Is Dr Amen a legit recommendation?
June 30, 2016 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Therapist recommended a book and I'm no longer sure I trust her judgement. It's 'Magnificent Mind at Any Age' by Dr Amen.

Two things that worry me about the book: a) does NOT seem scientifically rigorous as far as I can tell (more like a brain horoscope than anything), b) seems to be aiming to sell supplements or at least itself.

The recommendation wasn't 'this is what we'll work with from now' more 'I would suggest that you read the following book ( medical research on our brain functioning) which could lead to a joint diagnosis of what might help you best'.

Now I'm aware this may be an overreaction and quite honestly I don't know the science behind all of this, but it seems something someone groping for answers would latch onto, not a mental health practitioner. I have a general good relationship with my therapist (been seeing her for years) but I wouldn't say I've progressed as much as I would like (although I know therapy is slow) and I've always been aware that she's more into... what could be unfairly called 'whohoo' (I know, sorry), everything is interconnected energy, alternative treatments, that kind of thing. She's no idiot, knows me well and is insightful but we don't share the same framework for viewing the world (not a deal breaker in itself incidentally).

I'm not closed minded here and willing to try things (heck if you're working with the unconscious you can't be too rigid) but I'm very cautious because I know that a lot of general mental health advice is, often, bullshit. Either reinforcing badly formed preconceptions and so unhelpful or fluffy nonsense and so unhelpful.

So there's two things here for me: is this book something a mental healthcare professional would recommend? And if it isn't, if it's at least somewhat dodgy, is this a 'ah well, we're not gonna agree on this, but that's fine' or a 'fuck, I need a new therapist'?

I realise asking strangers for advice on my therapist is at least a little weird and pointless, because you ain't met her (or me), but as I don't know anything about the book other than my gut reaction and there is precedent for these kinds of recommendations, so I wanted to ask. From a quick google Amen is well known in US, we're UK based if that makes any difference.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just want to say I'm not sure this author is well-known in the US in any way.
posted by erst at 12:13 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd certainly be wary she was going to suggest you fork out £ks for a SPECT scan...
posted by KateViolet at 12:20 AM on June 30, 2016

of note.
posted by listen, lady at 12:35 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

it's possible she is talking about useful stuff--neuroplasticity, trauma and the brain--and just sending you to a TERRIBLE source.
posted by listen, lady at 12:40 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

That book and author would be way too woo for me, and I'd take a polite pass. If she was pushing SPECT scans, I'd start looking for therapy elsewhere. That's a pretty personal decision, though.

If you don't trust your therapist's judgment in general, or you find she is not really being effective for you, then it's time to move on. Having a good working relationship with your therapist is paramount.

I stayed with a less-than-ideal therapist far too long, and was frustrated by slow progress, among other things. I'd been waffling over it for ages until an incident involving some very unprofessional behavior on her part during therapy prompted me to end our sessions. I moved on to a therapist who was a great fit despite some small differences in framework. The difference was huge for me.
posted by moira at 12:43 AM on June 30, 2016

Yeah, its woo, and I'm not sure I could continue to work with someone who suggested it. Ugh.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:22 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You know you can break up with your therapist, right?( Or can you?) Or get a second opinion, anyway.
posted by Coaticass at 4:04 AM on June 30, 2016

1. Just no. I mean, you could ask your therapist more about the reasons for this book but if this is something she put forward as a tool to _diagnose_ what would help you, I'm not sure what to say or how this is supposed to help.

2. If you're years into therapy, you haven't had any big changes in your reasons for being there, and you're jointly looking at woo-type books for what might help, I'm not sure your therapist is doing a great job. I'm obviously speaking from ignorance but when I was in therapy we sorted the broad goals out pretty swiftly and then kind of...applied that to specifics. Books were involved sometimes but it was more like "I feel continually on eggshells and like everyone is judging me all the time" "hmm here is a book on children of narcissists." Looking for a broad overreaching program seems very late in the game here.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:33 AM on June 30, 2016

No. Someone else already linked to the Washington Post article but he's also on Quackwatch.
posted by Polychrome at 7:25 AM on June 30, 2016

I would give the therapist a chance to clarify - anybody can brain-fart and recommend the wrong title, or some people can be awfully skimmy when they read a book and all she remembers is the one chapter that has the info she thinks is pertinent to you. If she doubles down, it's probably time to find someone else to work with.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:12 AM on June 30, 2016

> just want to say I'm not sure this author is well-known in the US in any way

He is in certain circles; I see his name a lot in forums about ADHD, autism, and concussions. Not to recommend him -- I personally am not a fan -- but his name is definitely out there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:22 AM on June 30, 2016

Dr. Amen is well known for appearing in infomercials / sales pitches aired by local public TV stations. The stations are paid to show them and deny any responsibility for their content.

