Brain SPECT Made Ridiculously Simple: Part 1

Brain SPECT Made Simple

At Amen Clinics, we’ve been using brain SPECT imaging since 1991. Let me briefly share how I fell in love with the brain imaging work we do. In 1972 I was an infantry medic where my love of medicine was born. After about 18 months I was 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?”

In 1979, as a second-year medical student, someone I loved tried to kill herself, and I took her to see a wonderful psychiatrist. Over time, I realized that if he helped her, which he did, it would not only help her, but it would also help her children and even grandchildren as they would be shaped by someone who was happier and more stable. I fell in love with psychiatry because I realized it had the potential to help generations of people. But I fell in love with the only medical profession that virtually never looked at the organ it treats. I knew we could do better.

Why is brain SPECT imaging considered revolutionary in psychiatry?

How can you know what’s going on inside your head if nobody ever looks? Experienced psychiatrists can tell if someone is likely to have ADHD, OCD, or bipolar disorder without the benefit of these tools. But without functional brain imaging tools like SPECT, clinicians will never be able to know the underlying brain patterns of the patients they treat, so they are handicapped to throw medicated tipped darts in the dark at their patients. Brain SPECT is a state-of-the-art brain mapping tool that can give psychiatrists more information to help their patients more effectively.

Here is a quick primer on brain SPECT imaging and why it can be important to help you or your loved ones.

What is SPECT?

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. Then based on what we see, our job is to balance your brain—to calm it down if it is working too hard or stimulate it if it is underactive.


A healthy “surface” scan, looking down from the top, shows full, even symmetrical activity. The color is not important, it’s the shape that matters. Surface scans help us see areas that are healthy and those with low activity.

Healthy Surface SPECT Scan: Full, even, symmetrical activity.


A healthy “active” scan shows the most active parts of the brain. Here blue is average activity and red (or sometimes red and white) are the most active parts of the brain. In a healthy scan, the most active area is in the cerebellum, at the back/bottom part of the brain, which makes up just 10 percent of the brain’s volume but houses half of the brain’s neurons.

Healthy Active SPECT Scan: Grey is average activity, white is top 15% showing most active areas of the brain.

With SPECT, you can see healthy vs. unhealthy brains. Look at the following scans of people with Alzheimer’s disease or who have addictions.

SPECT Scan Alzheimer’s disease: Severe decreases in back half of the brain.

SPECT Scan Marijuana Addiction: Marked decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes.

What does brain SPECT imaging teach us about the brain?

One of the big lessons we’ve learned from brain imaging is that mild traumatic brain injury ruins people’s lives. Your brain is very soft, about the consistency of soft butter, and the inside of your skull is very hard and has sharp, bony ridges. Your brain can be easily damaged. About 40 percent of the patients who come to Amen Clinics have experienced a traumatic brain injury. And so many of them don’t realize that brain injuries and concussions, even if you don’t pass out, are associated with a high degree of mental health challenges. Brain SPECT imaging shows evidence of traumatic brain injuries, even mild ones that happened decades earlier. Recognizing an underlying brain injury can be an important factor in healing mental health symptoms.

What is the biggest discovery brain SPECT imaging has revealed about psychiatric issues?

One of the biggest things brain SPECT imaging has taught us is that psychiatric issues—ADHD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and more—are not single or simple disorders. They all have multiple types. It’s critical to know your type in order to get treatment that is targeted to your specific needs.

What are some of the ways SPECT brain scans improve treatment?

SPECT brain scans can:

• Show evidence of trauma, exposure to toxins like chemotherapy, or infections like Lyme disease (treating the underlying problem may help alleviate psychiatric symptoms)
• Show if medications are toxic (This is one of the main reasons why I rarely prescribe benzodiazepines because they are harmful to brain activity)
• Help prevent mistakes (You never want to stimulate a brain that’s already working too hard or calm a brain that isn’t working hard enough.)

How can SPECT brain scans help people with mental health disorders and addictions?

