Mission Viejo psychiatrist Martin Jensen says everyone has some degree of brain chemical differences.
"Sometimes they're assets; other times they're drawbacks," he said, but if they're causing problems concerning the quality of your life, "it's worth treating."
Jensen believes the standard psychiatric method of diagnosis and treatment works for most people, "but it's a little limited in certain complex situations."
Sometimes Valium is an appropriate treatment for people experiencing panic attacks, for example, he said, "but other times it's masking an underlying problem that can be corrected more efficiently and safely." The underlying problem, he said, can be deficiencies, instabilities or excesses of certain brain chemicals or electricity.
Instead of just making a diagnosis based on a patient's symptoms and then prescribing one medication, Jensen said, he usually prescribes a sequence of medications to further define the underlying brain chemistry and correct it.
The medication trials usually can be done at home, he said, and most chemical imbalances will be figured out within two office visits over a six-week period.
Jensen said a patient's reactions to the different medications clue him to what brain transmitter system is disturbed, and it can then be treated with a safe, low-dose medication. He said that "when a proper match occurs between the medication and a person's chemical imbalance, they know it" usually within 24 to 48 hours.
Other psychiatrists, however, say that it typically takes three or four weeks before the effects of many medications become apparent.
Gordon Globus, a Newport Beach psychiatrist, said not enough is known about brain chemistry or the effects of medications on brain chemistry to diagnose a neuro-chemical defect on the basis of medication response alone.
Globus, a professor of psychiatry and philosophy at UC Irvine, said treating brain chemical imbalances has become increasingly important as newer and better drugs have become available during the past 15 years and "are a very important point of view.
"But, in my opinion, it can be carried too far and the psychological aspects are neglected and they're very important to treat also. I think the interaction between medication and psychotherapy is more powerful than either treatment alone."
Jensen, who is writing a manual on his treatment technique for doctors and patients, said he respects the standard approach to psychiatry.
"I just want to add on to the current system a concept that has helped certain people that were not responsive" to standard treatment, he said.