Neuroplasticity – The Story of Paul Bach-y-Rita

Up until the 1960s, scientists and physicians thought the adult brain to be “hard-wired” and incapable of change. The fact is, our brains are responding to our experiences every day. Exposing ourselves to new and novel experiences helps the brain to learn. The brain also learns when we are exposed to negative, distressing, and traumatic experiences. The idea of neuroplasticity is that the brain can reorganise and change, even in the face of damage.

While the idea of neuroplasticity was first discussed in the late 19th century, Paul Bach-y-Rita (1934 – 2006) was one of the first people to really investigate the concept. Paul was a Neuroscientist who spent much of his life researching sensory substitution to treat those with neurological disorders. Through his innovations, Paul helped congenitally blind people see shapes and recognise faces through sensory stimulation. He also helped those with chronic balance issues, due to neurological conditions, to regain balance again after only a few weeks of sensory stimulation treatment. His devices supported the idea that the brain can reorganise with repeated stimuli.

However, it is Paul’s work at home which cultivated his interest in neuroplasticity. Paul’s father, Pedro, suffered a major stroke which severely impacted upon his neurological functioning. Pedro, who was once an academic, could no longer speak and was mostly paralysed. As rehabilitation was not readily available at the time, Paul and his brother George (a Psychiatrist), took responsibility for their father’s rehabilitation. Through rigorous motor training, teaching and reinforcing basic skills such as walking and talking, Pedro made a remarkable recovery. He was able to return to professional teaching and lived a fruitful life. This experience gave life to Paul’s belief that the brain is plastic and can reorganise and change with appropriate training.

While there is still much to learn about neuroplasticity, research has shown that action and repetition helps the development of neural pathways. Counselling supports individuals to shift behaviour and learn that their individual changes can become lasting and support a fruitful life. Cause Effect Psychology practitioners encourage and empower their clients to make enduring changes, which leads to them living the most desirable life possible. If you would like to discuss the steps to change, please contact us today to make an appointment.

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