This article was written by Robert Galvin, a Primary Counselor at The Discovery Institute

The disease concept of addiction is verbalized frequently and I believe is central to treatment. However, there usually is a watered-down interpretation given to most clients and their loved ones.

It is certainly understood that the brain is highly impacted by substance use and brain health disorders. The brain is central to everything in our lives. It is responsible for our thoughts, feelings and ultimately for our personality and behaviors.

This is a simple concept, yet do we utilize all our options to help our clients heal their brain?

I argue that we don’t. It stands to reason that how well a person’s brain functions correlates to their well-being and functioning in all aspects of life. Most current mainstream substance use and brain health treatment options emphasize medicinal psychiatric treatments, medication assisted treatment (MAT) and therapeutic interventions, all of which can be effective.  

In most substance use or mental health treatment facilities, there are typically no biological tests utilized to confirm a mental health diagnosis or functioning of the brain. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a way to view issues with brain functioning in our clients?

While mental health inventories or criteria are used to diagnose disorders, they don’t always paint the whole picture. It is also not uncommon for diagnosis to be incorrect. According to research reported by National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (DMDA) approximately 69% of all first-time diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder are incorrect and more than one-third remained misdiagnosed for 10 years or more. This is certainly understandable as assessment and diagnosis in general is complex. A diagnosis in itself does not always explain the cause of the disorder. Clients can have a diagnosis for depression and there could be multiple reason such as grief, substance use, brain injury, chronic illness or pain, and other biological factors. Therefore, correct assessment is essential before implementing the correct intervention. This begs the question; how can we treat a disorder if we can’t always accurately identify the real cause? Imagine all the time and effort used to treat an incorrectly assessed problem, let alone the frustration and suffering a client will experience (i.e. bipolar diagnosis). 

I would like to encourage consumers, counselors, medical personnel, supervisors and anyone else involved with helping clients with substance use and brain health disorders to advocate for better evidenced based options. 

The trend toward finding solutions for treating individuals with substance use disorders has been proceeding in a seemingly urgent manner over the last few years in response to the opiate epidemic. Typically, over my 8-year career in substance use and mental health treatment, I have witnessed a consistent and sometimes considerable delay between the application of interventions and evidenced based research. The population suffering from substance use and brain health disorders all too often have poor outcomes as evidenced by recidivism rates and fatalities. Professionals and consumers have to contend with external influences which can cause significant barriers to treatment. One such barrier is limited funding and how it can all too often shorten the length of stay in treatment. However, we do have more control regarding the clinical interventions that we can implement to help our clients. There is a proven, but not often utilized intervention, that I believe could significantly change the trajectory of outcomes for our clients. I am speaking of the practices by Dr. Daniel Amen and SPECT scans. 

Dr. Amen is a well-known psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist who offers an alternative way to approach brain health. I believe so much in his research and interventions that I have enrolled for certification in brain health through his clinics.

Dr Amen introduced Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans as a means to visually display functioning of the brain. SPECT scans can tell us 3 things: areas of the brain that work well, areas that don’t work hard enough & areas of the brain that work too hard. 

He has been using SPECT scans for a least 4 decades and has developed simple strategies to heal the brain. His interventions are client centered treatments to help clients heal their brain and not only change their outcomes in recovery but also increase overall wellbeing. SPECT scans can be cost prohibitive among treatment facilities. However, professionals like myself can be certified in brain health. We would be able to accurately assess brain function issues without the use of SPECT scans at a significantly lower cost. The assessment process is very comprehensive and covers a variety of possible causes for brain health issues. The training also teaches client centered interventions that are realistic for clients to achieve. 

If you would like to learn more about Robert Galvin and his work at The Discovery Institute, please contact us today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Robert Galvin

Robert GalvinI began my education at BCC studying Human Services, continued my education with undergraduate and graduate school at Rutgers and Monmouth University respectively. I am currently studying to be certified in brain health through the Amen clinics. My clinical style is client centered which is reinforced with a Motivational Interviewing approach.