Simon Morton interviews neuroscience writer Norman Doidge

You may have caught Simon Morton’s interview on neuroplasticity last Saturday on This Way Up. Morton was interviewing Canadian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge on his latest book The Brain’s Way of Healing.

In his 2007 bestseller, The Brain that Changes Itself, Doidge made more widely known the growing body of research on brain plasticity. This research has overturned the traditional Western medical doctrine (i.e. that the brain is a machine made up of a fixed number of brain cells all with very specific functions) and shown the brain is in fact neuroplastic –  capable of reorganizing itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. And in particular capable of significant self repair and healing. Now in The Brain’s Way of Healing Doidge goes on to tell a number of stories where healthy human functioning was restored through the use of different brain-based methods, techniques and devices. One of the methods he profiles is the Feldenkrais Method®.

The Brain’s Way of Healing is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the current state of applications of brain plasticity for healing human dysfunction. Not only does he relate remarkable and inspiring stories he also provides a very useful conceptual framework for a scientific understanding of the processes of neuroplastic healing.

Using this framework, Doidge is able to explain how Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais Method®, anticipated the findings of current neuroscience into brain plasticity by his use of movement. Feldenkrais’ genius was to use movement to engage the sensorimotor brain function to “rewire” the brain with newer, better patterns of functioning.

There are two particularly important and attractive features that Doidge does not explicitly bring out but are implicit in his account of the Feldenkrais Method®:
1. It is aimed at and effective not only for “healing” serious brain related damage and resulting disabilities but also for anyone just wanting to improve their total bodily functioning.
2. The key to its capacity to restore and improve functioning in such a wide range of people lies in its easy accessibility and low cost.

The Feldenkrais Method® of awareness through movement is a systematic and intentional application of kinaesthetic learning – the kind of natural and playful learning that a child’s early development depends upon. Other techniques of neuroplastic re-patterning are costly and in many cases not easily available or not accessible at all to most people.

In The Brain’s Way of Healing Doidge tells two remarkable stories of brain healing using the Feldenkrais Method®. In the celebrated case of “Elizabeth”, Moshe Feldenkrais and his assistant Anat Baniel enabled a very young child born with severe brain related disabilities to mature into a normal functioning adult. The same method of using movement to facilitate sensory awareness and so improve body functioning was also spectacularly successful in restoring sight to David Webber after orthodox medical interventions over many years had failed. [Read more about “Elizabeth’s” and Moshe Feldenkrais in this online excerpt from The Brain’s Way of Healing.]

There is a growing body of published research supporting the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais approach – with some interesting studies being done across the ditch by Karol Connors, Carolyn Pile, Mary Galea and Susan Hillier among others. Closer to home, doctoral student Cindy Allison is doing a PhD at the University of Canterbury’s Health Sciences Centre on the application of the Feldenkrais Method® to spinal cord injuries.

Here are some useful links you might like to follow:

– Alan Cameron ©