Monday, May 31, 2010
One wonders why a hug from mom kind of relaxes us? Well, it raises levels of oxytocin. But it turns out that even a phone call from mom raises those levels. Leslie Seltzer from the University of Wisconsin Child Emotion Lab did the study. He noted that the mother’s voice had the same effect as a hug. (Scientific American. May 11, 2010. “A Phone Call from Mom Reduces Stress as Well As a Hug.”) This chemical is so important in social bonding. Again, if we are going to measure progress in psychotherapy we need to take into account biochemicals such as this. My belief about therapy is that it should ultimately help us love and be loved. Oxytocin is one key measure.
There are those who disagree with this goal; who believe that success, on the job, in school is most important. But when there is no one to share the success with it is a hollow victory. Unfortunately, many cognitive/insight therapies implicitly apotheosize success when they try to steer patients into trying harder and gaining the success ladder. That value fits in so well with the current zeitgeist of success "uber alles" where the therapist tries to produce an "uber menchen". (spelling?)
Of course, there are many other measures, as well. For example, when a baby smiles and coos the parts of the mother’s brain that signal reward (the dopamine system) light up. We might say that dopamine is an agent of love, too, and that would not be wrong. The sight of a happy baby urges the mother to cuddle and love him. So we might say that maternal behavior is based partly in the reward areas of the brain. All roads lead to Rome; love is made up of so many facets but they all signal health for the baby. We call ourselves social animals, and it is literally true when we note that just the presence of others can cause normalization some of our biochemicals. We do need people.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Albert Einstein spend the latter years of life in pursuit of a general field theory; that is, something to explain how gravitational field sand electromagnetic fields intersect. How they can be encompassed in a single englobing theory. We are also looking for such a theory so that we no longer chase down every new symptom or disease as independent of all others. This is particularly true when it comes to the psychologic and psychosomatic diseases. What should seem obvious, that neurology, psychology and biology all intersect in the human body, seems to have been forgotten in the piecemeal approach in these three disciplines. In order to understand them, therefore, we need to approach the whole system as it interacts. I believe that what we have now is an inchoate Primal Field Theory that links various aspects of the human condition together. For example, in the field of biology there are tumor suppressor genes that control runaway developing cancer cells. These interact with human experience (psychology), even in the womb, that affects these suppressor genes and may allow for the development of cancer. In addition that may then lead to later manifestation of brain cancer (neurology). If we look only at presenting pictures of the tumor our field of inquiry is quite narrow. Or if we look only at the presenting symptom of obsession we are again at a loss. Or if we examine only the blood system it is too confining to provide answers. A Primal Field Theory indicates how they all intersect and interact to produce disease. I believe we will never arrive at causes until we embrace field theory. Otherwise, we are the position of knowing more and more about less and less; studying the minutae of a symptom, hoping to discover ultimate causes. It won’t happen.
What I find even more important is how to treat these diseases. A psychologic approach eliminates a rounded understanding, as does any single approach such as the neurological approach. This permits such conclusions as someone acts out violently because he is deficient in serotonin. Or migraine is due to insufficient vasoconstriction. So we add coffee to the mix, and the patient gets better. Is the problem solved? The manifestation or symptom may be but not the basic problems.
How then can we be proficient enough to understand phenomena in all three disciplines? There are possibly a few in the world who are competent enough but perhaps, that is not necessary. Perhaps, field theory can set the direction of research and then specialists can help out. I am not proficient in biology, for example, but my experience, current research and our investigation of natural killer cells leads me to theorize that these cells which are on the lookout for newly developing cancer cells, are heavily affected by experience. We find that they work in see-saw fashion with levels of cortisol. When we reduce cortisol levels in patients, natural killer cells are enhanced.
We can add this or reduce that but we cannot understand the whole problem without a field theory. Otherwise, we will only find what we are narrowly looking for, and no more. Another example, we learn that telomere cells respond directly to cortisol levels; the lower the resting cortisol level the longer the telomere cells. Since this length may explain how long we may live, it is crucial to investigate it within a field theory. Otherwise we learn a great deal about telomeres (and the research is important) but not about how the psychologic/experiential affects it all. All aspects of experience are in play in our bodies at all times. We can abstract them for study but it is still an abstraction.
