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.