Sunday, November 30, 2008

Neuroplasticity - The Brain Changes!

I’m spending more time reading about neuroplasticity. I am just wrapping up “The Brain that Changes Itself,” by Norman Doidge, M.D. and Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D.’s book, “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog.” Both of these doctors’ books report new knowledge of the brain’s insults and its astonishing ability to recover. These are cutting edge discoveries.

Many of us suffer losses and trauma in our lives. Some are quite severe. Our brains, our neural networks, record these events. Physical changes take place in the brain as we learn. Neurons grow and connect. We make sense of our traumas however we can. Over time our protections, understanding, behaviors, and experiences lay down even more neuronal paths. Things change. Not always for the better. Sometimes we become sensitized. We may learn unhealthy habits (addictions) to help us cope with painful memories. Some of us have brain systems that become "stuck" – such as in anxiety disorders or other OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders) – where we are compelled to organize, straighten, or check incessantly. There is help available. Although a neural connection can’t be erased, new learning can take place that can work around the existing impairment. Sometimes we need help to create new learning to help us recover.

Art is uniquely suited to addressing areas of entrenched pain or dysfunction. At times art making may work similarly to free association in psychoanalysis. You may start by drawing a recurring dream and begin to describe the picture and discover more about what your dream is telling you. Art can be a safe way of processing preverbal trauma. Maybe your image is just color, line and shape. Maybe it’s a lump of clay that represents how Depression has you feeling cold and lifeless. Maybe it’s a decorative box that holds your secrets. Or a book you bind together yourself with pages you can open and close, show or keep private.

The metaphors and meanings are as individual as you are. As you spend time with your art making you will be engaging in new learning. This is a good, good thing.


mindevolve said...

Hello, Susan.

I'm a few chapters in to Doidge's book and so far I've been amazed at the revelations about how flexible and capable of change the brain really is.

I agree with you about the power of art as an agent of change and therapy. As a musician and songwriter I know this to be true for me. I'd be interested to see some research in this area now that scientists can perform non-invasive brain scans to see how the brain changes over time.

As a side note, my company publishes brain training software (something like the Posit Science software that Doidge features). I launched the software without expecting it to have anything to offer the artist, since it trains working-memory and fluid intelligence. But instead we've found that it is great for musical training... The brain is truly a remarkable organ.

Best wishes, great blog!
Martin Walker
Effective, Affordable Brain Training

Susan Boyes, MA, ATR-BC, LPC said...

I am so interested in products like yours. I work part time in a clinic for Traumatic Brain Injury. I wish the standard treatments included something like this. Thank you for your note.