Is Dr Norman Doidge's New Book as Groundbreaking as His First One?

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
Brain Science

the-brains-way-of-healing-norman-doidgeWill Dr Norman Doidge's new book "The Brain's Way of Healing" have the same dramatic impact as his original best seller " The Brain That Changes Itself", which has sold over 1 million copies?

In "The Brain That Changes Itself" Dr Doidge alerted us to "brain plasticity", our brain's ability to change its structure and capabilities in response to experiences and training. This book increased our understanding of the power and potential of everyone's brains - young or old .

Now seven years later, his second book seeks to extend this theme.

The person who explains science to the rest of us

Dr Doidge has been described as " the person who explains science to the rest of us". He has the ability to translate complex scientific ideas into language that we can all understand. Both his books are easy to read and packed full of facts, scientific history, and inspiring stories of people who have overcome physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges by using discoveries from neuroscience.

I saw first hand the power of his original book when LearnFast hosted him to speak at events in Sydney and Melbourne in 2009 and 2010.  Over 1500 people came to hear him and there was standing room only.

Serious scholarship converted into a book we can all understand


"The Brain's Way of Healing" is a thoroughly enjoyable, very engaging account of people who have in many cases miraculously recovered from a wide range of disorders thanks to their use of currently unconventional “neuroscience – based” treatments.  Their disorders include Parkinson's disease, chronic pain, stroke, dyslexia, ADHD, autism and blindness. It is an inspirational book.

Dr Doidge’s story telling style enables him to personalise the accounts of each of the cases and in doing so he manages to adroitly weave in explanations of the science behind the healing, plus medical facts and a fascinating array of historical references (example: in Chapter 4 “Rewiring a Brain with Light” we read how the ancient Roman civilisation had “right to light” laws and how ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun, the source of all light.)

One of the great joys of Doidge’s writing is how he can take serious scholarship and convert it into a book we can all understand.  At the end of the book he has 28 pages of densely packed notes and references that a less skilled writer could have used to write a scholarly work inaccessible by everyone except medical and scientifically trained readers. Doidge uses this material to make “The Brain’s Way of Healing” a book for all of us.

Beyond solid science

However, after reading it I was left with the feeling that Dr Doidge's new book has ventured beyond the solid science on which his first book was based.  

For example, in chapter 5 he describes the work of Moshe Feldenkrais ( the Feldenkrais Method of movement therapy) and in chapter 8 how Tomatis Sound Therapy is used to treat a range of conditions including autism and dyslexia.  While there are many reports of people who have certainly benefited from these treatments – the book includes a number of them –  there is a scarcity of scientific research about them. 

In his excellent review of "The Brain's Way of Healing" Monash University professor Dr Paul Biegler said of chapters 5 & 8:

"Despite Doidge's painstaking explanation of both methods my baloney detectors whined incessantly through this section, especially when the theory was backed by recovery after stellar recovery.These stories are moving and undoubtedly authentic but a detailed elaboration of theory doesn't cement either method as the author of cure. These are fringe treatments upon which Doidge almost retrofits neuroplasticity while his usual armamentarium of brain data goes missing in action."

In contrast to his latest work, Doidge's first book, "The Brain That Changes Itself" describes the work of Dr Merzenich and other neuroscientists Dr Edward Taub and Dr Paul Bach-y-Rita whose original radical theories became accepted after rigourous peer-reviewed papers published in top scientific journals.

Time will tell if the new book will be as widely read as his first one. Regardless, Norman Doidge’s ability to translate complicated scientific information and convey it to the everyday person makes for fascinating and informative reading.