Saturday, October 17, 2009

On Revolution

I have discussed the importance of evolution in primal therapy. Now I want to address revolution, the overturning of the basic structure of psychotherapy as it has been for about one hundred years.

It is my belief that profound change cannot take please within a reformist attitude, making the system work better. The problem is the system. Just take the 50 minute hour. It is based on the comfort and profit of the therapist, not the healing of the patient. Our patients stay as long as necessary. No time constraints. Or take the fine furniture and well appointed drapes. It is designed to not getting at the deep unconscious. Our patients are in a therapy room with mattresses, relatively sound proof and somewhat darkened; all to encourage the descent into the unconscious. You cannot get there in a well lighted therapy room with a sit-up chair, ashtray and fine paintings on the wall. Early on, I tried that with primal and soon I had holes in the walls and broken furniture. I learned.

The theory and the therapy have to be revolutionary and not egocentric. In cognitive/insight therapy the doctor is the last word. He/she knows more than the patient and they even know what is in the patient’s deep unconscious; which is nonsense, but we all hope there is some godlike human out there who really knows us and will direct us properly, like a good daddy. The theory has to put the patient first and foremost. She knows best and she knows when to come for a session and when not to. She knows when she has had enough therapy, period. No one has to tell her that she needs three times a week therapy when that is a profit decision not usually a therapeutic one. And no one has to tell her that her time is up for the day. Can you imagine a patient crying deeply and then ushered out of the room? What magic is there in coming twice a week instead of three times?

Remember in every domain including the political, reform will never get us there. We can tinker and tweak all day long and still be dealing with a flawed system that turns out bad techniques and faulty logic; just like in neurosis where almost every bit of behavior is neurosis-generated. So we go on changing behavior and change not at all the basic problem.

Yes, overthrow by force and violence is disturbing and unsettling but necessary, and neurosis will not yield its arms easily. After all, it is there to protect us and keep us from feeling. But we are feeling human beings and need our feelings to guide us. We do not appeal to the patient’s good sense to help us overthrow the neurotic structure. We appeal to her feelings to her unconscious, to the subtext to surplant that devilish prefrontal neocortex. That is the revolution; feelings over thoughts and beliefs; insights will never get us well; they just help us rationalize how we behave. Our problem is not the lack of insights; it is the lack of feelings. A therapy of feelings will humanize us; what more could we ask for?


  1. Dr. Janov,
    That says it all! May I have permission to translate “On Revolution” in to German?
    I would very much appreciate it.

  2. Sieglinde: Sure, but to publish it where? art janov

  3. I agree 100% . changing Primal therapy to make it more like other therapies will not lead to anything useful. It can only make it less effective. It would be like trying to reconcile evolution with creationism. Einstein was once told by journalists that 200 scientists thought that Relativity theory was wrong. He said "it only takes one to prove me wrong". He meant that it is a law of nature not a matter of public opinion.
    I am afraid though that when its founders pass away PT could change its character or become extinct, as languages become extinct when less and less people speak them. Even in this sad eventuality it would no doubt be rediscovered as it is a truth about the human condition.
    Perhaps the Achilles heel of PT is that it looks superficially easy to do but in fact it is not. It requires access to feelings from the therapist and this cannot be taught at the cognitive level but the cognitive level can easily delude itself that this has been achieved or that this access is not really needed, that there are better faster ways, and so there are many ways to go astray.

  4. Steven B,

    You are forgetting that Primal Therapy came from somewhere before there was Primal Therapy.

    You are also missing the point about mixing primal with other modes, I think. The idea is not to water the methods or abandon the theory. The idea is to be in a place where help can be offered and received. You can't do that from a position of arrogance and self righteousness. It doesn't matter how right you are, you can't penetrate from there, period.


  5. Oh how like neurosis is our profit-driven healthcare system. The parallels are uncanny! I wish every person in congress who still has access to his/her authentic humanity could read this article. Thank you!
    New York City

  6. StevenB and all,

    Just a thought. We humans have mirror-neurons that invoke us to unconsciously (or subconsciously?) simulate what another person is going through and feeling, via the window of their behaviour. No doubt those mirror-neurons are linked to our own feelings, ultimately allowing us to relate to the feelings of others too, as they experience them. So if you're repressed, I would imagine those mirror-neurons can't link with your feelings centres properly, so you just can't relate to your patient on a direct "organic" level.

