When a Paranoid Schizophrenic Sees His Brain, It Changes Everything

Paranoid Schizophrenia

Steve was living on the streets of San Francisco. Suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and addiction, he had violent outbursts and displayed erratic behavior. But he refused to seek treatment and had stopped taking his medication, which is why he had been kicked out of his home. After years of trying, Steve’s mother finally convinced her son to get a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation.

Steve’s First Appointment: A Potential Disaster

The patient outcome manager who was doing his clinical interview was so alarmed by Steve’s psychotic behavior and intense agitation, she didn’t feel comfortable being alone in the same room with him. He scared her. When Steve met with the psychiatrist, he declared loudly that he would not take any medication and that no one could convince him otherwise.

Shifting the Talk from Medication to Brain Imaging

To settle the tension, the psychiatrist shifted the conversation away from medication to the brain and asked if it would be okay to scan Steve’s brain using brain SPECT imaging. Brain SPECT is a state-of-the-art brain mapping tool that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain and can give psychiatrists more information to help their patients more effectively. Steve was curious and agreed to be scanned. Looking at his scan with the psychiatrist, Steve learned that his brain showed high levels of damage. The psychiatrist showed Steve a healthy scan and compared it to his scan. Steve just stared at them without saying a word

Healthy SPECT Scan

The underside surface of a healthy brain: full, even, symmetrical activity.

Steve’s Brain SPECT Scan


The underside of Steve’s SPECT scan shows overall low blood flow and activity.

Steve’s Brain SPECT Scan: Seeing is Believing

After about 5 minutes Steve looked up, and for the first time made eye contact with the psychiatrist and asked if he could help him heal his brain. The scans helped Steve make the shift from being angry and in denial to being open to making an effort to get a better brain. This was a pivotal moment — one that the scans have provided for thousands of patients. After seeing his brain, Steve was willing to listen when the psychiatrist told him there were better medications than the ones he had been on in the past, and he was open to taking a low dose of a newer antipsychotic medication being prescribed. Steve even agreed to return for a follow-up appointment three weeks later.

Before-and-After Brain Scans Give Steve Hope

Just one week later, Steve’s mother paid an unscheduled visit to the psychiatrist, hugged him, and kissed him on the cheek. “You can’t believe how much better Steve is,” she said. “He is not hallucinating, he’s not aggressive and we can have him at home. I am so grateful.”

A few weeks later, when Steve showed up for his first follow-up visit, he was remorseful for his prior behavior and grateful he was feeling better. We did a follow-up brain SPECT scan, which showed dramatic improvement already. The psychiatrist placed Steve’s original scan next to his new one and asked, “Which brain do you want?”

Steve said, “I want the healthy one.”

“Then you have to take your medication,” the psychiatrist replied.

And Steve agreed to continue taking his prescription, which helped control his symptoms. The scans made all the difference for Steve and the people he loved.

Steve was treated at Amen Clinics, which has been using brain SPECT imaging for over thirty years to help diagnose and treat patients with mental health issues and addictions.

If you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness or addiction, visit us online or call us at 888-288-9834.


  1. Are you working on getting your services covered by insurance? Without that it is out of my reach.

    Comment by Martha Duke — April 17, 2019 @ 2:19 AM

  2. How do you explain further what those fissures are and ugly particles?

    Comment by Celia Camara — April 17, 2019 @ 2:37 AM

  3. I’m amazing with the informations that you have provided. I been reading most of your emails about the brain. Thanks so much. Now I have my husband 58 years old suffering Parkinson disease. And he is been prescribed Carbidopa levodopa 25/100mcg. He been with this treatment for two years. The side effects are not making it any easy for him. Dry mouth, dry eyes and some how mentally impaired
    Is there a natural way to treat this condition?

    Hope you can help my husband.

    Comment by Carmen Munoz — April 17, 2019 @ 3:05 AM

  4. Dr Amen, I am a real big fan and admire the work that u do to help depression and all the mental disorders that are out there! I’m writing to u in regards to establish a clinic in Pittsburgh, Pa! There are so so many people who suffer mental illness! I have a brother who has been dignosed with bipolar disorder! He has had this since he was 18 and now is 60! As u well know, medication after medication, side effects that basically make u feel worse and constant thoughts of suicide! In and out of hospitals! I would love to be able to bring him to one of your clinics! I also have a female neighbor that is 55 who never gets out of bed! I could bring a crew of people I know that have some kind of depression! Medicine does help, but I would like to know what part of brain is truly sick? This in turn would give us a more understanding,and also what medical treatment that he must have to be able to live his life where he isn’t ashamed of himself and be able to survive! I hope u will respond to my email! Thank u, Rena Schooles!

