Thursday, December 22, 2011
On the Right and Left Brain. There Is No Cure Without Their Unity. (Part 1/10)
Nearly all of us know that our brains are split in two: the right and left brains. They are very different, like two separate parts of us. They have their distinct personalities and functions. One is more human/feeling than the other, as we shall see. When they don’t work together there is conflict and we are in trouble. We may get sick early in life and die prematurely. Sounds like an apocalypse, and it is. Connections between the two brains can be life saving. They need each other desperately in order to establish our humanity; this is not just an intellectual idea. If we don’t have them working together we are less human, as I shall show as we go along. The question is: what makes them not work in harmony? How do we get them to do so? And what does each hemisphere do exactly?
Let’s look at each side and see what they do:
THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE
First of all, we should know that the right side came into being first and is primordial in every sense of the word. It is the feeling hemisphere. It helps store old emotional memories inside its orbit. It absorbs and registers our very early trauma while in the womb. The early experience has no words nor scenes to help us know and remember them. After all, life in the womb is wordless, nor are there scenes attached. It is all sensations and then feelings. The right brain has the key responsibility for integration of the two sides, but it cannot do it alone. It needs a partner. We will see who that will be. Clearly, the right is more “human.” It cares about the living and it cares about feeling. It is more sensitive and caring. It senses nuance, honesty and insincerity. `
The right side is flexible and prefers a panoply of choices. It is no accident that creativity increases in those who have had a left hemisphere stroke. (The right controls the left side of the body, and vice versa). So many of my patients have discovered their artistic capabilities after therapy; they have been opened up not only to the pain on the right but also the creativity. Research has the shown a jazz riff (improvised solo) to be strictly right brain. In short, it is the feeling side that handles creativity.
One of the reasons for the right’s flexibility is that it is better myelinated early on, meaning it has thicker myelin sheaths (a kind of fatty covering) around nerve cells that help them transfer information to other cells. It is more able to inform the top neo-cortex of what information, including pain that it is holding down deep. There is much to discuss on this hemisphere subject.
The right side is musical, it comprehends tone, and nuance, the subtleties of sounds. In therapy the doctor needs to be aware of shifting tone because it offers us the subtext of what is going on in the patient. The tone exposes the right brain while the left brain of the patient rattles on with sophisticated big words. We understand the right side pressure by the torrent of words the patient uses. If she is loaded up to the gills with feelings the words may rush out toppling over one another, and spill out under great pressure. A slight little wobble in the throat tells us that feelings are right there. Music helps us deal with patients; it helps bring up key feelings and scenes. It evokes a special time in their lives. It is the right brain expressing itself, its emotional self. And when patients recall scenes and events, sometimes we ask them to sing the song or hum along with the radio; up come feelings. We are addressing and giving voice to the right brain; very helpful in a feeling therapy.
To repeat: the right brain is the feeling one for good and bad. It takes precedence in our lives, gathering into its maw all the unhappy events of our early life, including life in the womb; the carrying mother’s drinking cocktails, staying on a strict diet to keep her shape, a stressful job, and/or fighting with her husband. The right hemisphere is the keeper of the truth of our early lives and what happened to us emotionally. The right cannot sustain focused attention. The left can and does. The left is interested in what is going on exactly. The right maintains a more general vigilance.
The right lacks focused attention; just what is needed in class when the teacher gives an assignment. The right goes into panic mode and the person cannot learn.XXXXXXX Anxiety suffuses and suffocates the left’s attempts to learn. It crosses the corpus bridge (explained in a moment), to upset the status quo. “You know,” says the right, “my right hippocampus which is suppose to handle the memory of new events cannot do the job.” It seems to be overwhelmed, and that is why anxiety cases have such poor memory of past events. The past is mostly a blank as the brain structures charged with memory have defaulted under the imprinted load. And information on the right cannot inform the left of its experience so the memory does not get embedded on the left, and the person later on can hardly recall infancy and childhood events.
The right is often so loaded with feelings and pain that it cannot pay attention to the present; that is, it cannot focus on the present when the past is demanding attention, as well. When the past is full-up with terror and anxiety, memory vanishes. It is no accident that the right hippocampus is involved in emotional memory, and not the left. It always sees the bigger picture, and is always looking for patterns of behavior that would fit into that whole. There is a poverty of detail on the right which the left can supply. The left side loves detail. The right can’t be bothered. If instructions say, “pour out exactly two tablespoons into a saucepan,” all goes blank. The right goes by “feel” and guesses how to do it. Precision is not the right’s forte. That intuitive side is necessary in a feeling therapy, (but a little science is also helpful).
A patient can explain how afraid she is all day long but when she gets down and feels it in past context, it is another story. The left hemisphere senses terror but only the right has access to it; it can feel it in all its strength. When there is a breakthrough of feeling to the left side there can be a panic attack; the right is purging itself.
To repeat: all of the very, very early traumas are mostly processed on the right side, even before the left side comes into maturity; before it exists as a force. And those early experiences are imprinted and engraved in the system. And since the original experience is non-verbal the reliving must be non-verbal. And since the original experience was accompanied by a blood pressure of 170 over 115, the reliving must duplicate that exactly. The imprint cannot lie; it is remembering in its own way--neurobiologically. And when there is a reliving of the birth trauma there are very high vital signs throughout the process. It is our way of verifying the reliving is a true event. Therefore, no therapy that is intellectual at its base (cognitive/insight) can work on this. There needs to be a different kind of language to get the patient back there.