    I speculating, but I think cognitive therapy could be considered an attempt for a neurotic individual/s to help someone with feeling problems, but as the repressed neurotic is, largely, incapable of truly relating to their patient (on a direct neurological/feeling level) they are then driven to create therapies based on highly specific and idealised methods and systems, because from their capacity and position that is the best that they can do? If that's right, then you probably can't ever expect a therapy like PT to develop out of heavily repressed intellectuals. You may literally be asking them to do what is for them impossible.

    It makes sense to me that maybe the most critical thing that a PT therapist can do is de-repress themselves. It's probably the only way they can become 'grounded' with their patients (relating to mirror-neuron thing again).

    When you think about it, the mirror-neuron function offers the closest that we can get to actually experiencing what another person is experiencing - like hooking your consciousness up to their nervous system. And from a therapeutic outlook, that has to be a powerful and facilitating tool.

  7. Robin, You are a writer and entertainer? How and where? And about what? art janov

  8. I am no pacifist, but I have to say that Dr Janov`s analogy in his text of overthrowing neurosis with "force and violence" made me afraid. I also get the same fear when I read the word "bust" in his texts. Now, I will never be able to go to LA to do this therapy, but if I were to ,I would definitely be concerned by these statements. I would need to talk it over with Janov or someone else. That "force and violence" thing brings up fears of psychological disintegration to me. Let me be clear that I have never read any references to psychological casualties from Primal, but I have been in a cult (an offshoot of EST) where there were many casualties from their sadistic psycho-techniques , and thus my fear. I would just suggest that Dr Janov tone down the language, or explain himself further. Marco

  9. This article and posts by stevenb and Walden remind me of a quote from the audio book version of the Primal Scream:

    "I foresee a major breakthrough in the treatment of psychological illness in a short space of time. The relatively short treatment period of Primal Therapy leads me see no reason why we have live in an age of anxiety any longer. Since we need the cooperation and help of mental health professions, a special caveat.

    Beware of the tendency to try to incorporate primal theory with theories therapists have become comfortable over the years. Bringing in past terminology to explain Primals, likening to something that was said decades before is to engage in the neurotic struggle to make old sense out of something new.

    Although primal theory does have similarities with many different approached, I ask that it be examined on its own terms for what it is.

    My deepest hope is that professionals will consider taking a revolutionary approach to neurosis and perhaps come to see that a century of psychotherapy has passed now without making a significant dent in mental illness.

    I think we must realize that possibly patchwork methods to overthrow an unreal system don't work and have never really worked."

  10. Dear Dr. Janov,

    If you want a revolutionary therapy it has to be made available and accessable to more people. Acceptance can only come after massive exposure. More people have to know what P.T. is and why just talking about problems is bullshit. Why is there not a Primal Center in every major city? If McDonalds can make it to China why cant Primal Therapy make it out of L.A.??
    The secretive and exclusionary attitude,and yes,-the cost prohibit widespread acceptance of P.T.
    A lot of people that were, and are interested in P.T. but had no trainng (you call them mock therapists) could be your allies and spreading the word about your therapy. Instead they had to go their own ways as best they could and are just isolated fighters without backup or acceptance. A handbook would help too, or how about reconciliation with the people from the I.P.A and the Primal Institute?

  11. StevenB,
    PT is, at least for me, a natural process. How can this be proven wrong, changed or mixed?
    I experienced a natural regression process, 8 years before I knew about PT or Dr. Janov. I recorded this experience in a nonprofessional way:
    It was my life saver. Nevertheless, I could not finish the process by myself. It takes a person who knows, to stand by on your journey down to deep and to the source feelings.
    From all other theories/approaches I know, neither one of the worked for me.

    Maybe you are right “that Primal Therapy came from somewhere before there was Primal Therapy”.
    The Aztecs used a similar approach to heal the trauma inflicted by the Spaniards.

  12. Eddy: a couple of things wrong with your idea. First you believe all the nonsense out there about us. We have opened our training program to everyone. Opened up to a German group of psychiatrists who had 3 weeks education and then hung out signs that they were seasoned primal therapists. Therapists take at least six years to begin to understand this therapy. And then they want to stay with me. Opening up elsewhere is expensive. In France, where we had a major clinic, we did not make a center of profit. Our last payment to the government was 72% including charges for employees and taxes. To this day this is really a non-profit clinic, and our prices are the same as thirty years ago for the major part of the therapy. No one who is honest has to go it alone. We have accepted trainees from 20 countries. We are not exclusionary. Try not to believe all the bullshit; otherwise you are no better than evangelists who never let truth divert them from their mission. People who want to be our allies need to come and join us and above all, learn. art janov

  13. Art, obviously the therapists must get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people get better - but they are witnessing pain day after day. Does a therapist need to take long holidays?

