The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge – A Book Review and Recommendation

Here is a rare combination – The Brain that Changes Itself is both an international bestseller and a book about neuroscience.

It’s successful because Doidge writes about science using compelling human stories. It has broad appeal. It lends itself to dipping in and choosing the chapters that look interesting to you.

The first story is about a woman who lives without a sense of balance (a devastating effect of some medication she was prescribed). She feels as though she is falling and often does.

Cheryl gets wired to an apparatus that engages an undamaged part of her brain to provide balance. It works and once unhooked, the effect lasts a short while. She is hooked up for longer periods, regularly and eventually her brain is retrained and she is cured and no longer needs the machine. She has her life back.

Hope and motivation

Given the success of the book, it is easy for me to recommend it. And I do so for a few reasons.

First, it inspires hope. No matter how stuck or stuffed in the head you think you are, you can change. Your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and reactions can change. Here is the book with the science to convince you.

Beyond hope, The Brain that Changes Itself may even motivate you to act. A friend of mine, after reading the book, took up piano lessons for the first time in her life and returned to her Spanish conversation sessions. Being convinced of neuroplasticity (the power of the brain to change and develop) can be inspiring!

The therapy leap of faith

I sometimes suggest to people considering or just beginning with therapy, that they read The Brain that Changes Itself. Therapy often seems doubtful. Easy to imagine how it might help others. Harder to believe it will help ‘me’.

It is common to have a healthy scepticism about therapy. Or to worry about being self-indulgent or self-obsessed (like a Woody Allen character on an analyst’s couch). Doidge offers insight into the therapeutic process. He uses a case study to illustrate and explains the relevant neuroscience. He also refers to brain scans that have been taken before and after successful therapy ( – useful because for some reason we’re less convinced by people’s reports that they feel better.)

It may not rid you of all doubt but it is likely to help.

The broad application of brain change

From Doidge’s treatment of love and relationships you gain real insight into the nature of sexual attraction, healthy and dysfunctional. He discusses his work with a young man who continually falls for the wrong women. Doidge links the young man’s behaviour to his early relationship with his alcoholic mother, and it makes sense.

This section also covers the effect of internet porn on the brain and body. It is at once clear and alarming. If that seems a bit remote to you, the chapter also gives an illuminating picture of the mechanism of addiction (drugs, running, gambling, anything) which is easy to relate to.

LIkewise the chapter called ‘Brain Lock Unlocked’ offers a straightforward explanation of how  to tackle worrying, obsessions and compulsive behaviours.

I often complain that these books (meaning those relevant to my field) always use extreme case studies. Understandable but frustrating. And this book is no exception. Yet somehow it manages to have broad application – if you are willing to flick through and find it, there is likely to be something in it for you.

Have you read it? What if anything did it have to offer you? Do let us know, in the comments sections below.