Monday, May 17, 2010
We keep busy and doing things to keep from feeling there is nothing I can do.
We keep having new projects to give us hope to keep from feeling there is no hope.
We keep controlling things to keep from feeling I am helpless.
We keep making phone calls to keep from feeling I am all alone.
Now why would we do that? Because the feeling I am all alone isn’t just something from yesterday or today; it is the primal aloneness in the first minutes or weeks of life when mother, who was sick at childbirth, abandoned her baby. It became a life and death matter. It is a devastating aloneness that can be triggered off in the present whenever we are left alone for a time.
We are acting-out against the pain, so that the act-out is unconscious; we do not know what drives us and we usually don’t even know that we are driven. It is all automatic. We keep from sitting still by much travel all to keep from feeling confined at birth, stuck in the canal, then later stuck in a tense and depressed household which was again “suffocating.” So we drag along our past but never know it is there weighing us down. One reason we know the pain is there is by the act-out, obsessive, continuous behavior that seems irrational. We are acting-out the feeling/pain, trying to get over the feeling but never knowing what it is or how to get rid of it.
Check your act-out and you will get a good idea of what your pain is. Now the tough part: feeling it.
If the lack of act-out makes you anxious, you cannot sit home today, then you know you are usually dealing with a very early first-line feeling. That is, if for any reason you cannot act-out, say you’re are sick and cannot keep busy, the anxiety will be your companion. The act-out has a purpose, a relief valve from importuning feelings. It lowers tension levels and allows us to function better.
The most universal act-out seems to be keeping busy, never a minute to think or feeling, just keep going, usually to feel there is no where to go and nothing to do. When we cannot act out we most often act-in. We suffer from cramps or high blood pressure or worse, epileptic attacks. I treated a woman who needed constant sex, to keep from feeling having never been touched by her parents early on. When she could not act out her blood pressure rose dramatically. The pain has to go somewhere, so let us not moralize about it. No one is obsessively sexual without that pain; not even Tiger Woods.
So what is it we must do! No we now what our deprivation was early on. If you need the windows wide open or else you get anxious you know you lacked oxygen. If you cannot be enclosed, say in a locked car for any time, you may well have been an incubator baby. So the act-out is usually what we call neurosis. It is not the behavior that is neurotic; it is logic in the extreme. It is our feelings that have been deviated and not normal. When we feel our pain we then normalize along most parameters from blood flow to sperm count, to the speed at which sperm move, to how fast our heart beats. So we see why it is so useless to do Behavior Therapy, treating the logical extension of pain instead of the pain itself underlying the behavior. If someone is awkward and often pushes us and we fall we know to avoid that person. But if we do not know what is pushing us we may tend to focus on the fall instead of the push, missing the point entirely. Behavior therapy is extremely superficial and deals only with what anyone can see instead of focusing on what is not obvious and cannot be seen. It doesn’t take a shrink to figure out Behavior Therapy; it takes a real shrink to go deeper. And that will only happen when someone has reached into her feelings and has complete access to herself. Then she won’t misfocus; then she will understand what drives her and therefore what drives others. She understands the “push” of feelings. No more mystery.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I am reading the life of Albert Einstein now. In it is a phrase that he wrote to someone. “How glorious it is to discover an underlying unity in a set of phenomena that seem completely separate.”
It is an important idea because I think it is the case with Primal. We have managed to understand enuresis, migraine, high blood pressure, impulsiveness, obsessiveness, phobias and violence due to an underlying unity. Thus, instead of treating each new appearance of symptoms or behavior de novo, as something unique, we search for the underlying dynamics that give rise to all of those phenomena. It makes our job much simpler, and of course, more complex.
