Archive for the ‘Schwartz, J. & Begley, S’ Category

This is a good book and very inspiring, but frustrating too in places.

The subject is a bit of a mouth-full – Neuroplasticity.  Not it’s not about how plastics affect your brain, it is about the ability of the human brain to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout the life-span of the individual.  Neuroplasticity can allow neurons (brain cells) to compensate for injury, or for harmful brain conditions and adjust their activities in response to new situations and changes of environment.  And, what’s more, these changes can occur quite quickly in response to changes in the way we think.

Only a short time ago, this was considered impossible.  It was thought that by the time an individual had reached adulthood, their brain was a “fixed entity” not able to grow further, or to compensate for injury, or to change its functional structure to any significant degree.  Whilst this remains true to some degree (we can’t grow new bits of brain if we lose them) we have discovered that the brain is much more changeable than we ever considered possible.

Jeffrey S, working with people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, became dis-satisfied with the traditional approaches to therapy, namely Behaviour Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Response Prevention.  Sometimes these treatments can be perceived by the client as demeaning, shaming and aversive.

Using mindfulness approaches, he discovered that by having people focus attention away from unhelpful, negative thoughts and urges and towards positive things, that they could make enduring changes to their own brain pathways.  He devised a four-part strategy – the four R’s:

Relabel – “This is a bothersome thought to do with a brain wiring problem.”

Reattribute:  “This is a brain glitch from an overactive brain area.”

Refocus:  Direct positive attention elsewhere.

Re-evaluate:  “The thoughts and symptoms are not worthy of attention.”

Using these strategies, he found that clients had better “buy in” to therapy and achieved good lasting outcomes.  What is more, brain scans were able to show changes in neuronal pathways.

All very fascinating, however he then goes on to give an extended account of the development of research on neuroplasticity and the struggle to have the ideas accepted.  This is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially the bits that cover the rather gruesome aspects of animal research.  Some reviewers have complained that this part of the book is extremely repetitive.  Well, yes it is, but it gives an account of the research development from a number of different perspectives and angles and it does actually have some fascinating and inspiring parts, if you can plough through it all.

There follows another lengthy discussion relating neuroplasticity to quantum mechanics, free will and the like, which I would imagine many people would find about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Again, philosophically fascinating if you have an interest and knowledge of the area, but I suspect most readers would prefer this to be much shorter.

I would have preferred to see much more discussion of the ideas in actual therapy and more case study examples.  These criticisms aside, the book has been well worth the price I paid for it and I am taking every opportunity to put the principles into practice.  I have heard that the mindfulness/refocusing approach also works well for the management of depression and anxiety.


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