Here is a description of the infomercial he was running a few years ago when that book first came out.

I understand that this kind of thing might not be a deal breaker in your case. For me it would be.
posted by Flexagon at 8:39 AM on June 30, 2016

Dr. Amen does long infomercials on PBS stations. That's not a recommendation, just saying, he's well known in certain circles.

I've never read the books, but I've watched some of the infomercials and his science looks pretty speculative to me. That said, mental health professionals have all sorts of training and are not necessarily up on hard science. And, these days, "neuro" is all the rage. Even the psychoanalysts, trying to combat their obsolecence, are talking about "neuropsychoanalysis" -- that is, following the research that attempts to localize the ways we think and feel about things in particular brain structures (like, who cares?)

Anyway, I don't know that you need to find another therapist if you have a good relationship with this therapist and she's helping you. I am not your therapist (but I am a psychologist), and what I'd do is recommend to you that you tell her about your doubts about HER for recommending this book. Tell HER how you feel about getting pseudo-information from somebody you trust. Tell HER that you don't think she knows enough about neurophysiology to be recommending a book like this, and how does she really think it could help you? Tell HER you read quackwatch and you're not happy that she's not as discerning about her science as you would like a therapist to be.

THAT'S what therapy is all about. Hiring a professional, seeing in what ways they are FAILING you, feeling really crappy about it, but confronting your feelings within that relationship, asserting yourself, finding out in what ways it feels awful to confront an authority (and confronting does NOT mean "finding a new one" -- it means working within a flawed relationship (aren't they all?)) and find her sorely lacking (does that remind you of any OTHER relationships in your life?)

So -- this book recommendation can do you well -- not because of the stupid book -- but because it's making you feel uneasy and anxious WITHIN your therapeutic relationship -- and that's a great place to start the REAL work of therapy.
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:44 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

DMelanogaster, I don't understand this AT ALL. Unless the client is in therapy for confrontation-practice (doesn't sound like it), how is this relevant? Like, if I were the client in this scenario, there's no answer the therapist could give that would help. The least worst answer would be "I just fucked up," and even that isn't great beacause their judgment is questionable now. No one wants their therapist to fail them for practice, any more than you would want a surgeon to. I shouldn't have to educate someone I'm paying $200 an hour and who has a Ph.D.

(For the record, I've pushed back on woo shit like this lots of times in therapy and it's never, ever gone well. They just double down.)
posted by Violet Hour at 10:32 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Woo. USA LCSW here (masters level clinician in social work)

You can request more evidenced based sources and she if you gives you something better. Sometimes therapists have a hard time finding material that is written at a level to be read by most clients and evidence based enough to be reliable.
Sometimes the more woo but easier to read a good option, and sometimes the harder to read but more scientific is a good option. Some of that depends on the client, their education level and their interest.

She may be wanting you to focus on activities in the book (if the are any, I wouldn't know) that could be a strategy for finding something that is a good fit for you two to work together.

You would have to ask her.

She could also be an idiot and you need a new therapist. That's for you to decide.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:17 PM on June 30, 2016

I'm in the US. Not a psych professional in any way, but I've devoted a decent amount of time to reading about psychology/psychiatry. I've never heard of this guy, but after reading the Washington Post article linked to by listen, lady I have to say that this would be enough to make me seriously re-consider continuing to see this therapist. At the very least, I would want to know more about what she expected me to get out of it. The fact that she's apparently already expressed an interest in alternative medicine and other "woo" (per your description) would only make me even more likely to consider this a deal breaker.

While reading about his whole SPECT thing, I was reminded of what the professor who taught my Human Neuropsychology class said about we could use scans like this to get any sort of valuable understanding of human psychology. He said it was equivalent to phrenology, which it turns out is exactly what someone else was quoted as saying in the Washington Post article. (This professor was at well ranked US university that has a great neuroscience department, fwiw.)

Of course, what you do or don't want in a therapist is not something any of us can decide. I know for me, a respect for the research process, empirical methods, and the like are very important. Of course, there's a lot that science doesn't yet know about the brain and psychology, but I'm super wary of anyone claiming to use science in this way.

Now, I don't think this means you absolutely have to stop seeing this therapist and could never trust her again, but it's definitely a red flag to me and probably something you'll want to keep in mind, especially if she seems inclined to go even further down this particular rabbit hole.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:38 PM on July 1, 2016

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