But think of its elegance: we don’t need a new diagnosis for dealing with phobias of various kinds because there is an imprinted terror lying about that explains it all. It eliminates the labyrinthian task of tracking down each new symptom or behavior trying to find the cause. Here we find a specific time and place where a past event is engraved into our system. We no longer have to rely on mystical variables to explain things such as id or shadow forces. That past is knowable, even for events during our womb-life. And moreover it is treatable; for a single underlying variable may account for the treatment of most of the separate behaviors or symptoms — the imprint.
We work within the guidelines of evolution to find causes and solutions. We know we cannot contravene the evolution of the brain if we want to understand how we become what we are. If we remain in the present in our therapy we automatically avoid what surely are the causes of so much deviation. We know that behavior is linked to our history, and we if avoid history we avoid cure. We no longer rely on the beliefs of the therapist, we relay on the inner truths of the patient; hewing to those truths keeps us from going wrong.
Where we part company from all other therapies and theories of mind, is thinking that presenting symptoms are the patient’s reality. Underlying pain unites so much of our lives, behavior and diseases. If we do not understand that pain we can never understand a patient’s plight. It can be a single pain (incest) that uncovers so much about us. It is the unifying principle for neurosis and psychosis, as a matter of fact. We can begin to understand the imprint as it simultaneously affects cancer, depression and high blood pressure. It ties so many disparate phenomena together.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Depression has been a mystery for a long time because we have ignored the connection between life in the womb and the trauma that comes with birth with later mental and physical health. If we were to overlay a transparency of the characteristics of depression on the effects of the birth trauma we would find that they match perfectly. Everything a person felt during the birth trauma back then is also a description of her current depression. "I can't try anymore. It is all too much. I am stuck and not getting anywhere, etc. And then the act-outs based on these feelings; A therapist who cannot make a move when it is needed in therapy. The depressive has simply lost touch with her history and has transmuted the old feeling to the present. It is not that the feeling is wrong; it is simply displaced into the wrong epoch. It is real to feel doom and gloom, not a neurotic aberration. It was very appropriate back then at its origins; not appropriate in the present. My definition of neurosis is acting in the present from feelings in the past. But the for moment we must know that the traumas set down in the womb, at birth and at infancy are coded, registered and stored in the nervous system. They become a template for what happens later.
If I were to tell you that depression and all of its symptoms stem from a single event it would be hard to believe, and yet it’s true in some respects, and not true in others; nevertheless, birth trauma is one of the roots of depression. This is not a theory I concocted but rather, a result of observing many depressed patients from many countries who relived the same kinds of trauma. After treating several hundred depressives successfully, doing brain and biochemical research on them, it seems like the birth trauma, which compounds life in the womb, is one causative factor Adding to the severity of the problem is that the effects of birth trauma then become compounded by later life circumstances. Late research has found that the carrying mother's depression often produces that in her offspring. Yet if there were no serious aberrations in the carrying mother and a traumatic birth there would likely be no severe depression later on. . In particular, what is known as endogenous depression, something that creeps up on us without an apparent warning, leaving us helplessly deep into its maw. This is no more than saying that we need to pay attention to the critical window where so many later difficulties are laid down.
Depression (neurotic depression) is not a feeling or some strange, untreatable disease; it is a state of pain and repression. Depression is a system-wide repression that blankets many feelings. It is the history of the body’s experience over time exerting its force. Expression of feeling marks the end of depression: but first we have to know what it is we are feeling and what we need to express. Therein lies the rub. For what there is to be expressed usually cannot be done so in words, because the event itself – birth trauma – is not an event that is experienced in words. The sensations that a baby experiences during birth are generated in an area of the brain that lies far below verbal ability. That part of the brain – the brainstem and limbic system - is cognitively illiterate, but brilliant in terms of its own language. Once we begin to understand this we will see that depression is not the mystery it has been made out to be, and that it can indeed be successfully treated. Once early trauma is imprinted down low in the brain it is literally shouting out its hurt but never in words. We will lose if we try to reach it with words, which is the current practice, it will be a dialogue of the deaf. It speaks in a language of the viscera, the blood system and neurons. We can learn the language and speak to it effectively once we have the techniques. That is what we offer our depressives.
