The Brain that Changes Itself: How Breakthroughs in Neuroplasticity Can De-Pathologize Mental Health

Lucinda Jewell

Dr. Norman Doidge is a curious psychiatrist. He wanted to know how neuroplasticity could serve his practice and he sets out in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, to interview and understand the work of leading neuroscientists who are using the natural neuroplasticity of the brain to heal everything from long-time post-injury paralysis to successfully managing OCD and anxiety. Along the way, we get a fascinating history of the scientific communities resistance to seeing what the data was telling them — that the brain is not immutable and doomed to downward decline with age and injury. Instead, the brain has an extraordinary capacity to grow itself, undo bad or faulty wiring, and heal and adapt itself.

Written for the lay person, Dr. Doidge nevertheless sprinkles enough understandable data and analysis to support the claims of what he calls the new “neuroplasticians.” Though the first part of the book begins in the obvious place of helping the brain repair itself after traumatic injury causing either physical debilities or cognitive like aphasia, he soon introduces breakthroughs that make a difference for learning differences and psychiatric issues that can interfere in people fulfilling their gifts and potential.

Most exciting, is the possibility of turning back the pathology of the medical model in dealing with mental health issues that nevertheless still cause too many people to live half lives of pain and suffering. Though not mentioned by Dr. Doidge here, the best way to live well having experienced symptoms of “schizophremia”  is the practice or philosophy of Open Dialogue developed in Norway, but it is largely ignored and underpracticed in the U.S. Let us hope that neuroplasticity becomes the basis of more mind/brain research sooner rather than later, and that the DSM begins to de-pathologize the human condition.

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Lucinda Jewell
Chair of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Board of Directors, Lucinda Jewell, Ed. M. is the former President of DBSA Boston and still serves on the board there. Previously, she was co-founder of the Boston Book Review, a literary review modeled on the Times Literary Supplement. She earned her Ed. M in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard and taught ESL in China. Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995, she has been a tireless educator and advocate for transforming the conversation for mental health from danger and drain to one of resiliencies and contribution. She lives with her daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.