Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) can both be considered forms of brain INJURY even though the cause of the injury is extreme psychological trauma rather than a physical trauma such as a blow to the head with a hammer or car accident.
However, when psychiatrists treat PTSD with drugs, they do so, in the vast majority of cases, without looking at the organ they are treating (i.e. the brain), unlike, say, a cardiologist, who would not consider treating the heart without, first, physically evaluating it.
In relation to this, the psychiatrist Dr Daniel Amen stresses the importance that, before prescribing psychoactive drugs in patients suffering from PTSD (and other disorders), it is vital that the patient’s brain is physically evaluated in order to help ascertain in what ways it may be behaving sub-optimally; he argues that such physical evaluations of the brain would reduce the amount of guesswork psychiatrists (who do not examine the brain) must currently employ when prescribing medications intended to beneficially alter brain function and thus ameliorate the patient’s particular symptoms.
The method Amen recommends for physically evaluating what is going on in the brains of patients seeking therapeutic intervention for their particular condition is called SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) imaging.
What Information Does SPECT Imaging Provide About The Brain?
SPECT imaging measures blood flow in the brain and, because this blood flow reflects brain activity, it provides three important pieces of information about the brain’s functionality; these are :
- Areas of the brain that are functioning well.
- Areas of the brain that are overactive.
- Areas of the brain that are underactive.
Armed with this information, Amen argues, the psychiatrist who makes use of SPECT imaging is in a much stronger position to tailor his / her treatment to the specific needs of the individual based upon the results of this imaging technique, whereas the psychiatrist who does not physically evaluate the brain in such a manner is forced to merely speculate what is happening in the patient’s brain, thus making his / her decisions about which psychoactive drugs need to be administered less informed and, potentially, therefore, less effective.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).