By Dr. Caroline Leaf
Thirty years ago, I set out to answer a question that was considered at the time to be ridiculous: “can the mind change the brain?” Back in the eighties many scientists believed that a damaged brain could not change. Healthcare and therapy professionals like myself were taught to help their patients compensate for brain disabilities and mental ill health; total recovery was, for the most part, out of the question.
I, however, decided to take a different approach to the mind-brain question. As a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, I believed in the power of the mind to change the brain, and therefore cognitive, emotional social and academic behavior. The patients I encountered in my private practice and in the disadvantaged schools I worked in showed me that the human mind was far more resilient, and far more formidable, than what “science” at that time claimed.
One of the turning points in my career came when I encountered a 16-year-old girl who had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of a car accident. I will never forget this remarkable story. She had recently come out of a two-week coma and was operating around a fourth-grade level at school instead of a twelfth-grade level like her peers. Using the self-regulatory, mind-driven five-step learning process I had developed, I worked with this young lady on a one-on-one basis. She was determined to catch up with her peer group, and I believed she could achieve her previous levels of academic performance again. Within eight months the “miracle” happened: this young woman was able to graduate high school with her own class and went on to university. In fact, compared to before the accident, her IQ increased twenty points and her overall academic performance improved. (I have documented this case in my master’s thesis.) This was highly unusual, as research at that time showed the opposite was normally the case in TBI; however, a negative trend was turned into a positive trend through intentional mind work. Yet that is not the end of the story. The young woman’s emotional, self-evaluative, and self-monitoring skills also improved, even though they were indirectly treated during her clinical sessions, indicating that mind change includes intellectual and emotional changes.
Following my PhD, I worked with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students in low income areas and squatter camps in South Africa and the US over a 30 year period. The individuals I worked with came to school contending with poverty, abuse, hunger and social violence. Many students were orphaned by AIDS. These students, hungry to learn, worked hard and saw their grades improving using my mind techniques based on my Geodesic Learning Theory. One high school student, a 24-year-old pimp and drug dealer, said “Dr. Leaf, now I know what to do with my pen.” He went on to graduate high school, and became a change agent in his community.
Indeed, after 30 years of research and teaching, and with the advent of quantum physics, I have come to appreciate how, through focused, determined mind-action, the brain can be stimulated to change. Over the course of my research and clinical experience, I developed and updated my Geodesic information processing theory to include these principles. Not only do we direct our behavioral, emotional, and intellectual changes but we also create structural change in our brains and bodies as a result of our individualistic and complex thinking processes. I constantly emphasize the fact that, even though we cannot control our circumstances, we can control our reactions to our circumstances—we are not just victims of our biology. I have researched and experienced the evidence of the mind-brain connection, and recognize the need to help people realize that we all have incredible minds, minds that are able to cope and prosper with all of life’s circumstances as we learn to operate in love.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc in Logopedics and Audiology, specializing in metacognitive and cognitive neuropsychology. The article was reposted with permission. Find more of her writing at drleaf.com.