Psychology Scams

A handful of times I’ve learned of acquaintances falling for psychological diagnostic scams. The most notable are a urine test telling neurotransmitter deficiency and a brain scan to diagnose a mood disorder (Amen Clinic).

I can understand wanting a definitive diagnosis. I know how frustrating it is to go from doctor to doctor with a new diagnosis each time.
When hearing of these two scams, my initial reaction was skepticism and interest. Why had I never heard of them before? Why had no one ever recommended them for me? Quick searches for more information revealed why I’d not heard of these tests.

Neurotransmitter levels in urine do not necessarily reflect the amount of the neurotransmitter in the brain.

We don’t know enough to use brain scans for diagnosis of most psychiatric problems. There are a lot of studies finding differences between the brains of healthy controls and people with a specific problem, but a lot more research needs to be done to use it diagnostically.

Of course there are things that can be diagnosed with brain scans, which makes the Amen Clinic’s service seem legitimate. We can spot brain tumors for one. I even have a friend who had his schizophrenia diagnosis confirmed with an MRI. It’s important to realize that he would have still been diagnosed with schizophrenia regardless of what the the MRI scan showed, it just provided additional evidence for the diagnosis. Also, schizophrenia is a disorder with a larger body of MRI research.

We are no where near being ready to look at a persons brain and tell them they are bipolar.

Unfortunately one of my friends doesn’t realize this and shelled out a lot of money (looks like $3,375.00. according to the website) for this procedure. This clinic also takes a general history. I’m betting that’s where the bipolar diagnosis came from, not the overpriced photos of her brain.

If someone has a lot of money they don’t mind wasting they should go into the two different locations and tell different fake symptoms and then leave with two different diagnoses.

I wonder if the people running these know the science is shoddy? Maybe one person at the top knows and the underlings follow blindly.

If I thought these tests worked I’d get them done in a heartbeat. I want concrete answers. I want to know what is wrong and exactly how to fix it. The guesswork is exasperating. It’s unfortunate that this desire gets taken advantage of.

The people I know who bought into these scams to do not know the tests are bogus. They were given diagnoses and a recommended drug. What do I do? Do I educate them? Or maybe the damage is done and I should leave them be?
They were told in fancy sounding terms what FDA approved drug to take. The treatment plans they were told were nothing dangerous. It’s possible they are getting placebo benefit from this. I’d hate to ruin it if it’s helping them.

But, what if the drug isn’t the right fit? Are they going to feel trapped into taking it when alternatives might be preferable? Or feel hopeless/un-fixable if it doesn’t work?

I also have concern about them advocating the test to others. They share in common this enthusiasm about the test, thinking they’ve uncovered this secret hidden away by the medical community. Should they be told, so others are not dragged into this?

I’ve decided to mind my own business, but I feel a level of guilt over it. As a not-very-close-friend I feel saying more would cross a line.
I wonder how a therapist would/should handle a patient who begins therapy armed with this false information. It’s going to be hard to form a therapeutic alliance by shooting it down at the start. But if the information doesn’t fit with the best treatment plan then something needs to be done.

What do you think? Have you heard of other similar scams?

13 thoughts on “Psychology Scams

  1. Let’s not forget another scam: Forest Labs and Pfizer had to settle with the FDA last year for illegally claiming “off-label” uses for their psych drugs when marketing them. The uses were unapproved but drug company reps still hawked them to doctors.

    I would imagine that a giant drug company with hundreds of drug reps is magnitudes more dangerous than one crackpot selling fake tests online.

  2. “We are no where near being ready to look at a persons brain and tell them they are bipolar.” Exactly!
    {sigh}… so sad when people prey on the ones who are hurting and looking for help. Reminds me of late night commercials selling hair restoration products to men, and weight loss wonder drugs to women

  3. Howdy. Found site researching Amen clinics because I just saw a patient today who had been to one. He (patient) concluded it was a waste/scam, probably correct, for him, but they are slippery in their claims for SPECT and from other posts on other sites, it appears they do at least do some prolonged history and try to get at the clinical features of their patients’ cases. The treatments are not much different from std psych/pharm treatments, per a few reports from patients, with addition of some proprietary herbal/vitamin/other supplements with low (known) tox and their own website touts natural qualities of their supplements, as if a naturally-occuring cpd was incapable of harm. Claims made for diagnostic utility/certainty that can be achieved w SPECT are laughable from neurosci standpoint. Even if they are correct, they don’t/can’t know they are correct, or demonstrate any added benefit from performing the scan. As to how they can do this without a license, it’s simple. They have a license. Spect scans are a recognized tool for use in a few areas and have been around for a long time. I, or any licensed Dr, may order them. By and large, insurers will not pay for them with a few exceptions, but the Amen Clinics reportedly get around that by not accepting insurance in some (?all) cases and offering patients receipts to submit to their insurers. Good luck with that, boyo.

  4. My son’s urine test only cost like $50…thru the ins carrier. My son is taking natural supplements for ADD. Teachers have noticed a change in behavior and grades. He also has a better diet now.

    • I think you missed the point. It’s entirely possible that the person who gave the test might also give you a treatment plan that happens to work by luck, but the fact that the treatment plan works has nothing to do with the results of the urine test because the urine test of neurotransmitters in urine is unable to detect anything meaningful about neurotransmitters in the brain.

  5. Just because it’s not something you learned in a pharmaceutical controlled med school doesn’t mean it is wrong or a scam. I was a chronic pain patient who followed his advice in one of his books and I am enjoying life with minimal pain, something the orthos couldn’t do.

    • I don’t think you read my post carefully. There’s a difference between something being totally wrong and not having the evidence to know for sure it is correct. I’m glad you are doing well, but without evidence there’s no way for others to know if something is good for them. These tests I mentioned are trying to claim an ability to diagnose beyond what science is able to know at this point. And besides the point I’m not talking about pain patients at all here and really know nothing about that area.

  6. Hello. Found you via google search for Amen clinics. My gf took SPECT test, was diagnosed ADD / BPMD, and prescribed meds. 5 years and only a few random, shoddy appts later, and she’s struggling. I come into this totally confused, due to the appt cancellations coming via text msg from the doc’s sister, and just how easy it is for her to change her dosage. Can anyone here recommend any other resources on the Amen clinic scam? Thanks in advance.

  7. I BELIEVE the Amen Clinics to be of wonderful use. Our daughter had suffered from depression, ADHD, headaches and seizures since she was very young. We had her to MANY doctors, psychologist, psychiatrist and medical, and they could never help her. As a matter of fact, one medication that she was given as a teen, zoloft, caused her to have a suicide attempt and a week in a psyh hospital! We were so forlorn. When she was 23 (now almost 26) we found out about Dr. Amen’s clinic and headed out to Calf. WE COULDN’T BE MORE PLEASED!!!! They showed her, her brain on the scan, they developed a medication regiment that has WORKED!!!!! She had finished college, is working, living on her own and happier than we could have EVER imagined. A scam, I DON’T THINK SO! If you go to the Amen Clinics you will see that they are professional and have the compassion to help. I believe the EVIDENCE is in how well she is doing. We tried EVERYTHING and it didn’t work until we found the Amen Clinic, they gave our daughter the life she deserves! I feel it is wrong to demean something that has given so many people so much!

    • I’m glad things worked out for your daughter. The reality is though that current scientific knowledge does not have the ability to interpret the scans as Dr. Amen claims they do. I’m sure people do get better after going to those clinics, but the expensive scans can not be credited for the improvement.


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