It is one of the most exciting developments in medical knowledge in the course of my professional career.
Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change–physically, functionally, and chemically-throughout our lives–for better or for worse.
Neuroplasticity is the common term used by neuroscientists. As you would imagine, this flexibility plays an incredibly important role in our brain development (or decline) and in the shaping of our distinct personalities. (The implications for us individually and in our relationships are staggering!)
Not long ago, it was widely believed that our brains had pretty much finished their developmental processes by the time we were in our late adolescence or early adulthood. By that time, we were pretty well “locked in,” and there was little hope of changing the way we thought, felt and behaved.
We all know how quickly infants, children and adolescents learn new information: languages, motor skills, interpersonal skills, etc. They are “learning machines.” But we generally believed that this type of learning curve did not continue into our adult and advanced years.
Also, it used to be believed that every person has a finite number of brain cells, so if you damaged any of them (by means of head injury, alcohol or drug overuse), you operated at a deficit for the rest of your life. Less than 30 years ago, even major players in the neuroscience community believed that the brain was not able to generate new cells.
Abundant evidence now shows that our brain remains “plastic” throughout life: it can rewire or change itself in response to new learning and new challenges. Under certain circumstances, the brain can even create new cells through a process called neurogenesis.
So, what does this mean in the field of therapy and couples’ counseling? The implications are many and varied and give cause to be optimistic about positive change, individually and relationally. (More later)
(For much more information, go to: iTunes—iTunesU—Neuroscience)
In the meantime, the following video illustrates the amazing power of our brains: