Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is there a Breakthrough in Breakthrough Therapy?

I saw a TV special on group therapy. They filmed a weeks’s worth of breakthrough therapy and allowed us to see the progress. Before I say it is all bullshit, I shall refrain from that word and say that it has value, only not the value they see.

Basically it is a one week group therapy where they are instructed to pound the couch, yell at your mother and then cry while those around you become a “family,” and hug you like brothers and sisters. I hope this does not sound snide because I think that anything that helps open up people is good. So this is a good third-line approach that gets people to consider feeling. They can cry and hug each other experience an emotional closeness, perhaps for the first time. But don’t see this as therapy; see it for what it is. A first step, a baby step toward feeling in the future.

I guess their idea is that once there is a breakthrough of feeling/crying the patient is one her way to progress. I never see any science in all this; it is doing what you feel comfortable with. It can last a short while and that’s that. The problem is that the ragefull guy will recidivize, and he will be disappointed cause he thought he “cured” it.

If they knew about levels of consciousness they would know that they only touched the surface, and that there are months ahead of feeling. Above all, the patient should know this so they won’t be surprised when their symptoms and old behavior returns.

I have written time again that to do something like pound pillows at the behest of someone else is useless. That is going through the motions of getting better without getting better. Again where is the science? It is sorely lacking in almost every approach I have seen. I don’t mind people declaring themselves therapists but at least have some kind of qualification. Here the patient is again a dutiful obedient child who takes orders. There is no sense of what feelings really are, even though they are supposedly a feeling therapy.

The therapist says over and over again how proud she is of the addicted, rage case. He pleased her, and I suppose that is good? But all this current therapy approach is a do-gooder,-liberal one but if you asked them what makes for progress in their therapy, they would be hard-pressed to answer. You cannot love pain away. If the pounding does not come out of a feeling it is just an exercise, no better than appealing to a higher power; you know, “God loves you and is proud of you.” I really don’t know how any approach can eliminate history and expect progress in their patients.

Unless we know how deep in the neuraxis rage lies we can never integrate it.

At one point the group was asked to draw their early family home, and then they cried about it. Fine but what then? How is that different from explaining to a relative about your childhood home and then shedding tears. Is crying in the present enough? It is helpful, nothing to do with cure. In all of this there is no sense of evolution; how the brain and consciousness unfold. It reminds me the courts sending ragefull people to anger management. What they do is get the rational mind to suppress feeling. Isn’t there a better way? Let those feelings up to conscious/awareness, to be expressed and resolved? It is not a plug for primal therapy; it is a plug for science in therapy. If we don’t do it this way then we are candidates for heart attacks, strokes, hemorrhoids and pure misery as we can never feel totally comfortable in our skin. Remember, managing anything including feelings leaves a powerful residue in the system, grinding away below the surface.

In the breakthrough approach there is a decision by the therapist on what feelings will be addressed. “Today is Shame day. We can all get to shame.” What if that is an irrelevant feeling for the patient? Again, no sense of evolution, no sense of letting feelings come up in proper evolutionary order. I know they all want to do the best they can but there needs to be some thought-out approach; which is also lacking in every booga booga /NEW AGE approach in addiction therapy. I am appalled by the total lack of structure and understanding there is. As an example of this, there is then a role playing in Breakthrough therapy where you become my mother and I become your father and we express feelings. Does anyone ask themselves, “What is the history of role play? Did it ever help anyone? If so, how?" This is a spin-off from Fritz Perls and Gestalt therapy. It is a kind of anything goes.

Whenever a doc runs the show, (shades of Albert Ellis). There will be problems. We are again his children and we obey. He is not learning about his patient; we are learning the rules of the game. The patient does not do what he feels like; he does what is required of him. In the name of feeling it is just so mechanical. “Do this and then do that!” Don’t think having a doctor’s degree is any better. It just gets fancier, with more high-falutin language, vis a vis cognitive therapy. Let me offer a solution — a solid, scientifically based therapy about feelings.


