Brain Plasticity and Healing

I continue to be fascinated with the topic of brain plasticity. I have purchased and read most of the book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, by Norman Doidge, M. D. I have enjoyed the book very much, and it has confirmed and strengthened most of my impressions of this interesting topic. The book lacks statistical data and cool pictures. It is mostly explaining the theory and history behind brain plasticity, and gives several case studies.

Much of the book talks about stories of healing using techniques based on brain plasticity. One of the most memorable and foundational stories has to do with a man who had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed over half of his body. His son happened to be Dr. Bach-y-Rita, who is one of the pioneers of brain plasticity.

This stroke was so severe that he was told he would never recover, and after four weeks of typical rehabilitation, which brought no meaningful progress, he was sent home. He initially had to be helped with everything. His son decided that he needed to relearn everything much like a child would learn. So instead of trying to help him walk, they started with crawling. They would play simple children’s games. They would focus on learning to use the paralyzed limbs, with help at first, and slowly improvement was made. They worked like this for several hours every day.

After about a year, he had recovered enough to resume teaching at the city college in New York. A few years later he took another teaching job at San Francisco State. A nearly full recovery was made. After he died of a heart attack while hiking in Columbia, an autopsy was performed. The autopsy revealed that large sections of his brain had ‘died’ as a result of the stroke. There should have been no way that he could have recovered like he did. The most plausible reason for this recovery was that the brain had been remapped due to the tireless rehabilitation efforts.

Several case studies like this are given in the book, and most, if not all, of them have several elements in common:

– A strong desire of the patient to change and improve.

– Several hours of intense, concentrated effort every day for several weeks.

– Positive encouragement and reinforcement whenever progress is made.

The recovery and healing are often not total or complete, but are significant. This approach has shown great promise for stroke, autism, cerebral palsy, personality disorders, learning disabilities, habits, sexual attraction, pain management, etc. One of the best hospitals in the country is at the University of Alabama-Birmingham which is home of the Taub clinic which specializes in this type of therapy.

Some of the case studies given in this book seem somewhat miraculous, and it makes me wonder if some of this might be related to spiritual healing. The gift of healing is one of the spiritual gifts. Mormons believe in the gifts of the spirit, but often take a practical view of such gifts. We often view miracles as applications of eternal law or principles which we do not currently understand. We tend to view God and miracles as more natural than supernatural. Might brain plasticity give some insight into the metaphysics of spiritual healing?

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5 Responses to “Brain Plasticity and Healing”


  1. 1 m&m November 18, 2008 at 2:26 am

    This was interesting. Thanks. I might just check that book out! 🙂

  2. 2 Last Lemming November 18, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I’m in the middle of the book. It’s definitely worth reading, although he is a bit more enamored of Freud than I am. And the brethren could substantially improve their semi-annual pornography denunciations by incorporating some of Doidge’s material.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson November 18, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    m&m:

    I like the book, it keeps my hope that we can all change and improve ourselves alive.

    Last Lemming:

    Yes, there is a lot of Freud in the book. And I did like Doidge’s take on pornography.

  4. 4 disabled dating websites March 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm

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  1. 1 Brain Plasticity and Pornography « Small and Simple Trackback on March 25, 2009 at 11:44 am

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