It used to be thought that, once we got to be adult, the brain lost it’s ability to change – but thanks to neuroscience, we now know that many of the aspects of the brain can be altered through adulthood. This ability of the brain to change is termed ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuroplasticity is often described as:
“the ability to make adaptive changes related to the structure and function of the nervous system.”
This ability to make changes in the brain means that we can continuously learn and adapt and there is lots of evidence to support this. For example, the brains of a group of London taxi drivers were examined while they were acquiring ‘the knowledge’ of London’s road layout. The results showed that there were changes in the brains of these taxi drivers associated with learning that were not seen in the control group not taking ‘the knowledge’.
When we learn a new task or skill, new connections and pathways are made in the brain that enable the information to stick. At first it may be difficult (think of learning to drive a car), but in time the skill becomes second nature and we can do it without thinking. The neural pathways, with constant use, become ‘hard wired’ in the brain.
Studies in people recovering from stroke also provided support for neuroplasticity. With a stroke, there can be whole regions of the brain destroyed and it has been found that the unaffected regions of the brain that remained healthy could sometimes take over, at least in part, and perform the functions of the area that had been destroyed.
We can even make changes to the brain by thinking in a certain way. It has been shown that imagining playing a piece on the piano has the same effect on changing the activity of the brain as imagining practicing the same piece on the piano. Indicating that the brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imaginary.
Some very ambitious claims have been made by neuroscientists regarding neuroplasticity; that brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia; that plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave; and that radical improvements in how we learn, think, perceive, and remember are possible even in the elderly. Research continues in this area.
In our role as Solution-Focused Hypnotherapists, we can assist our clients in using this remarkable ability of the brain to change, this neuroplasticity, to ‘retrain their brains’. We can use this to help with lots of different issues.
Our clients often repeat patterns of behaviour that are unhelpful and damaging but in normal circumstances they find these patterns difficult to break. But by using Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy, we can help our clients to focus on how they want things to be, not on how they don’t want things to be. We help them to use their imagination to visualise their preferred future. In this way, they are able to identify the small achievable steps towards leaving old habits behind and developing new, helpful patterns of behaviour.