Book Review

Change Your Brain Change your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness

Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
Three Rivers Press

This book is well written and gives great insight into the workings of the brain. It is exciting to see so much information on brain pathology and how specific areas in the brain correlate to specific symptoms or disease states.

Dr. Amen is a psychiatrist who ventured into the world of SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography) scanning. SPECT brain scans provide photo images that look directly at cerebral blood flow and indirectly at brain activity.

Brain problems can have a significant negative effect on life, self-esteem, relationships, and physical and emotional health. The functions, symptoms of poor function and treatment modalities for specific brain systems are discussed. Included are checklists with evaluation questions. Analysis of these questions will help to determine which area of the brain may not be operating optimally. Once the specific brain area is identified then treatment with medications and therapies that work best for this area can be implemented. It is interesting to note that most of us have traits of one or more brain systems misfiring.

Depression, which is usually a limbic system problem can cause a person to feel distant, uninterested, tired, negative, and can be a precursor to suicide. It can compromise immune function resulting in increased illness.

Anxiety, often a result of basal ganglia problems can cause one to feel tense, uptight, physically ill and dependent. People with anxiety experience panic and tension and may self medicate with drugs, alcohol, food or engaging in inappropriate sexual encounters and other addictive behaviors.

People who overfocus may have cingulate issues and can have repetitive thoughts and worries that are often self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. When someone says one negative thing they hear it five hundred times and cannot get away from the negative thoughts.

Prefrontal cortex issues often present with feelings of low self-esteem, a sense of underachievement, and repetitive failure. These people can sabotage relationships because of their impulsive and distractible behavior.

Temporal lobe problems can present with internal violent mood swings, thoughts that torment the soul, unpredictable behavior, low frustration tolerance, misperceptions, and memory problems. Their anger often alienates others and loneliness is common.

People with ADD (attention deficit disorder) have more trouble when they try to concentrate. They have decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex with concentration. When pressure is put on an ADD person to perform their function worsens and often their behavior is taken for willful misconduct. People with ADD are at their best in environments that are highly interesting or stimulating and relatively relaxed.

Dr. Amen was raised to believe that clean living and working hard were the key to success and he felt that addicts, abusers or suicidal patients had something wrong with their character. He now believes that it is essential to evaluate the brain when behavior is out of bounds. We need more knowledge, more understanding and less judgment. Dr. Amen thinks of all the children who are labeled as difficult when their true issues are underlying brain pathology. Many have brain problems that have never been properly diagnosed.

Dr Amen provides comprehensive advice regarding diet, self-care, exercise, meditation, therapy, diaphragmatic breathing, music, touch, and pointers for relationship issues. He advises to avoid nicotine and alcohol and shows some compelling photos of brains on recreational drugs. The negative impact of recreational drugs and alcohol are apparent in photos of brains with large holes of no activity. These photos have quite an impact.

Dr. Amen uses pharmaceutical drugs in his medication therapies. He has been able to figure out which drugs work best on the specific areas of the brain. Thus being able to treat the patient with the most appropriate medications. He also recommends ginko biloba and herbal supplementation when indicated.

This book is well written, it presents a large amount of good information in an easy to read manner. Patients can read this book on their own and gain helpful information that they can put into use immediately. I believe it gives hope to those that have problems and despite ‘trying’ can’t seem to make things work. It validates that there is true brain pathology which may lead to self defeating behavior.

Reviewed By:  Betty Jo Grajeda, MD
In:  Nov 2005