Norman Doidge, plasticity, and eyesight

Perhaps you’ve heard about Dr. Norman Doidge’s latest book, The Brain’s Way of Healing. Dr. Doidge (pronounced ‘Dodge,’ I believe) is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has turned himself into Dr. Oliver Sacks, meaning he likes to write about interesting patient stories from the frontiers of neurology. His first book was titled The Brain That Changes Itself.

The concept of brain plasticity (the discovery that the brain is able to form new neural pathways), Doidge informs us, has been been around since the 1970s but only began to enter the public consciousness in 2006. That appears about right to me, as in early 2004 Chris’s psychiatrist told my husband and me that his brain was sort of like rapidly solidifying concrete that needed to be ‘protected’ from further rigidity and loss of neurons through the administration of neuroleptic drugs. That theory had already bit the dust but somehow the psychiatrists at the Centre for Addition and Mental Health didn’t receive this message. I won’t go into how pessimistic the concrete brain concept was in comparison to plastic brain concept, but it still grates how much damage was done by their telling us that Chris’s brain was damaged. That and the schizophrenia diagnosis. Horrible. I’m still not convinced “schizophrenia” is a brain problem, in any case.

I’m not sure what Dr. Doidge’s position is on schizophrenia. It’s interesting that a person who is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by training doesn’t address schizophrenia as a topic in either of his two books. That’s like a priest who writes about religion failing to mention God. Is it because he doesn’t think schizophrenia is a problem with one’s brain and he is aware that lots of people recover from this condition so there is nothing neuronally (is this a word?) intriguing about it? If so, he would do us all a favor by saying so! I’m in the process of putting my question to him in a letter. (Of course, it’s also possible he prefers writing about neuroplasticity rather than dealing with patients. He wouldn’t be the first doctor to reposition himself as far away from his patients as possible,)

One of the chapters in the book is on how a blind man got his sight back relying on the Feldenkrais method. I’ve made a few efforts in the past to get my sight back to 20/20, but didn’t see a lot of progress so I stopped doing the exercies. I’ve bathed my eyes by staring at the sun with my eyes closed, I’ve rotated them clockwise and counterclockwise, but the Feldenkrais contribution I read about added something new that I think is key. Doing this exercise for a couple of days noticeably strengthened my peripheral vision. Having better peripheral vision is a huge confidence booster. I even did the grocery shopping without once putting on my specs!