Brain SPECT imaging can be very powerful in treating people with psychiatric illnesses and/or addictions because it:

• Breaks denial
• Increases compliance
• Helps understand comorbidities
• Encourages follow-up scans (helping determine if treatment needs to be adjusted)
• Decreases stigma (helping you see that the problem is medical not moral)
• Decreases shame, guilt, self-loathing, and anger (helping you understand that your issues are not a personal failure)
• Increases, compassion and forgiveness for families

How does brain SPECT imaging offer hope to people struggling with mental health conditions?

Seeing before-and-after brain scans shows that you are not stuck with the brain you have. You can change your brain and change your life.

SPECT Scans: Before Treatment and After Treatment

Low overall blood flow:

Marked overall improvement:

In Part 2 of this blog, you will discover some of the common patterns seen in SPECT brain scans, what they mean, and the corresponding interventions.

The Amen Clinics has been using brain SPECT imaging with its patients since 1991 and has the world’s largest functional brain imaging database related to brain health/mental health issues with over 150,000 SPECT scans on patients from 120 countries.

If you or someone you know would like more information about brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics, watch these two videos, or to make an appointment, visit us online or call: 888-288-9834.

SPECT Made Ridiculously Simple with Dr. Daniel Amen Part 1

SPECT Made Ridiculously Simple with Dr. Daniel Amen Part 2


  1. I recently had the Spec Study done at your Chicago location. I was hoping to receive more ideas of what healthy supplements and natural food suggestions, that would best address my areas of low and high activity. Though, I was disappointed at the few suggestions and lack of brain education that I received from your specialist.
    Michelle Wolfe

    Comment by Michelle Wolfe — March 27, 2019 @ 2:18 AM

  2. Where can we get spect scans done in Melbourne , Australia?

    Comment by Gabrielle Skaltsis — March 27, 2019 @ 2:24 AM

  3. After almost 15 yrs of “psych treatment” in France, my wife was finally diagnosed Bipolar II in 2006, and was placed (or continued to be placed) on a regimen of anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, mood stabilizer & sleep aid. She did fairly well. However, in 2014 she came to USA, and has been seen by approx. 15 different providers, half of whom had differing expertise – ADHD, Bipolar, Multiple Personality, Depression, Anxiety, etc. Needless to say, each wanted to re-diagnose her into their specialty. Actually, a number even seemed to reach the conclusion that she had nothing wrong with her. Her current psychiatrist ‘thinks’ she is Bipolar I, and has her on 15 different medications, which is down from the about 20 he has had prescribed. With this scenario, you can probably imagine that, as her husband, I am not at all impressed with the random, ‘shotgun blast’, spaghetti-against-the-wall approach to traditional psychiatric ‘treatment’. Would you have any recommendation? The over-prescribing of medication seems unwarranted, to me, inasmuch as most of it appears to counteract ‘side effect’ issues.

    Garrett Maley

    Comment by Garrett Maley — March 27, 2019 @ 3:59 AM

  4. A family friend’s college son fell off a two story stairwell and landed on the back side of his head (on cement floor) taking full impact for the fall. He was in a coma for a number of days and is now “awake” and receiving physical therapy but there appears to be no recognition or cognizant brain function. Would SPect imaging be of any use for this type of trauma? What would treatment using spect results look like?

    Thank you.

    Comment by Myrna — March 27, 2019 @ 4:22 AM

  5. I wish it was affordable! It is for people with money!

    Comment by Pam Rey — March 27, 2019 @ 4:30 AM

  6. I’m excited to learn more about this, I’ll be attending Dr. Amen’s symposium this evening and hope to meet him in person.

    Comment by Teresita Towner — March 27, 2019 @ 6:31 AM

  7. I live near Lynchburg, Virginia. Where is the nearest location Where I can get the SPEC done.

    Comment by Michael Henry — March 27, 2019 @ 7:35 AM

  8. I had Kaiser do a SPECT but it was useless as they don’t perform these details. I wish you could look at my SPECT for a 2nd opinion but I was told you don’t offer 2nd opinions. 3 concussions by age 17, many tbi’s and I am jobless, broke and out of hope.

