Check out our exclusive interview with “The most popular psychiatrist in America” by The Washington Post Daniel G. Amen, MD.
Dr. Amen is a former US Army infantry medic, physician, double-board certified psychiatrist, 12-time New York Times bestselling author, and founder and CEO of Amen Clinics with 11 locations across the nation. Amen Clinics has built the world’s largest database of brain scans related to behavior, totaling more than 210,000 scans on patients from 155 countries. Dr. Amen’s research team has published more than 85 scientific articles and Discover Magazine named his research as one of the Top Stories in Science for 2015. Dr. Amen has also written produced, and hosted 17 national public television specials about the brain that have aired over 145,000 times across North America. He has appeared on numerous television shows, including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, Today Show, Good Morning America, and The View.
Follow Dr. Amen on IG @doc_amen & TikTok @docamen
My New Book - The End of Mental Illness - Dr. Daniel Amen
Can you describe yourself in 3 words?
Healer. Teacher. Father.
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
In 1972, the Army called my draft number, and I was trained as an infantry medic, which gave birth to my love of medicine. I quickly learned that I hated the thought of being shot at or sleeping in the mud, so I got myself retrained as an x-ray technician and developed a passion for medical imaging. As our professors used to say, “How do you know unless you look?”
What is that one thing or that one lesson that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
I wish I had known that mental health issues are really brain health issues that steal your mind.
Why you have chosen this field of specialty?
When someone I loved attempted suicide, I took her to see a wonderful psychiatrist who made a profound impact on her life. Psychiatry saved her life. And because she was happier and more stable, it would also create positive changes in her children’s lives and her future grandchildren’s lives. I fell in love with the fact that psychiatry has the power to heal generations of families.
Best advice ever given?
As my radiology professors used to say, “How do you know unless you look?” Psychiatry remains the only medical specialty that virtually never looks at the organ it teats—the brain. Looking at the brain with imaging changes everything.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
In my professional career, it’s Dr. Jack Paldi. In 1991 I attended my first lecture on brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging when he was the Chief of Medicine at our local hospital. At the time I was in private practice and the director of a psychiatric addiction treatment program. Dr. Paldi presented SPECT as a tool that could give psychiatrists more information about the brain to help them ask better questions and more effectively diagnose and treat their patients.
SPECT is an imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. It shows areas of the brain with healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. It helps to show if the brain has been hurt by physical trauma, exposure to toxins, or infections.
What is the key to your success?
Passion. Persistence. My mission is to end mental illness by creating a revolution in brain health. Using brain SPECT imaging for over 30 years to diagnose and treat patients is paving the way to making that happen. In fact, a study shows that Amen Clinics has some of the best published outcomes with 85% of patients reporting significant improvement after 6 months when treated at our clinics.
Now let’s talk about improving your health of our brains. What tips do you have for our readers? And how important is this for our lives?
First, it’s important to remember that brain and mental health are daily practices. Your everyday habits are either hurting or helping your brain. To help my patients remember what to do, I use the mnemonic BRIGHT MINDS.
- B is for Blood Flow: Boost blood flow to the brain with exercise, supplements such as ginkgo biloba, and foods like beets.
- R is for Retirement/Aging: Engage in new learning to keep your brain sharp.
- I is for Inflammation: Reduce inflammation by reducing fast foods and processed foods, increasing dietary omega-3 fatty acids, and taking supplements such as fish oil, probiotics, and curcumins.
- G is for Genetics: If you have a family history of brain or mental health issues, get screened early.
- H is for Head Trauma: Protect your head by wearing a helmet when biking, wearing your seatbelt, and avoiding contact sports.
- T is for Toxins: Limit your exposure to mold, pesticides, toxic cleaning products, alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine.
- M is for Mental Health: Seek treatment for mental health issues and learn to challenge your automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).
- I is for Immunity/Infections: Strengthen your immune system by optimizing vitamin D levels and treat any underlying infections.
