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Tuesday 1 July 2008

Writing with Mother (Listen with Mother)

" Mother 1943"

1958 "Sisters listening with mother"

A little note about the title. I wrote the title "Writing with Mother" because it was this blog that I wrote sitting with my lap-top at the end of my Mum's hospital bed on Monday 9th June. I think she was really impressed that I was writing for my blog and she helped me with spelling and grammar just like when I was writing English essays. We had a chat in between times. It was in this 60 minutes that we spoke for the first and last time in my life about eating... because I was feeding her and and I laughed about the tables being turned. She simply asked "Do you eat now?" I replied "Yes" and she was happy, nothing more to say. I fed her for five days and she would let no one else do. It meant the world to me.

That was probably the nicest 60 minutes I have spent with my Mum for a long, long time. There were several more of these moments over the next few days but this was special and I have this piece of writing to remind me of it.

Two separate articles fell into my hands on the same day, about stroke and rehabilitation.

Jill Bolte Taylor

One of these articles was about Jill Bolte Taylor and her book published in 2006 A Stroke of Insight. Jill Bolte Taylor is an American neuro-anatomist who suffered from a stroke ten years ago and, luckily for her readers, she recovered and was able to describe in superb detail exactly what happened to her. I have not yet read her book but will be back on the subject when I have. Then, a few days after I recorded this in my note book, a posting appeared on Andrew Sutton’s Conductive Education World, with a link to website showing Jill Bolte Taylor speaking about her experiences. Go to Andrew’s site and take a look at the film it is well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to view.

I first came across this amazing woman in Time Magazine’s Top 100 people. It was one of the coincidences that happen surprisingly often in my life these days. The magazine fell into the letter box while I was in the middle of packing to move flats and at the same time packing an extra suitcase to travel to UK. I knew that I would have no time to read the magazine completely so while walking from the post box into the house I randomly opened it to get a glimpse of what was going on in the world. It fell open on the page with a picture of Dr Bolte Taylor with a brain cradled in her hands. My attention was caught immediately and I gave myself a 15-minute tea-break to read the short article. Dick Clark’s concluding words could come from the mouths of any of the people in my stroke group as they learn about their new- found situation through Conductive Education:

"…there is a comfort in better grasping what has gone wrong, and enlightenment for all of those around you when they grasp it too. None of us needs sympathy: what we do need is a helping hand and understanding. Someone like Talyor provides that, helping a terrible blow become far less so."

"Therapied out"

The second article is from "Der Spiegel", a weekly German Magazine similar to Time Magazine and is called Selbstheilung in Denkorgan "Spontaneous healing of the organ of thought") and begins:

"Spontaneous healing in the brain. The brain is more flexible than we thought. Even ten years after a stroke it is possible for nerve cells to learn and create new structures. Paralysis disappears and speech returns".

The article continues by describing the life of a 33-year-old woman who suffered a stroke shortly before giving birth. She received physiotherapy in a clinic and was told after only four months that she was austherapiert ("therapied out", meaning that she was at the end of the therapeutic possibilities for her).

This is generally what happens sooner or later to most people who are recovering from a stroke. Eventually after a few months or perhaps a year, the therapy on offer is reduced to a minimum. Hospitals have all the-up-to-date facilities to deal with a stroke immediately it has occurred, machines of the very best can be seen in most clinics. The rehabilitation for the first months is also of high quality and often includes revolutionary techniques. And what happens after this period? Clients are usually sent home and gradually the amount of physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy on offer is reduced from three or four times a week to once a week. Speech therapy is generally stopped completely, deemed no longer necessary, often long before a client can talk on a telephone again or speak while walking. Where do these people look to for help? In the majority of cases it is after being pushed out of the therapy system in these ways that the clients in my group have looked to Conductive Education.

Taubsche Training

The article in Der Spiegel goes on to describe how 20 years after the stroke this woman received a form of "therapy" which I know has been used in hospitals in Germany for sometime now. The method used is called Taubsche Training, developed by the psychologist Edward Taub at the University of Alabama. It is a method which I have known about for many years but read little about.

This woman was spending three hours in therapy with her non-affected hand in a mitten and was being forced to use only the hand affected by the stroke. She kept the mitten on for most of the day, not only for the three-hour therapy session.

The therapy claims that it only takes a few days for the brain to reorganise and for the person to start to use the affected arm and hand more spontaneously and for movement to increase rapidly. Brain scans showing that there is an visible increase in brain cells.

Edward Taub says his aim is to change the brain/thought process of the patient. I had known about this form of therapy because there is a project researching Taubsche Training at the University of Jena, Germany, also led by a psychologist, Wolfgang Miltner who is mentioned in the article, telling us that the brain, or as I being a conductor would prefer to think of it, the personality or thought process, is easier to change than has previously been believed possible.