  1. A bit off topic but, I think that it is in the interest of some of us to watch this movie released by Peter Joseph. This will probably change their way to see and promote this therapy.

    I often read comments on this blog from people who seem to be ready to do anything to sale the idea and the tremendous potentiel of this therapy to their government, to their politicians, to The New York Times or to any other powerfull institutions like these. That is, in my opinion, completely useless because the concept of the Primal Theory is contrary to the basic values of our socio-economic system.

    Before to undertake any project, no matter the quality of our idea, we should never forget to include the environment surrounding us in our equation. In fact, our current environment is a monetary sick system in which scarcity and inefficiency are synonymous of profit. These profits become the main objective to reach for each individual person in order to survive no matter the damages caused to the nature and to all our fellow human beings. In other words, you'll have to create problems to create profits in your attempt to fulfill your needs. We are all in competition with each others, there is no friends in business. This game is a perpetual war. In terms of money, there is no profit generated when all the basic human needs are filled.

    If you find a way to solve a problem forever (which is offered by the PT), you'll eventually stop the wheel and thus, kill the consumption cycle. It is too efficient. Slowly but surely, you'll eliminate completely the demand for such a product because the problem will be fixed forever. If our government lets more place to these efficient breakthrough, in all the scientific fields of research, there will be eventually no longer money in circulation at the end. All our needs will be met. Efficiency is ultimately a threat for our economic sytem and especially for the elite who is constantly trying to sustain the inequalities in name of profit.

    The only way to achieve real changes in any sort of organisations is to address the source of the problem itself. The place where the behaviors started to be corrupted. Actually, alternatives to the monetary system as we know it today are already existing. Unfortunately, we are, as a collectivity, so deeply indoctrinated in this paradigm that we are not able to see them.

    À chaque jour suffit sa peine

    A Primal patient

  2. ...and they did a documentary on bullshit therapy because it doesn't threaten any established interests. Unlike primal theory.

    If they did actually start to make sense they would be looked at sideways by concerned faces.

  3. 1. "If the pounding does not come out of a feeling it is just an exercise"

    Ah, that should be repeated. People need to realise that a real feeling is never forced - it always and only can happen on its own. A feeling is like an orgasm; it's something that you might induce, but never force.

    2. "Don’t think having a doctor’s degree is any better. It just gets fancier, with more high-falutin language"

    My cousin just did part of a first-year psychology degree. One of things she had to learn was to write in a particular style to ensure people take her seriously. In other words, learn to look like a solemn authority rather than a normal fallible human being. Now THAT is bulls*, and a message for us all - because at base it's manipulative. To talk like "Mr grand authority" is effectively an attempt to get people to believe you *just* because YOU said it. Reason and truth should stand-or not-on its own.

  4. regarding andrew's comment about authority figures:

    my friend andrew (a different andrew) was put on medication when he was six years old ans has remained on medication for all his life. now he is in his twenties. recently he accidentally stopped taking his medication and now he doesn't take it at all. he says he "woke up". he says food tastes a lot better, and little things seemed much more interesting and beautiful at the time when he was "waking up". he seems to be relying on his natural defences now, and obviously likes food (he is fat). he has been expelled from his support group because he attempted to talk about his new experiences and ideas.
    he admits that some of his friends went comletely off the rails when they stopped taking their medication (this happened before he stopped taking his). i told him i was amazed he could do it, cold turkey, and manage to keep things together. he says he is amazed too.
    some of his friends want to do electroconvulsive therapy. andrew says the ECT therapists have been telling his friends that ECT is a cure. i told andrew they shouldn't be allowed to say that. i also told him about dr. janov's therapy being the only one that offers evidence of a cure. i suggested next time he or his friends visit an ECT therapist, they should take a hidden recording device. he said the ECT therapists won't talk with patients until they are properly admitted. when they are admitted they must wear a gown and they are searched for any devices. they don't allow any interviews to be recorded.
    andrew says some of his previous friends rapidly deteriorated after ECT therapy. he says they were independent before therapy, but now they are permanently institutionalised. he has been warning his new friends about ECT, but they won't listen to him. they only listen to the authorities.

