Wednesday, May 04, 2011

One Hundred Names for Love

I would like to call your attention to a book I am reading. It is One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing by Diane Ackerman, (W. W. Norton & Company 2011). The author Diane Ackerman and her husband Paul West are both authors, and their marriage included much loving word play and exploration of literary connections. Sadly, Paul West, a retired English professor and the author of 50-plus books, survivor of diabetes and a pacemaker, was struck by a massive stroke that left "a small wasteland" in his brain, especially in the key language areas. At first he could not talk at all. The book chronicles the story of his recovery through their love, creative and imaginative word play, and the help of others. Ms. Ackerman, who had already written books about the brain, researched his disease and tailored a program for him that utilized his unique strengths and interests. The book is very moving and demonstrates the power of love to heal. Ms. Ackerman also shares honestly the stresses of being a caretaker and trying to keep some hold on her own work and identity.

How is this book relevant to our work? It deeply increases the reader’s understanding of and faith in brain plasticity. It demonstrates without a doubt the way that when one part of a brain is damaged, the rest of the brain can develop alternative routes to achieve the same functions. Ms. Ackerman also teaches us many specifics about how the brain works, particularly in the area of language.

Furthermore, I think that what this couple learned about how to facilitate healing applies directly to our work. The first speech therapists that worked with Mr. West used straightforward exercises using child like words and simple sentences. The process felt demeaning to Mr. West and he was increasingly frustrated and depressed. His wife noticed that larger and more obscure words were in fact easier for him to recollect. She began to build on his strengths and interests to develop playful, silly games for him. She walked a fine balance between helping him and still letting him struggle on his own. She supported his growing independence and abilities even when it meant he was in situations which were not completely safe. She sometimes felt worn out and discouraged; she sometime felt exultant because of a small gain. I think our work also goes best when we are creative, playful and engaging our clients’ strengths.

This book is an interesting and absorbing read that both teaches and inspires. I recommend it.

1 comment:

Seminole CEU said...

Thanks for bringing this book to our attention. The idea of "brain plasticity". It seems like the wisdom that can be garnered from this book can make an impact on engaging clients effectively.