Psychiatrist Daniel Amen’s work is controversial, to say the least. While Healing ADD from the Inside Out has some good information, readers should also be aware of criticisms from the scientific community.
That said, Dr. Amen provides a valuable perspective on ADHD, coming from a brain science angle that many will find appealing. As his patient anecdotes illustrate, people often open up to treatment after seeing their behavior’s biological roots.
That may be the book’s most important takeaway: ADHD isn’t a personal failure, it’s a measurable neurological condition.
Common-sense advice for managing ADHD
Readers will also find plenty of common-sense advice. For example: avoid hitting your head and damaging your brain, stay hydrated, eat a healthy diet, and limit TV and video games.
What Amen has to say about head injuries — even minor, forgettable ones — may shock you. Amen Clinics’ doctors ask new patients five times about previous head injuries, even minor ones where the patient never lost consciousness. The degree to which your behavior and personality can change as a result of a bump on the head is startling, and certainly makes me glad I wear a helmet when I ski.
My biggest criticism of Dr. Amen’s lifestyle advice is its severity. He recommends some pretty radical diet changes — for example, eliminating sugar and bread. Don’t get me wrong, I agree refined sugar is terrible for you, but strict elimination diets feel out of reach for a lot of people. I’ve benefited from drastically reducing refined sugar and switching in whole grains whenever possible. Dr. Amen overlooks the benefits of eating brown rice and whole grain breads and pastas for those who aren’t willing to give them up entirely.
Though Dr. Amen’s five ADHD subtypes haven’t been adopted by the scientific community, I found them useful to illustrate the point that every ADHD case — and every treatment plan — is different. Managing ADHD symptoms takes some finesse, not just a quick evaluation and a prescription for stimulants.
SPECT imaging and supplements: buyer beware
Beware, though: Healing ADD focuses heavily on the Amen Clinics’ treatment and diagnostic methods, which cannot be replicated at home or at your local doctor’s office. After reading Healing ADD, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re at the mercy of your brain until you get one of these SPECT imaging scans — especially if you’ve been frustrated by past treatment failures.
However, the Amen Clinics are alone in their use of SPECT imaging in routine diagnosis, and most of the scientific community feels there’s a good reason for that. Bottom line: you don’t need to travel to one of these clinics and pay over $3000 to get better.
Parts of the book also felt more like an advertisement for the Amen Clinics’ products and services than a standalone self-help text. The techniques and advice seem broad and cursory, like Healing ADD is only an introduction to the whole system: DVDs, supplements, an online brain gym, and consultation at a brick-and-mortar Amen Clinic.
Comprehensive but not warm and fuzzy
Healing ADD may pack a lot of advice and brain science, but it won’t feel warm and personable. If you want that, read Wes Crenshaw’s I Always Want to be Where I’m Not. Dr. Amen kicks off Part One by trying to build rapport with readers and prove he truly understands ADHD on a personal level, but he does it by talking about how guilty and embarrassed his ADHD family members make him feel. Maybe this rings true for some readers, but I didn’t need any reminders.
Overall, Healing ADD is worth a read for many people, especially those who doubt ADHD’s biological roots or have complex cases not aided by typical treatment approaches. The book inspired me to try a daily GABA supplement, and I do think it has helped tone down my migraines and mood issues. Certainly it’s a great starter resource for those interested in alternative or complementary therapies.
If you’re looking for in-depth techniques and help for any single facet of ADHD, though, Dr. Amen covers way too much ground for that. For example, the chapter on stopping “automatic negative thoughts” offers a gold mine of easier-said-than-done advice. If you’re truly struggling with these harmful thought patterns, you’ll need to seek professional help.
And that’s okay. Healing ADD provides, at the very least, a comprehensive guide to what you should expect to hear from a therapist or coach (minus the need for SPECT imaging). There’s plenty of bad information out there, and Dr. Amen goes a long way to cultivate educated consumers in his readers.