    Comment by Rena Schooles — April 17, 2019 @ 9:28 AM

  5. Hello Rena, thank you for reaching out. We will certainly contact you via email!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 17, 2019 @ 10:17 AM

  6. My friend Dan, has lived with me since age 28, 2004. He’s 43 now, been to rehab for drugs and alcohol 3 times. Was diagnosed as bipolar about10 years ago but has not found a medication that doesn’t make him “feel sick.”
    He’s become verbally abusive daily and when he roughly grabbed my face last November I got a court order to make him leave. His father talked me into dropping the order so he could come to the house and get his stuff.
    He hasn’t left since and has continued to be abusive. He keeps saying he has brain damage because he just can’t function. He has all the cognitive symptoms, some of the physical symptoms and most of the behavioral/emotional symptoms.
    I can’t help him but he has nowhere to go. It’s not in my nature to evict a loved one to the street so I would bring him to you if you would examine him.
    I could pay on a monthly basis.

    Comment by Pamela Fee — April 17, 2019 @ 3:30 PM

  7. You might find some help in the book entitled The Prime by Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary. She is a neurologist who turned to Ayureda medicine to help her patients with Parkinson’s and MS. She has quite a bit about how a healthy gut affects the brain and brain maladies that have gotten significant results from just healing the gut! I have found an alertness upon waking I have not had since cancer and the treatments 2 years ago! What a relief to begin to feel like myself again!! And it’s something I can do with only the best possible side-effects. Finding whole organic seeds was easier than I thought– most health food stores carry them in bulk for $3-$5/ bag which lasts for over a month of daily tea. I did make changes to when I ate raw veggies– only midday now– no more big salads at night. For this small change I’ve lost 6 lbs and inches off tummy due to bloat! I had no idea what i thought was healthy-eating was disturbing my sleep and my waistline. Maybe what is allowing me to wake bright-eyed again! The dry-brushing has also had a huge impact by removing the Fake Fat from my legs etc by moving the lymph system! These are simple things yet no western medicine people have never even mentioned any of this. Best of luck to you and your husband!

    Comment by Jann Pierce — April 17, 2019 @ 4:14 PM

  8. Lack of blood flow.

    Comment by Carolyn Lightle — April 17, 2019 @ 5:01 PM

  9. I spoke with one of your staff just a week ago and they told me they could not help my son with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and now you have an article on helping someone?

    Do you or do you not?

    Comment by florence — April 18, 2019 @ 3:07 AM

  10. Thank you for the article!

    Dr. Amen, I have had epilepsy for over 50 years and have had a right temporal lobe surgery (removing much of it). I often wonder if there is something that can help rebuild the brain.
    My father is suffering from Parkinson’s. We are looking for ways to make him better.

    Thank you!

    Comment by Daniel Vincent — April 18, 2019 @ 5:55 AM

  11. I had a severe stroke and thrombectomy 6/16/17 will this test show what areas are damaged and why my memory short and long term is so bad and why I can not multitask? I have severe stroke fatigue and anxiety panic attacks and depression after stroke and spasticity after stroke on left side. I have applied for Social Security and am in appeal waiting for hearing they are not understanding of how severe the cognitive deficits and other side effects of stroke are and I don’t think MRI gives as much info on the brain as a this scan? Would this help me?

    Comment by Mary Ann Hutchins — April 18, 2019 @ 8:10 AM

  12. Hello Mary, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We’d be happy to contact you via email and discuss your specific symptoms and needs.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 18, 2019 @ 1:24 PM

  13. Hello Daniel, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We’d be happy to contact you via email and discuss both your symptoms and diagnosis as well as your father’s.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 18, 2019 @ 1:25 PM

  14. Get tested for Celiac Disease. There are a small subset of people with Schizophrenia that have gluten as a trigger.

    Comment by Cindy Praisner — April 19, 2019 @ 4:50 AM

  15. Do you treat schizophrenia?

    Comment by Jill Mcclintock — April 22, 2019 @ 7:18 PM

  16. I wish the title said “When a man with paranoid schizophrenia sees his brain….”.

    Comment by Laurie — June 8, 2019 @ 7:46 AM

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