    Comment by Tom Zimmerman — March 27, 2019 @ 7:39 AM

  9. The clinic did not offer you suggestions or support relating to any health supplements,etc….? What were the Spec Study results? Is your brain functioning normally and did they suggest that you have a full medical evaluation? Did the insurance pay for this procedure? You don’t have to answer any of my questions but I am researching into this study. It seems as if it could be a wonderful way to diagnosis some conditions for some people struggling with addictions, ADD, OCD,etc….and impulsive behaviors. The price of the procedure is very expensive and if they are truly able to help people then it would be a wonderful support system for so many people. I would advocate for this medical procedure and maybe Congress could help out by demanding insurance coverage for this procedure under Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. If they are not helpful after one does pay for this procedure then what is the point?

    Comment by Elizabeth Rawnsley — March 27, 2019 @ 7:53 AM

  10. Disappointed to call the clinic listed on the website and be directed to a person who seemed quite disinterested and competent in such a limited capacity of response. Finally had to ask to get transferred to a person named Kim, who was supposed to be more helpful, but only got voice mail.

    I am trying to get information if the machinery used to do the brain scan is available other than in the Amen clinics, and could be available in Vietnam or Thailand–or other countries.

    And yes, for something that seems to be such a valuable tool, there needs to be a more reasonable price tag on it–and a more reasonable .price on the payment schedule which penalizes the person with more limited funds.

    Disappointing also to hear about the limited suggestions for how to assist the brain after a scan is taken.

    And I am not seeing responses to people here.

    Wondering, Dr Amen, what else is possible?

    Comment by Rosie — March 27, 2019 @ 9:42 AM

  11. Is it beneficial to have Spect scans to give more insight into “medical” conditions like Lyme disease, or mold toxicity. I read lately, that the spect scans assist in “psychiatric” types of sicknesses such as depression and anxiety. I would like a response by email from you. not a phone call to make an appointment. I am trying to find out if these spect scans are helpful in the ways I suggest above with MEDICAL findings.

    Comment by Jennifer Gregory — March 28, 2019 @ 7:27 AM

  12. What is the cost of a Spect scan, specifically for a 9yr old who had a traumatic brain injury as an infant.

    Comment by Rebecca Nielson — March 28, 2019 @ 7:30 AM

  13. Unfortunately, if you have to travel to a major metropolitan city like New York, it’s going to cost you about $4,500 when all is said and done. I think the Spect scan is about 1/2 of this cost, but then you have to pay also for the intake time and consultation time with the Psychiatrist/MD. As someone who did the visit and scans, I can’t heartily recommend it. Basically the MD I met with actually advised me to increase my Psychoactive drug by 30% (when I’ve been trying to get off it for 10 years). They also throw in all this stuff at the end of the analysis: diet recommendations, supplements, possible therapies, etc…Quite frankly it’s a bit overwhelming to take in or implement when you get home. Although the brain scans are somewhat interesting…who knows, your “aberaant ” scan may look exactly like someone’s who seems to be functioning normally. I think if they did it for a 1/3 of the price they charge now, it might be worth it.

    Comment by Paul — March 28, 2019 @ 8:30 AM

  14. Hello Rebecca, thank you for reaching out. The cost of a SPECT scan will be dependent on the needs of each patient. We have many different types of consultations and evaluations, and those evaluations may include one or two SPECT scans as well as other services, labs, coaching/therapy appointments, etc. For more information, please contact our Care Coordinators at 888-288-9834 or by visiting:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 9:57 AM

  15. Hello Jennifer, thank you for reaching out. We’ll contact you via email.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 9:57 AM

  16. Hello Tom, thank you for reaching out. We’ll pass this along and see if we can assist and contact you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 9:59 AM

  17. Hello Michael, we currently have 8 locations and the nearest to you would be in Reston, VA:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 10:03 AM

  18. Hello Teresita, we are so glad you attended the event in Burbank! Hope you enjoyed the evening!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 10:05 AM

  19. Hello Myrna, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. Head trauma, traumatic brain injuries, and concussions are a large part of the imaging work we do at Amen Clinics to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Here are some links for additional information:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 10:07 AM

  20. Hello Garrett, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We are sorry to hear about the confusing journey you have had with your wife in the U.S. We would like to have a Care Coordinator reach out to you via email to discuss the options that Amen Clinics and SPECT imaging can offer your wife. Our goal is to treat with the least toxic, most effective options for our patients. A list of our alternative treatment methods can be found here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 10:10 AM

