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Dr. Janov's new Book is out! (May 2016)Dr. Arthur Janov examines the power of beliefs and how they are used as a mechanism for dealing with early trauma that goes as far back as birth. Beliefs are a way to rationalize with pain rooted deep in the unconscious, and reveal that love is a biological need. Dr. Janov applies engrossing case studies and his many years of experience to bring the reader one step closer to understanding human behavior, and how pain can become converted into an idea.
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Shrink Rap Radio
Check out Drs. Arthur and France Janov's interview (June 23, 2016) on Shrink Rap Radio
Friday, July 29, 2016
The basis of Primal theory and practice is the concept of the three levels of consciousness, corresponding to an individual’s stages of development from gestation to adulthood. The first line is pre- verbal consciousness from the womb through birth and early infancy. The second line is laid down in childhood as the brain is still evolving. And the third line is current-day awareness, the top-level consciousness of adulthood. Those three levels of consciousness correspond to the structure of our triune brain – the primitive brainstem (first line), the limbic system (second line), and the neocortex, our thinking brain (third line). Pain is experienced and repressed at each stage, stamped into the brain as an imprint on the level where it occurs.
The essence of Primal Therapy is unveiling the old events so we can live in the present. Those embedded memories contain painful and frightful feelings that needed to be repressed and kept from consciousness due to their overwhelming valence. But they are never forgotten. They leave biochemical traces serving as markers that say there was damage here and a hurtful event there. Through therapy, we can retrace our lives and our embedded memories and revisit them in orderly fashion, undoing the traces and (hopefully) reversing history by obeying evolutionary dictates. So we go back into those evolutionary stages methodically, feeling a bit at a time; beginning with the lightest pain in the recent past moving down to the deepest brain levels. In proper Primal Therapy, pain must be relived and resolved in the same evolutionary way it was created on all three levels, but in reverse. If we neglect evolution and do not deal with lesser pains first, we will again make a serious biologic error and force a feeling on a patient that he is not ready for.
There is an adage in science: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The history of the species is run again in our personal evolution. We can see our ancient history in how we evolve from the embryo on (fish fins, wings, tails, etc.). Each evolving individual re- runs the archaic life of the species. We get rid of our tail and are left with a vestige, a “tail-bone.” Similarly, we have vestiges of our old "ancient" personal life, which I call the first line. That is, we have traces of our lives from a time when only the brainstem was our predominant brain structure. And we can visit that ineffable life we lived before birth, and then eschew those traces though Primal Therapy, which can also be called undoing the imprints (or on a molecular level, de-methylation). Imprints mean precisely an event that was so powerful and so painful that it could not be experienced and integrated at the time. However, we are older now and can more safely experience them. But it takes years to be able to relive the past fully and make it part of us instead of a constant alien force.
A well-ordered therapy begins in the present, anchoring feelings in the present-day life. Over time this will lead to deeper levels along that same feeling path through a process I call resonance. Once locked into the feeling, the neuro-biologic system will take charge enabling the patient to go deeper, traveling to more remote and archaic areas of the brain. Over months, as the patient follows that evolutionary path, different aspects of the feeling are gathered up at each level until reaching origins where very deep pain lies. This process cannot be forced or decided in advance by a therapist who dictates where the patient has to go. If feelings are forced out of sequence, no integration will take place.
I stress this methodical step-by-step voyage as a warning, because in no other therapy that I know of can interference into the primal sequence by untrained people cause such lasting damage. They are meddling with the deep unconscious. It took us many decades to understand what to avoid, which is as important as what to pursue. We take great care to make sure that the patient descends the feeling chain in proper sequence so as to avoid abreaction, sliding off into pseudo feelings as a defense against the real pain.
In essence, abreaction is the discharge of a feeling disconnected from its source, making it in fact a defense, or at least reinforcing an existing defense. It can be the release of a feeling from one level of consciousness into another level. For example, first line into third line. Or it can be first line disconnected from any other level, taking on a life of its own to the exclusion of any other levels. The defense system, in its crafty and brilliant way, can promote many forms of abreaction that may lead to strange ideations, crazy delusions and paranoia. Instead of leading to the undoing of neurosis, abreaction guarantees that neurosis will persist. This happens when the therapist allows the patient to skip evolutionary steps, going through the motions of feelings without feeling them.