  14. Art,
    The revolution in us! But how do we carry out the revolutionary information that reaches others thoughts... thoughts that are doing everything to avoid it? Thoughts that living with the evangelism as the ultimate... there only reason for life! Revolution to recovery seems impossible... "If you can’t beat them join them" a very famous American expression... something to think about when the spread of something as incredibly important as PT… Art… you have no Jesus who can disseminate information? I'm trying to get authorities to answer questions... simple such... if it’s beyond their understanding... even when it is there task… they fall silent.
    Art… give me an questionnaire on way primal therapy is many people's only chance to recover (I know… almost everyone)... a form that asks questions impossible to avoid... with less then be silent… to prove what all is about… I will ensure that each single person be part of it.
    Frank Larsson

  15. Dear Art,

    Maybe this is the moment to share with us more intimate details of your struggle to keep primal straight. And maybe this is the reason the therapy is not so widespread worldwide, like Gestalt, TA, REBT, etc.


  16. Sieglinde: "The Aztecs used a similar approach to heal the trauma inflicted by the Spaniards." I've just done a bit of googling based on your quote, and I found this paper called "Historic Trauma and Aboriginal Healing" by Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux, Ph.D. and Magdalena Smolewski, Ph.D. Have you read it? It looks absolutely fascinating, and I just hope I can summon up the mental tenacity to read through it in full. Graham

  17. Richard: This is not like an ordinary therapy. Therapists do burn out and do need vacations. It is not only the pain but having to think about what technique to use and when as the therapy is quite precise. It is not hoping for the best. This is what so many alternate therapies are about; adding a little of this therapy or that therapy, piling on one unproved technique after another, hoping it will all turn out well. arthur janov

  18. Stevenb: True. There are more ways to go astray than you could imagine. You may be right that there may not be enough of us to steer a straight course. Neurotics will change the therapy to suit their neurosis. art janov

  19. Dr Janov,

    In California, does a primal therapist need a masters degree to prescribe drugs, or do they need it as a legal requirement in any circumstance to practice? To have to do that on top of all that specialised primal training looks like a pretty formidable investment!

    I am not seriously looking at becoming a therapist - just curious.


  20. Oh shit! Art, how many of your therapists are allowed to administer tranquillisers? I may need tranquillisers to control my 1st line. Are you the only one who is legally qualified? No Art means no primal therapy for Richard??? Is that why you say "Hurry up, I'll be gone soon".

  21. Andrew: A psychologist can never prescribe drugs or medicines of any kind. To practice psychotherapy you need to be in a masters program. It is not as formidable as it might seem. art janov

  22. Marco: ay ay ay! It is feelings that overthrow neurotic ideas and beliefs. That is the force! I don't overthrow nada. The guy that invented EST use to come to my lectures and take notes. He wanted to invite me to his house in San Francisco by sending a plane. I never accepted. art janov

  23. Frank: I have no questionnaire. It is all in my books. Because I have had a terrible throat problem--damage as a result of surgery--I have not been able to be public for many years. I leave it to all of you. art janov

  24. Marjan: Someone is doing my biography so you can read it all there. art

  25. Richard:
    No No. we have excellent therapists to carry on. Meanwhile I am still here as you can see. art janov

  26. With referwence to my last post here and Dr Janov's reply: the guy who invented EST is Werner Erhard ,who formed a cult that is now called "Education Landmark". Stay clear of it people!

    And I am glad to read that someone is doing Dr Janov's biography.That will be one hell of an interesting read, I am sure, because I have often wondered what Dr Janov went through in his life ,and especially what the transition in his life was in his 40's that created the emotional space for Primal therapy to appear. Marco

  27. Walden and SWA: Interesting ideas. I was thinking along parallel lines myself awhile ago. The Aztecs using a method of de-repressing thousands of years ago. Or the quote in the bible about Jesus 'raising the dead' I wonder if it meant he was de-repressing people, healing the 'emotionally dead'. I would think metaphor would be one of the few things to survive 2000 years of translation and several languages intact.

    I would liken using 'mock therapists' to spread primal therapy - to watering down orange juice. One day you wake up and pour yourself a glass of 'orange juice' that is perfectly clear and tastes like water...but the carton says 'orange juice' so you just shrug and keep drinking...

    I had an experience similar to SWA. I experienced a 'de-repression' episode about seven or eight years before I knew about primal therapy or Dr. Janov. I believe it also saved my life. I did not understand why it had happened, so I remained silent for all of those years out of fear.

    An amusing parody on youtube that I think illustrates faulty logic on the part of Stewie:


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

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.