    i am writing all of this because i want people to know that authorities cannot be trusted. you must not merely listen to the authorities. you must listen to the information coming from the authorities. and then you must decide if the information makes sense.

    andrew is fascinated in primal therapy and wants to learn more. he is not psychotic, and is very intelligent, but suffers short term memory loss. maybe he can't do primal therapy. i don't know. i think i should be careful to avoid giving false hope to psychotics.

  5. Part I

    My oh my. Wish I knew all this 35 years ago when I walked into Dr. Frankenstein's lab. Then it was all about abreaction. Whoever yelled the loudest was deemed the most cured. And of course, once you were deemed a top dog, you helped ride herd for the lead-therapists.

    No one in charge wanted to acknowledge any danger. If you didn't get loud enough you were insulted. There was a lot of rat-packing and shaming. What were we "faithful" to do? Like others, I'd been told Primal (like the Catholic Church) was the only way. If we failed Primal, we were doomed to hell.

    I left feeling like a failure. I got to a certain point, thrashing around, and just felt all the energy in me vanish. It's like I had no life force left. I just remember people yelling at me to MOVE! When I didn't, they reacted with disgust.

    One therapist said she didn't think I was changing at all and should think about leaving or not for a week. Of course, feeling damned if I left, I returned in 7 days and said I'd like to stay. She talked me out of it, but not in a good way. I felt like a Marine-wannabe being asked to leave the Corps because I was a wimp, didn't have what it took.

    To say I felt lost and crushed is an understatement.

    I kept in touch with some who remained in "Group." I felt most considered me a leper...indulging me but wishing I wore a bell to warn them.

    I wonder how different my life would be if I'd found a "real" Primal Therapist 35 years ago. Instead I tried various other things, from Sufi dancing, various meditations, and sundry "talk" therapies. My birth family was little or no help, thinking I was "stuck in the Past" because I'd try to discuss things that had happened that they claimed to be "beyond."

    Over the years I learned of former Primal "patients" who'd killed themselves, had bowels removed, got divorced, "found Jesus," became alcoholics, became drug addicts, etc. When one leader went into a coma, only one or 2 of his "patients" could be bothered to record a message (hoping to bring him back, ironically, into "consciousness").

    So in a way, I suppose I was lucky to have fled that particular "Primal Plague" before it felled me. To be honest, though, I missed the sense of power and aliveness I felt the few times I sank into my feelings...which were almost always sad ("getting angry" just seemed forced, something the leaders were keen on, believing crying was for wusses).

  6. Part II

    I "get" how people stuck in their heads and act-outs like the power of feeling "something." It's a high, like getting in a semi-trance while dancing, or buzzed with booze, etc. Where I got stuck was not having true Primal therapists. They opened a door, let me feel good, then closed it on my foot, before suggesting I leave altogether.

    I can't shake the feeling that my life would have been a lot fuller and focused if I just had more involved parents/adults around me. But my mother was a poorly-managed manic-depressive and my father a hyper-reserved man. Even that wouldn't have been so crazy-making had other relatives been around. But there weren't. They all lived 300-500 miles away. So no cousins or grandparents or aunts/uncles to let me know I was okay. So I became what someone here called a "parentified child." Today I'm very good at sensing and meeting others' needs. I'm not so good taking care of myself. I tend to limit myself, doubting my skills and worth. I "know" (and not just intellectually) that I have skills and worth...but it all feels so tentative, like it could be taken away in an instant. For example, I love to dance. I have natural rhythm and take joy in movement. But whenever I want to learn new moves I FEEL like the most inept person on Earth. And too often that keeps me from even trying.