- N is for Neurohormone Issues: Test and optimize your hormones.
- D is for Diabesity: To avoid diabetes and obesity, eat a brain healthy diet—lean protein; low-glycemic, high-fiber complex carbohydrates; lots of colorful vegetables and fruits; low sugar; organic; and adequate water to hydrate your brain.
- S is for Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep at night.
Why do you think not all doctors or people online talk about the importance of the brain in everything we do and how we can work with it to solve problems like anxiety, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorders or addictions?
Many psychiatrists cling to the status quo, which involves diagnosing mental health problems by identifying symptom clusters. It’s the same way Abraham Lincoln was diagnosed with depression over 150 years ago. In any scientific revolution—and reframing mental illness as brain health issues is revolutionary—the old guard initially rejects the new paradigm. However, thousands of young psychiatrists and mental health practitioners have been trained in our work, and we’re training more of them all the time. We and others are also publishing landmark research articles with the new paradigm in respected scientific journals.
How do you differentiate between the brain and the mind?
Your brain creates your mind. Think of it as the hardware of your soul. Your brain creates anxiousness and worries, or a sense of calm. It stores traumatic events that continue hurting you years later, or it processes them so you can learn from them. Your brain focuses on important things or on trivial distractions, feels happy or sad, and makes good decisions or bad ones that shape your life.
How Your Thoughts Affect Your Happiness And Well-Being?
I coined the term “automatic negative thoughts” (ANTs) several years ago when I realized that ANTs were infesting the minds of my patients and stealing their happiness. Negative thoughts can ruin your day and ruin your life. Learning to question your thoughts can help you kill the ANTs and develop a more positive mindset. Whenever you have a thought that makes you feel mad, sad, nervous, angry, or out of control, ask yourself, “Is it true?”
What’s the first thing we all should do to heal our mind and body?
You have to learn to love your brain and develop brain envy. When you want a better brain, you will adopt the brain-healthy habits that will make it happen.
After the pandemic of COVID-19 and the quarantine that changed the life for some many people. Have you noticed an uptick or increase in depression and anxiety?
Due to the pandemic, Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years. Depression tripled during the pandemic, and anxiety rates skyrocketed too. We are seeing this in our patients who say their depression and anxiety are worse than before the pandemic.
Now tell us about your bestselling books “Change Your Brain Every Day: Simple Daily Practices to Strengthen Your Mind, Memory, Moods, Focus, Energy, Habits, and Relationships,” “The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience Is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders, and More” and “You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type?”
I’ve written over 40 books, and each one has an important message regarding brain health for readers. Change Your Brain Every Day reminds readers that brain and mental health are daily practices and provides one strategy per day to help you stick with it. The End of Mental Illness shows how brain and biological issues can impact mental health and offers strategies to boost the health of your brain, body, and mind. You, Happier reveals the 7 neuroscience secrets to happiness, including the fact that what makes you happy depends on your brain type.
Why and when did you decided to write about this on books?
I’ve always loved writing, and I know that not everybody can visit one of our clinics, so writing books is a way for me to share what we’ve learned at Amen Clinics about brain health with a bigger audience.
Do you get nervous when you are speaking to Fortune 500 companies, top A celebrities and business leaders?
I like to reframe “nervousness” as “excitement.” I feel excited to share what I’ve learned about the brain with high-level achievers.
How do you prepare for speaking to them?
I always like to tailor my talks to the specific group I’m speaking to. For example, when I worked with the Miami Heat basketball team, I shared that I’m a huge basketball fan and talked about sports and teamwork.
Any tips to our readers on how important is sleeping and how to optimize their sleep?
Sleep is so important for your brain. While you’re sleeping, your brain is performing important functions that clean out debris that builds up during the day. It’s like taking out the neural trash. It also consolidates memories and prepares for the following day.
To improve your sleep, make it a priority. Stick to a regular routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Keep your bedroom cool, turn off tech devices at least an hour before bedtime, and avoid caffeine especially after 2pm.