Over the many millions of years human evolution has produced a kind of normalcy in various aspects of our physiology; a sort of narrow range of biologic processes that ensure the best functioning and longevity. So blood pressure has a normal range as does so many other functions. But soon after conception, and before the normal range is definitively established events occur during womb-life that permanently alter those normal readings. So our heart rate is now set at too high a “normal” level. The new level seems normal since it was established early on in gestation. But it is a “reset” level engraved into our systems before the other “normal” levels were established. This new normal may cause a change in the function of our neocortex. We may have a tendency to think too fast for proper reflection. Or we have impaired ability to control and integrate our impulses.
It is easy to think of all this as hereditary. After all, it is a gift from mother; but not in a way we imagined. It is who the mother is[NU1] that is shaping her baby. The child’s emotions may already be warped when he enters this planet: he may be lethargic and passive from the first day on. The download is either loving or non-loving, down-regulation or up-regulation. It forms the matrix for the child’s physiology and brain development and of course his later psychologic state. Hopelessness is most often down-regulation and is the forerunner for later depression.
Arthur Janov Suggests that Stress During Pregnancy Leaves a Distinct Cellular Imprint that Predicts Mental Illness and Serious Disease
In his new book, 'Life Before Birth' (NTI Upstream, Nov. 2011), Arthur Janov makes the case that events during pregnancy and the first years of life leave a distinct cellular imprint that predicts mental illness and serious disease.
Read the full story:
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.
Our therapy is constantly evolving. If a therapist has not had additional training in the past 3-5 years she is not up to date. The basic principles are the same but the actual therapy has taken a radical turn. It is much more precise, predictable and mathematical in practice. We have tried to tighten up what we do in keeping with current neurology and physiology. It is a constant learning experience. It is finally for the well-being of the patient who now has a much better chance of doing well. Yes, it was good before, but there is less time wasted now because the techniques are honed and the theory takes on more and more precision. We see patients from some thirty countries in the world, each with different cultures. It is up to us to continue the refining process so that the patient has the best chance of improving.
The clear understanding and application of the theoretical and clinical aspects of Primal Therapy are essential in order to provide effective therapy. Citing the most current findings from the field of neurology, trainees will learn the role that the physiology of the brain plays in the shaping of mental illness. The training will thoroughly examine the scientific basis for Primal Therapy and discuss the unique clinical approaches employed in the treatment of various emotional and personality disorders.
For our first year students, the training will entail extensive work in the understanding of the basis for Primal Therapy. On the theoretical level, there will be an examination of issues that range from the nature of the unconscious to the nature of traumatic imprints and their lifelong effects on physical and mental health. On the clinical level, trainees will have the opportunity to learn proper diagnostic and therapeutic procedures as they relate to Primal Therapy.
Furthermore, first year students will be mentored by our third year students in order to ensure that the key concepts in Primal Therapy are clearly understood. There will be an extensive library of training notes and taped lectures from the past two years available as well.
For our second year students, the training will provide a unique and varied opportunity to gain more clinical experience. Through closely supervised clinical sessions, trainees will gain a deeper understanding of the various applied therapeutic methods and hone their skills as future therapists. In addition, second year trainees will have the opportunity to work with first year students thru discussion groups, tape reviews, and clinical sessions.
Our third year students will continue to hone their clinical skills through a rigorous series of didactic clinical sessions. These sessions will be video taped and will be reviewed by Dr. France Janov and our senior therapists.
Dr. Janov’s books have been translated in some 26 languages, have been bestsellers in many countries, and his theory is taught at many universities. He has combined decades of clinical practice with the latest in research. It is the therapy of the future.
To apply, please visit our website at http://www.primaltherapy.com/primal-center-application.php and select the ‘trainee’ option when filling out the questionnaire. For further information, please feel free to call us us at (310) 392-2003 or email us at
We look forward to another exiting year of training. We hope you will join us.
Dr. Arthur Janov
Founder & Director