  21. Hello Michelle, thank you for informing us. We’d be happy to connect you with the Clinic Director at the Amen Clinics Chicago location. Please feel free to reach out to that clinic to be connected with her:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 28, 2019 @ 10:11 AM

  22. Yes the Spec and the interviews and tests were a lot of money and we’re still waiting to see if we get a reimbursement from our insurance but even if we don’t it was worth every penny!! It answered so many questions. With the help of Dr Mona we also found out my loved one was almost totally being wrongly diagnosed by his Dr and PA . Also on too much medication and some medications were totally unnecessary and wrong. On minimal meds now and doing Great! God Blessed us with this clinic and Dr Mona!

    Comment by SANDY NOVELLI — March 30, 2019 @ 10:19 AM

  23. Sorry to hear about your experience. I am thinking of going for spect at Chicago location as well. I am curious to learn who was the psychiatrist that you saw while you were there?

    Comment by Katharina — April 3, 2019 @ 10:30 AM

  24. We have a son who had a concussion and went through severe depression. While meeting with the psychiatrist and looking over the scans, he was able to see the physical impact of the injury, recognize the behavioral tendencies that can occur, and he also received specific practical recommendations, encouragement and HOPE in moving forward. As parents, we received all the same benefits, as brain injury affects the entire family.

    We hope this procedure will become more readily available and cost effective, as we highly recommend SPECT imaging.

    Comment by E and M — April 3, 2019 @ 4:13 PM

  25. I called the Amen Clinics some time ago, left a voicemail, and never received a response. I assume it was because I told them that I was on Medicaid, so no one returned my phone call.

    I really would like to be able to get a college certificate or degree and work again, but this looks very unlikely. I think that the SPECT scans and the treatments at the Amen Clinics could be helpful for me, but I would have to have a lot of money in order to get help and I don’t.

    Comment by Margaret — April 25, 2019 @ 9:36 AM

  26. Hello Margaret, thank you for reaching out and letting us know. If you’d like more information from our team, we can have them reach out to you immediately. We are a fee-for-service clinic and don’t accept insurance, however, we do work with our patients to collect reimbursement where possible. We also offer financing options through Care Credit. The detail on financing can be viewed below the form on this page:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 25, 2019 @ 9:54 AM

  27. Thank you for your response. The Amen Clinics emailed a packet to me. Unfortunately, my being on SSI and Medicaid precludes my taking advantage of the financing options from the clinic. There is no way that I could even place a deposit for services.

    I just hope that one day insurance pays for SPECT scans and the therapies. People like me need the help and outside of the Amen Clinics, there is nothing else.

    Comment by Margaret — April 29, 2019 @ 8:56 AM

  28. I purchased Dr. Amens infomercial materials and Personally as a mom of special needs children, the universe of medicine completely contradicts itself when you simply Cannot Afford, with your insurance or without, the real treatments or attention for loved ones, that would and could ultimately change the outcomes and lives for people who desperately need it. True, the more well off luck out with health.
    So so sadly destroying and discouraging. Like forbidden fruit.

    Comment by Linda N. — May 9, 2019 @ 5:44 AM

  29. I brought my daughter to your Fairfield office when she was 13. We were seen by Dr. Goldman. KAD did well for several years. Then in High School got in w/ the wrong crowd and dropped out of high school. Long story short she went out to CA with a boyfriend but, become a full alcoholic. She jumps from one rehab to another. (14 so far) been on a multitude of drugs. My question is: is there something, anything that will turn her around. There has got to be medications that alcoholics can take to make them not want to drink. Isn’t there? I told her if she stayed sober for 6 months i’d Bring her back to the Amen clinic. She is about to turn 31. She is a beautiful young women. Will you please help us

    Comment by Susan DeMarco — June 2, 2019 @ 6:55 PM

  30. Looks like many people in need of help but the negatives are out weighing the positives.

    Comment by Rebecca — August 8, 2020 @ 8:52 AM

  31. Where can we get spect scans done in Vienna, Austria ?

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