Where are you located or where people can learn more about this?
We have over 10 clinics located around the nation. You can find all the information you need on our website at amenclinics.com.
Can you name some celebrities that you have worked with?
A few of the celebrities I have been blessed to work with who have shared their struggles publicly include Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Carri Ann Inaba, Meghan Trainer, Jennie Garth, and influencer Laura Clery.
What would say are the greatest lessons you learned so far in this business?
The greatest lesson I have learned from our brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics—over 225,000 brain scans on tens of thousands of patients from 155 countries—is that you’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better. And when you can change your brain, you change your life.
As a popular doctor, you are mentioned to be the most popular psychiatrist in America, you are followed by so many people. How do you feel about that pressure of doing always the right thing, and encourage people to follow their dreams?
Honestly, I don’t feel pressured. I feel a sense of moral obligation to share what I’ve learned about brain health to help end mental illness. It’s my calling in life, and I love feeling like I’m making a positive difference in people’s lives.
Now tell us about your work with Jason Wahler as the new Director of Development in the Change Your Brain foundation?
I’m so thrilled to be working with Jason Wahler at our Change Your Brain Foundation. His experience in the mental health and addiction fields, combined with his passion for brain health, makes him the ideal person to lead the Foundation.
What are the goals or next steps to keep growing and make a change for the Change Your Brain foundation?
With Jason in the leadership role, the Change Your Brain Foundation will be focusing on three key areas:
- Supporting people with complex brain health challenges who can’t afford the brain-based care they need.
- Funding research on brain health and its role in ending mental illness.
- Relaunching our professional education programs to better serve the professional community in understanding brain health issues and ensuring the brain is at the center of their treatment plans.
How people can be part or support the foundation?
People and organizations can support the Change Your Brain Foundation by partnering with us or donating at ChangeYourBrain.org.
How has been working with Jason on this and to hear how great his life has changed from his younger years?
I’m so proud of Jason and the progress he’s made in terms of his brain health. He’s been so open about his past challenges, and his story of going from addiction to becoming a brain health advocate is a powerful motivator for people to follow in his footsteps.
What’s next for Dr. Amen in 2023?
I’m so excited for 2023. I’ll be completing the manuscript for a new parenting book that I’m co-authoring with Dr. Charles Fay of Love and Logic on how to raise mentally strong kids and young adults, which will be published in 2024. We’re also continuing with our Scan My Brain online series and have some very impactful stories lined up from high-profile celebrities, athletes, and influencers.
What advice would you give to your younger self and why?
I would tell myself to be prepared for the traditional psychiatric community to push back on the use of brain SPECT imaging in the clinical setting despite over 21,000 scientific studies showing its benefits on PubMed. I would tell myself remain focused on the fact that what we are doing at Amen Clinics has helped tens of thousands of patients and millions more people who see our message in books, on social media, or on public television.
If you are a book, what would be the title of the book and why?
Maverick—that’s what my father used to call me, and he didn’t mean it in a good way. But I’ve come to embrace the idea of being an independent-minded person who isn’t stuck in the past, but rather is working in innovative ways to help people have better lives and to improve our society as a whole.
In five years from now, where do you see yourself and your career?
I expect to be reaching far more people with my message about brain health in the next 5 years through new clinic locations, books, coaching courses, and social media.
What is your own definition of happiness?
What makes me happiest is doing purposeful work that changes people’s brains and changes their lives and being deeply connected to my wife, family, and God.
How would your best friend describe you?
My wife, Tana Amen, is my best friend, and she tells people that I’m purposeful, driven, kind, and funny.
Do you support any charity?
I support our Change Your Brain Foundation.
Idea of a perfect Sunday?
My perfect Sunday would start by taking a fast walk on the beach, going to church, spending time with my wife, learning something new, playing table tennis (my favorite activity and the world’s best brain sport), and eating delicious brain-healthy meals.