    Odd how one can be bold and "tough" when doing things for others, but wimp out when caring for oneself. Maybe it has something to do with birthing or womblife. That sounded (still does, truth be told) crazy to me when Art said it, but I wonder: Am I a parasymph? I'm excellent during crises. It's like I "disappear" personally and often know just what to do to "save the day." That is, my first reaction to stress is not flight or frenetic action, but the opposite. I stop in mid-track. My mind does not fog over, though. Mostly it clarifies. Maybe it was due to lack of oxygen at birth, or drugs my mother took for her bipolarity, or sensing early on that I had to read her moods if I was going to live. I needed someone to tell me I was biting off more than I could chew, that they would take care of her and me. Instead I believed I had to take of everyone else’s feelings and needs.

    Who was there to help me, guide me, show me a balanced life? Who will guide to people who were filmed: therapists who, themselves, don’t know their own feelings? It’s easier for emotionally constipated “doctors” to teach others to be similarly limited, the better to tell patients how to feel…and dole out drugs to those who don’t respond well enough.

    Art: Outside of yourself and your trainees, do you know any other therapists, leaders, etc. who you feel would pass Primal muster in terms of being feeling humans? How many replacements have you trained for yourself: 20-40-100? It is any ever-growing world, with ever-more effed-up people in it. How can, say, 50 qualified Primal Therapists help us all? Are we simply SOL?

    I’m serious. I know someone now who’s on bipolar meds. They are “worsening” in that their feelings are bubbling up and the “experts” are feeding him pill after pill. And they are all “credentialed” in ways that make them immune to seeing other ways of healing. I fear the cure will kill the patient, if not physically, then surely spiritually.

  7. Dr. Janov,

    Is there a Breakthrough in Breakthrough Therapy?
    "high-falutin'" is in...
    The effect is a 5 minute permitted self-divulging on the Oprah show.

    The same acting-up and acting-out can be found in churches. Everybody gets their holy-ghost show minute, while the preacher reads the bible.
    Another deception is pampering hate as a healing solution for pain.

    Neurotic outbursts are encouraged in the US as a therapy, while absolute control over feeling is demanded in Germany.
    One therapist in Germany told her incest client, if she let go the past, stay in self-control, she has everyday a new chance in life.

    It seems to be a deceptive pattern that people gravitate to, rather than addressing the roots of their pain.

    The lack of knowledge (PT), makes control over someone important – not healing.
    It is a vicious and never ending cycle.

    I wish you never get tired writing about it.


  8. A facebook comment:
    "Beautiful.Even ugly words, like bullshit, sound like ripe fruit from a healthy orchard."

  9. Another facebook comment:
    "LIKE LIKE LIKE How many times can I like this? Thank you Art. We look to Science in every other branch of Medicine, and other disciplines, y not in psychiatry/psychology? Is it as the brain is more difficult to see, much less understand?? I am interviewing clients at the court tomorrow and feel sick reading your post as I feel I am wasting my time, to a degree."

  10. Trevor: This therapy takes years to learn. It is most complicated. Few are willing to stay and learn. It involves some biology, neurology and nothing of current psychology. What can I do? Take a shortcut and leave people half trained to go on and damage patients? Yes, I am a purist but it is for the health of others that I am. Art

  11. An email comment:
    " I think it took me a lifetime to realize what it is I have a total passion for. Eventually, life circumstances at age 50 have allowed me to pursue writing and recording music full time.
    It's what gives me the most sense of fulfillment and purpose I have ever experienced. It doesn't matter about success or money. I do feel though that this may very well follow in my efforts. It would never have happened had I not come to therapy.
    > You are in possession of "The Best Kept Secret In The World." Something so profound that when it is "recognized" for the simple miracle of what makes us human, it will be the turning point of either our species continued evolution or not.
    We will either "get it," or we won't. To be a small part of your life's work is truly an honor for me Art. Please let us stay in touch. I will meet you for lunch anytime just to let you know. I'm sorry if I have disappointed you in my decision.
    With Affection and Respect"


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.