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The Brain’s Way of Healing

Stories of Remarkable Recoveries and Discoveries

By Norman Doidge
  • Read in 13 minutes
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge

The Brain’s Way of Healing (2015) highlights the human brain’s amazing ability to change its structure and develop new ways of coping with disorders. The brain, whether by being “rewired” to process information in new ways or by being “trained” through repetitive exercises, can overcome debilitating diseases and heal itself.

Key idea 1 of 8

Chronic pain is a neurological disease that can be reversed with visualization exercises.

If you suffer from chronic pain, or know someone who does, then you’re fully aware of how debilitating and frustrating it is. Often, the source of chronic pain is unclear, which makes it difficult to treat, sometimes even leading to a patient’s concerns being dismissed by doctors.

So, both patients and doctors are faced with the question: Where does chronic pain come from, and how can it be treated?

Essentially, chronic pain is a neurological disease that causes the body to send unnecessary pain signals to the brain.

To see how this can happen, let’s look at the case of psychiatrist Michael Moskowitz, who, in 1994, injured his neck in a water-skiing accident. For 13 years after this, he suffered from chronic pain.

When you sustain an injury, a signal is sent from the nervous system to the brain; this signal alerts you to the fact that some tissue is damaged and in need of attention. We perceive this signal as pain. However, in some cases, like Dr. Moskowitz’s, the nerve cells themselves get damaged, which causes them to continue sending pain signals even after the body has healed.

This is how chronic pain can last 13 years. But the question still remains: Can it be successfully treated?

As it turns out, chronic pain can actually be reversed through visualization techniques.

In trying to treat his own pain, Dr. Moskowitz found books and articles on neuroscience which revealed that the areas of the brain that process pain can also be stimulated by visual information. Equipped with this knowledge, he began working on a technique to replace pain through visualization.

It worked like this: Whenever he felt a spasm of pain, Moskowitz would visualize a map of his brain and focus on the areas where the number of neurons processing pain increased. He would then visualize these pain neurons being transformed back into regular neurons.

And, sure enough, it worked! After sticking to this exercise for three weeks, Moskowitz began experiencing some relief. After a year, he was practically pain-free and ready to begin sharing his discovery with other patients.

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