No level of brain tissue can do the work of a different level of brain function; the left can never do the work of the right. We need to address the painful feelings on the level at which it occurred and in the hemisphere that holds it. We cannot use words to get us to preverbal times. This is the basic mistake of today’s psychotherapy. Trying to verbally comprehend that which has no verbal rationale; that which cannot only be understood in non-verbal ways: that must be relived without words, words that had no part in the original imprint. It makes as much sense as getting the right limbic, feeling brain to engage in complex mathematics. That is not its job. You cannot talk complexity to it but you can sing to it. And because there are no words you can hum to it. Now you know why those who stutter or suffer cross dominance of the brain can stop stuttering if they sing. You can actually pinpoint the cause in this way. When we take words out of the equation things get simpler.
The close colleague of the right hippocampus, is the right amygdala, the agent of fear and deep feelings. This is one of the key structures to limbic area feeling. The amygdala is also involved in overall emotional processing. When deeper level terror in the brainstem comes up to join feelings of fear in the right limbic area there can be an out-of-control panic. When the right amygdala is loaded with feelings it seems to engorge waiting to get rid of its load. New research indicates that the offspring of depressed mothers have enlarged amygdalas. Among other functions it scans the environment for threats and sends signals of fear so that we may react appropriately. These people become adults who might be supersensitive to threats, and when the valence of it early on was enormous we have the soil for later paranoia, someone who sees threats everywhere. This is particularly true of those long time pot smokers where the right side defenses weaken and become more and more of a threat to the left. Then the left has no choice but to produce more and more strange ideas, essentially paranoiac in character. Those ideas tell us clearly that feelings are threatening and defenses are crumbling: beware! As the years go on those ideas become fixed and unassailable.
(Science: “How Sad Moms Change A Child’s Brain. Aug 22, 2011).
A carrying mother’s deep depression makes a change in the baby’s brain; there are no words or scenes to express it or remember it. It is remembered organically. There is a tag on it, a mark made by a process known as methylation which labels the experience and alters the expression of genes and influences behavior. The genes are often interpreted wrongly by the nervous system but the addition of the chemical methyl group to the cells marks it for a lifetime. It creates an epigenetic event which changes how the genes unfold, or at least how the brain interprets those genes. When a gene changes is “face” it sometimes cannot be recognized. This change not only affects later behavior but also the propensity for certain serious illness including cancer. And these traumas are heavily right brained. So later in therapy when we address the patient and have her explain what is bothering her she simply does not know; the left brain wasn’t in the loop at the time, and the right brain is not talking, literally. Yet she is depressed and doesn’t know why and cannot seem to get out of it. Meanwhile, the event is tagged and waiting for connection. Until there is that connection—the hook-up, there will be damage. It is clear that only an organic, systemic therapy that can reach preverbal events can change things and help the patient get well. And that means not using the left brain primarily to accomplish it. The left brain is in secondary position.
There is ample information now that when the carrying mother is under stress she is spilling stress hormones into her placenta; it impacts the fetus who is thereafter under stress, as well. It is now an imprint that will endure perhaps for a lifetime.**
**(“Prenatal Programming of Human Neurological Function.” C.A. Sandman et al., International Journal of Peptides, Vol. 2011)
We must remember that most all of the very early traumas are processed on the right side, even before the left side comes into maturity; before it really exists as a force. And those early experiences are embedded into the system. And since the original experience is non-verbal the reliving must be non-verbal. And since the original experience was accompanied by a blood pressure of 170 over 115, the reliving must duplicate that exactly. The imprint cannot lie; it is remembering in its own way, neuro-biologically. And when there is a reliving of the birth trauma there are very high vital signs throughout the process. It is our way of verifying the reliving is a true event. Therefore, no therapy that is intellectual at its base (cognitive/insight) can work on this. There needs to be a different kind of language to get the patient back there.
Both the feeling/limbic structures (hippocampus and amygdala) are part of the feeling aspect of our being and are principals in dealing with emotion. Discussing one’s fear is left brain; feeling it is right brain; think of the difference between psychoanalysis and primal. Explaining one’s feeling without the actual experience is invalid, as we shall see. It cures nothing. Discussing feeling after having relived the imprinted memory is valid. The evolutionary cart is not before the horse and the system says, “Each his turn. Mind your manners; feelings first, thoughts and insights second.
When the right side is saturated with painful feelings it becomes overwhelmed. This shows in later life as the inability to do several tasks at once because the incoming input on the left is vying for space with the internal right side activation. It becomes all “too much.” Then begins the avoidance of any task that would overwhelm the already filled-to-the-brim container. The left is not sure why it is doing this avoidance, and indeed, it remains mostly unconscious. It just acts-out, and the act-out is as unconscious as the feeling. The person is simply easily overwhelmed, seemingly by the input from outside but in reality, from old remote imprints from long ago. They surge forward and keep us overloaded. So when the husband gives orders to do this and the wife blows up and scorns his constant demands, she just “can’t take any more.” So there is constant information coming from the lower levels of the right brain telling the left of its troubles but it doesn’t want to hear. The right is saying, “Listen, there is something that I have to tell you that will save our lives.” And the left says, “Try later, I’m busy right now. I have projects to finish.” And the right responds, “You don’t understand. I have a connection to make and you are so distant; you need to welcome me.”
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.