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Bill WhiteBill White
A blog about mental and emotional health

Neuroplasticity: The Flexible and Healing Brain (Wow!)

Bill White Updated: Nov 3rd 2010

Neuroplasticity is an amazing dynamic by which the brain reorganizes the connections of its neurons in response to new circumstances. And though it only makes sense it's a major player in infant, toddler, and pre-pubescent brain development; the adult brain can be amazingly plastic.

neuronAn example? Neuroplasticity comes into play within the context of disease and injury. And that would explain, say, how a stroke victim regains a particular function even though the directing area of the brain has been damaged.

As you can imagine, it would take a book to sufficiently explain neuroplasticity, and how it works. But that's not our present mission. I just want to make you aware of it, and make sure you know we have the ability to will it into action.

That amazing factoid came to the fore thanks to the work of a very wise fellow, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. By the way, doing an Internet search on Dr. Schwartz would be well worth your time.

Schwartz, and his pals at UCLA, discovered that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can positively impact the brain machinations involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in a manner similar to antidepressants.

Briefly, CBT is based upon the pivotal role of thought as it applies to our feelings and behavior. If we're experiencing distress, the mission of CBT is to identify the faulty thinking causing the problems and teach us how to swap these errant thoughts with the facts. And this serves to foster more desirable responses and behavior.

Well, the story goes that Dr. Schwartz revisited an interest in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness - an in-the-moment, self-observational technique that emphasizes viewing oneself without criticism or judgment.

Schwartz discovered that when OCD patients practiced mindfulness meditation (as a CBT technique), upon experiencing distressing symptoms, a significant number of them reported measurable relief.

Curious man that he is, Schwartz wanted to understand why. So he and the team examined PET scans administered before and after a course of CBT. And they found activity in the core of the brain's OCD circuit, the orbital frontal cortex, decreased significantly. Furthermore, the observed decrease was about the same as what would be noted after antidepressant therapy.

Schwartz needed no further evidence that intention - will - can definitely alter the brain's functioning through the wonders of neuroplasticity. And this holds the potential to bring a whole lot of relief to a whole lot of people.

Very simply, neuroplasticity is all about neurons having the ability to establish new connections throughout our brains, facilitating all sorts of fresh functioning. So, it's about a rewiring of the brain.

But, it's also a matter of how specific neural circuits got wired together in the first place; resulting in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. See, it's apparent that neurons consistently interacting together form long-lasting functional relationships; just as neurons that no longer interact lose their connections.

And these machinations are foundational in our hope for incredibly positive and powerful change throughout the lifespan, as our brains physically change - adapt - based upon the dynamics of will and neuroplasticity.

Fascinating discovery, don't you think? And the implications and applications are incredibly far-reaching. If you'd like to learn more about neuroplasticity, check-out the work of Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., and so many more.

I'm curious, what are your thoughts? How might what you've read be applied to your mood or anxiety situation? Has it been a factor already?

 

Bill White

After enduring decades of anxiety, depression, and alcoholism; Bill made it out of the woods. He found his lifeís passion along the way, earned his counseling credentials, and is ready to lend a hand. Visit his blog at chipur.com, and you can contact Bill at bill@chipur.com.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Buddha's Brain-by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius - Jim White - Nov 29th 2010

    Excellant book on the "how to's" of rewiring your brain through contemplative practices.

    Where Is The Implementation? - Joe Robinson - Nov 16th 2010

    Neuroplasticity: much is being written about what it is but virtually nothing on implementation...most efficient "how to" needs to be explored & discussed.

    Doidge - Bill White - Nov 5th 2010

    Read it. Great recommendation...

    Dr. Norman Doidge - John - Nov 4th 2010

    Also another interesting author that has done a lot of work in this area is Dr. Norman Doidge, M.D.  He wrote the book, The Brain that Changes Itself.

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