brain deficiencies and explained that the brain does not work that way. Also, he showed me numerous articles published in psychiatry journals and textbooks to support what he was saying.

Dr. Amen is a quack who scares desperate people with his book and treatments to make money. Sure, you read the book and say "yeah, that's me" or "I have that." It human nature to want to understand what your problem is and there is certain relief when you find certain symptoms that match yours. His book has these syptoms. If I could have given the book a zero especially in hindsight, I would have. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't have a zero rating.
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While the notion of brain evaluation to heal psychological conditions is very appealing to all of us, this is yet another "prophet" (more like profit), whose time has not come. The theory and research behind this work are idiosyncratic. Dr. Amen is the author, the theoretician, the writer and the prescriber of formulas for success in, what is simply, way too broad a range of areas to be meaningful. His research has not been replicated by anyone outside of his office and his theories are not supported by the scientific community at large. He has created an approach that looks and sounds too good to be true, and is too good to be true. I hope that the underlying intent of his work is to help and heal others and if that is the case, would expect him to begin collaborating with universities and research laboratories that are genuinely independent and able to evaluate his assessment tools and his diagnostic approaches on their own, and thereby help to hone what he is doing, so that it can be determined whether there is more to his approach than smoke and mirrors. I'm not especially comfortable being this caustic about a fellow professional's work, but I've seen the "breakthroughs" purported by many others along the way, and have dealt with the consequences of disappointed patients and family members, who have often spent substantial amounts of time and money, only to be more frustrated and confused than ever afterwards.
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on July 25, 2008
I found this book to be quite disappointing. After seeing Dr. Amen on the tv, he made it seem as if this book will give you useful methods and explanations for combating anxiety, depression, etc. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Rather, the book explains how there is a correlation between the under/over-activity of different parts of the brain and different mental health issues. After explaining which diagnoses correspond to which part of the brain, he offers very obvious and unhelpful tips. Even after diagnosing the problems in his patients, he always perscribes medications for treatment. The only thing this book solidifys is the fact that if you are in a situation where you are considering seeking professional health for a mental health issue, then you should definitley do it. It is those professionals, not this book, that can help you to develop a program to help you.
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on December 12, 2011
Dr. Amen is a first-class hustler -- writing several books on the same relatively limited information. This book is almost entirely composed of three things: (1) encyclopedia information about which part of the brain seems to light up to which sorts of stimuli, (2) juicy stories of his patients (rapists, wife-beaters, drug addicts) he says were cured, more or less, usually with drugs; (3) advice you have heard for your whole life (drink 6-8 glasses of water, eat a balanced diet, don't smoke, don't use drugs (except those he gives to cure you), etc., for page after page.

Amen's gimmick is to scan the brain and then tell you your problems are caused by what he sees. While there may be a correlation, that is no proof of causation -- and some doubt even the correlation, despite his anecdotes. Lacking real evidence, his view of things is not widely accepted by others in the field.

Of course, he cannot fix the brain, but telling you that it is a physical problem (therefore not your fault) is a great relief to most patients. Then, by prescribing a new drug to cure the defect, he gets a placebo effect and if the drug is effective, possibly a change in behavior (at least temporarily).

I picked up this book because the title is quite clear. However, he does not really have a way to change your brain and so he cannot change your life. In the end, this is a promotional book for his business and for the drug industry that he credits with brain changing. If you have had a serious head injury (which, given the state of the country might be more common than we think), then he might have a drug for you. It is the age-old promise of Hope and Change. If you want to get your life straightened out, this won't do it.
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on December 29, 2008
the purpose of this book is to trick gullible desperate uninformed people into visiting one of the amen clinics where they will get ripped off shamelessly. the book offers no practical solutions to "changing one's brain". the author talks about scanning people's brains in his extremely expensive clinic and indirectly claims that visiting other psychiatrists is not quite as effective because they don't actually look at your brain, like Amen does, therefore, they can't treat properly.
He doesn't disclose, however, how many dissatisfied patients he had, how often his scans had proven to be ineffective, and how much his treatment actually costs on average.
If you have no formal medical education and are desperate for an effective treatment (which is 99% of the readers), this book will brainwash you with its false science and you might even find yourself on your way to Amen clinic.
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on January 7, 2008
If you just read the book, it is easy to get hipped up and excited about all the stuff this guy says. A word of caution, do your homework before you spend your good hard earned money. A doctor where I live, giving a two year, indepth study of the brain course, heard about Amen from a pamphlet someone in the class had found and shown him. His interest was peaked and on the surface it looked promising. He recommended giving the clinic a call. He had not done any homework on him or it yet.

I have nor the time or patience to spend detailing this persons experience but to say, number 1 - if you haven't studied the recent information and studies by the leading hospitals in the country, it is hard to know better. SPECT scans are not even being used in current studies anymore, they are becoming antiquated, rather PET Scans and Amen is marketing his business, that is what it is, on theory and SPECT Scans. Just go to his website and you will see he is raking in big bucks public speaking, writing books, promoting his wonder theories and tests. Then call one of the clinics and talk to the people there. It didn't take 2 minutes to figure out what they are up to. I even called back a second time to give them another chance and they failed miserably. After that, talk to people who have been there and spent 3,000.00 on a Spect scan (which you must do first before you can see anyone and get any help) that is basically useless and ask them how they are doing, what they were told and what the think and know about this. {NONE OF THIS IS COVERED BY INSURANCE, another warning flag}

You owe it to yourself to spend your time, online, researching all this and it takes a lot of time and a lot of study. The majority of people who go there are sick and in need of help and even desprite for help and he prays on that. They have not done their homework or research and after they spend all the big money upfront to even get to see a therapist, it's too late. Oh, and when you call, don't forget to ask about the therapists and who you actually get to talk to, more insight. Or you can spend your money and go there and you might even get lucky and get some kind of help that you could have gotten in your own backyard without a SPect Scan and spending all that money. Nuff said.
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