The Spiegel article had caught my eye because what it is describing could almost be something out of Dr András Petös Big Book (see footnote)

In both America and Germany the projects described are led by psychologists, maybe this is something that the world of Conductive Education world could learn from here in Germany, maybe instead of finding teachers or medical doctors interested in supporting CE we too should be looking to psychologists. We will see. I intend to visit Jena as soon as possible and discover more about this project.

Der Spiegel tells us that Taub’s ‘training’ shows results after just a few hours, and what I find important is that it also states that it doesn’t matter how old someone is or how long it is since the stroke. This is something that one rarely hears in the field of stroke rehabilitation, apart of course in Conductive Education. Most stroke rehabilitation therapists set limits stating: "no improvements expected after x number of years".

Both the projects, in Germany and America, present similar results, a Canadian nerve specialist, Dr. Norman Doidge commenting:

Die Natur hat uns eine Gehirnstruktur mitgegeben die in einer sich verändernden Umwelt Überlebt, weil sie sich selbst verändert. (Nature has given us a brain structure which survives in an ever-changing world because the brain itself changes too.)

Dr. Doidge’s book on this subject, Neustart im Kopf ("A new Beginning for the Head") has just been published in German, stating that a person survives changes in the environment because people himself are able to change.

Taub’s Training looks towards gaining function through change, just like in Conductive Education. A positive change in thinking is that there is no such thing as austherapiert , it makes no difference if it is two months, two years or twenty years after a stroke when someone begins Conductive Education (or Taub’s Training), or if someone born with cerebral palsy begins to learn at fifty years of age… it is never too late to change. Taub says that people who have had a stroke and are not offered alternatives after rehabilitation, are not using the full self-healing (spontaneous) process of the brain to its full potential.

In Der Spiegel Prof.Miltner states that therapy isn’t as intensive as it should be. Many therapists tell their patients that they have reached a plateau (they are austherapiert) just a few months after a stroke, which results in doctors stopping therapy too soon and implying that looking for alternative methods of healing makes no sense. And Prof. Selzer from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says :

"…not only is therapy too short, the aims are wrong. Rehabilitation traditionally uses techniques which compensate lost function instead of changing deficit."

Here I see yet another connection to Conductive Education: changing. Conductive Education is all about change.

An old message for the modern world

There were many passages in this article which reminded me of reading András Petö’s books, though Petö talks about the mind, the body and the soul, while the doctors, psychologists and neurologists in the Spiegel article talk about the brain. For me though, this is all part of the same, especially when all are talking about changes, learning and trying to make the dysfunctional functional.

The neurologist Micheal Selzer insists that change in the rehabilitation techniques is long overdue especially with all Iraq war veterans returning with injuries to the central nervous system. The aim must be to use the wealth of possibilities that the brain (or for me personality) has for change and to heal itself. The brain is not an unchangeable data bank, it is an organ open to all changes.


Writing with Mother -I gave the posting this title because I sat beside my Mum's bed writing it. She was really pleased to see me working and she was proud. She was happy to advice me just as she had done in 1968 when I started grammar school when she first began to help me with my English essays. The hour we sat together while I wrote this blog was one of the best times I have spent with her for many years, very similar to those moments when listen with Mother came on the radio and all housework and games would stop and we learnt to listen.

Mum and I reached an understanding while I worked and we chatted on 9th June 2008 and I will never forget it, this blog is hers and there she is right at the top blowing her bugle in the WAAF.

András Petö’s Big Book on Conductive Education does not actually exist. It is an invention of mine along with another conductor. Years ago we had a big group of teenagers who were very interested in the origins of Conductive Education and the theory behind it and we would refer to this imaginary book when explaining anything to them, always beginning a sentence with "As András Petö would have written in his Big Book of Conductive Education……..".

Maybe my blog is a start to making this imaginary book a reality!

Fellow conductors get writing!

Andrew Sutton – How it feels to have a stroke, Conductive Education World, 28 May 2008

Jorg Blech, Selbstheilung im Denkorgan, Der Spiegel, 10/2008

Norman Doidge, Neustart im Kopf, Frankfurt am Main Campus Verlag.

Austherapiert: no longer needing therapy, therapy no longer effective


NormanP said...

Norman Doidge's book was published in English under the title "The Brain That Changes Itself: stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science". Publisher is James H. Silberman Books/Viking/Penguin. It is available in hardback and paperback. There are 2 reviews on and 71 on giving it an average rating of 4.5 stars (max 5.0).
I was planning to re-read it having bought it while I was in Vancouver recently, and then add it to my book list on my blog. Challenginh stuff!

Susie Mallett said...

Thanks Norman, I ordered the book while in UK. Looking forward to readingit then reviewing it on my blog.