We must trust the feelings totally. But first we must recognize them and be able to differentiate them from abreaction, which is the discharge of the energy of a feeling without connection. Our job is to provide access to feelings, following evolution every step of the way, from the most recent aspect traveling down to the very origin of the pain in the most distant past. In this way, we go from an awareness of the feeling to its emotional content and then onto its preverbal base. We also go from the lowest valence of pain to the most devastating. It increases as we descend down the chain of pain in our ontology.
When we touch on our beginnings – gestation, birth and infancy – we see the deepest pain and the most danger to the system, which I call the first line. If we do not know brain evolution we can be easily fooled and will rush in to prod a patient’s nervous system to perform in ways it cannot; hence, abreaction. We will make the patient scream or pound the walls when the real feeling is elsewhere. Once a patient is channeled into abreaction it is almost impossible to pull him back. It forms a groove defense that becomes encased, allowing no other feeling in. It becomes a neurosis inside another neurosis. It is the patient who loses, though he may convince himself he is really feeling; or worse, he may be convinced by a therapist that he is feeling when he really isn’t. Sometimes, this may all seem like some kind of plot, but it is simply unconscious reactions to avoid deep pain. Remember, it takes great skill to produce a connected feeling and no skill to permit abreaction.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
This is the first of a series of 15 articles I wrote on the difference between abreaction and feeling in therapy. It is a crucial point in Primal Therapy.
The ability to distinguish between abreaction and a genuine feeling is an essential skill of good Primal Therapy. The difference between the two is stark, but in practice it still can be deceiving. Feeling is the key to cure, while with abreaction there is no chance of getting well. Yet, despite this crucial difference, the therapist is often unaware of what is going on, and certainly the patient is equally unaware. The insidious part is that abreaction feels like a primal, looks like a primal and smells like a primal, but is far from a genuine Primal. In clinical terms, abreaction is "the devil" because it doesn't allow patients to get better. They remain forever "prisoners of their pain" in an abominable, endless loop of hurt and hopelessness. Once abreaction sets in, it becomes a neurosis on top of another neurosis. And it is unshakeable. It takes months to even try to undo it. The danger cannot be overstated. We have now seen many patients who have gone to mock primal therapy and are stuck so badly in abreaction that it is almost impossible to extricate them from it. If left unchecked, abreaction can even lead to pre-psychosis and psychosis.
It is the job of the therapist to distinguish between abreaction and real feeling. To some extent, that is a skill based on the instincts of a trained clinician and acquired by experience. For some patients who are mired in abreaction, that skill can mean the difference between successful therapy and staying stuck in mock primals that lead nowhere. The good news is that there are also scientific ways to know the difference. We can often tell how if a real feeling has been resolved by changes in cortisol levels, vital signs and other biochemical indicators.
First, to avoid confusion, a definition is in order. Within Primal Therapy, the term “abreaction” means something quite different from its original meaning within Freudian psychoanalysis. In this psychoanalytic sense, abreaction is simply defined as the process of releasing repressed emotions by reliving an old traumatic experience(1). On the face of it, that classic definition is close to what we would call a Primal, although true “reliving” in our therapy is far beyond what Freud had imagined. In Primal terms, abreaction has nothing to do with any genuine reliving experience. On the contrary, for us abreaction is destructive to any feeling therapy because it becomes a defense against real feeling, as I shall explain in detail shortly.
I must emphasize that abreaction is a non-feeling event. It looks like feeling, often to both the patient and therapist, but there is a qualitative difference. It produces awareness without consciousness, a difference I shall explore in detail in a moment. To a well-trained therapist there is a hollow ring to abreaction. It doesn’t “smell” right. A patient may unconsciously use abreaction as a defense against feeling, slipping into crying the minute she lies down, or simulating a birth primal. The key difference between abreaction and a true Primal, of course, is connection, which takes place in a Primal but never in abreaction.
Before we delve into this, however, let me briefly review some of the basic principles of Primal Therapy. These theoretical cornerstones provide the framework needed to understand abreaction as a deviation from a successful coarse of treatment.
(1): Gordon Marshall. "abreaction." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. (July 2, 2015).http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O88-abreaction.html
Quotes for "Life Before Birth"
“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction
An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System
A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University
"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH
His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.