Monday, July 30, 2012
Reconnecting the Brain
There is more and more evidence that brain tissue at the extreme anterior (front) part of the prefrontal cortex is responsible for integration of emotional states. Work of a Yale team, Patricia Goldman-Rakic and Pasco Rakic, focused on the corpus callosum (the bridge between right and left brains), in which they developed a model of symmetry in the brain. Cells in the corpus callosum are marked so as to attach to mirror image cells on both sides of the brain. There may be either a certain resonating frequency that helps each side recognize each other or there may be a chemical affinity that allows cells on one side to join up—connect—with cells on the other side. Connected memory may exist when lower level imprints resonate with the same frequencies higher up in the brain. When the prefontal cortex and sub-cortex meet, there seems to be a pattern of recognition; it’s kind of like finding a soul mate. More possibly, the lower level imprints rise to seek out their other half higher in the nervous system. Once joined, they form an integrated, unified circuit.
In an excellent book by David Darling called Equations of Eternity (Hyperion Press, 1993), the author discusses how nerve cells and more specifically axons behave. “Different groups of axons must be able to recognize different signposts, or else most axons in the nervous system would grow in the same place. Evolution has sited many different receptor molecules on the surface of nerve cell, each of which will stick to only one specific molecule.” The result is that nerve cells have a guide that directs them toward connection with other cells. All that is required for connection is that other nerve cells have matching receptor molecules. The cells are able to ignore all other non-matching nerve cells.
Darling goes on to point out that these cells go on to establish a “skeletal nervous system upon which all subsequent fibers can build.” This is one way that each new level of consciousness elaborates on previous levels. Thus axons grow from the lower level brain tissue to its proper target. Darling states that these cells “know” when they have arrived at connection because the receptors on axons are found only on the correct target nerve cell. He continues: “By unfolding stages, the brain organizes and interconnects itself.” Even in the womb, he believes, the brain is preparing itself for when it comes into daylight. I will quote further because what he states in a neuro-philosophic way dovetails precisely with our clinical observations: “Already, the individual has recapitulated, while in the womb, the physical evolution of all life on earth. Now it is racing through the stages by which life evolved mentally.” The stages are “from mindlessness to shadowy awareness to consciousness of the world, to consciousness of self.” Each new level is an elaboration of the previous lower level until we arrive at full consciousness. Critical here is the concept of connection; the merging together of related neural networks.
Without lower level connection to higher levels, we are only considering the late developing cortical brain and not the brain as a whole. He points out that in our personal evolution, the brain is racing through the stages of all of human history. In Primal Therapy we race through the stages in reverse. Only it is not a race; it is more like a crawl. No one can make a connection (insight) for us; it must come out of a feeling, and it must do so in slow orderly fashion. When the patient has the connection, we know it is time. When the insight is forced by a therapist, it usually is not the time—organically; it defies evolution—ideas come after feelings, not before. What Darling points out is that truth is an “unbroken reality”. Neurosis manages to fragment that reality (disconnection). Feeling therapy reestablishes that total reality. There is a unity of nature that happens only with connection. Neuro-psychologic laws do exist. It is up to us to find them.
Let us sum up some of the key points up to now. Early events even before birth are imprinted throughout the system and largely onto the right brain. These events can occur before there is a functioning left pre-frontal cortex to make sense out of them. And by the time we do have that portion of the cerebral cortex the pain on the right, severe because it involves matters of life and death at birth and before, is repressed and results in a disconnection between the two sides, and from lower to higher brain centers. Moreover, the connecting links are not as yet matured. This process is called repression or gating or, as it is often called in the scientific literature, dissociation. The right brain, then, becomes the repository of the unconscious. Becoming conscious means reconnecting the pain to conscious-awareness. Connection means awareness even when the event has no words or scenes. We can be aware of a lack of oxygen during birth or of the agony of being twisted around due to breech presentation. That awareness is every bit as crucial as an awareness of events at the age of six even though there are no words to explain it. Sensing the pain is awareness. It doesn’t need words.
Connection cannot be achieved when the connecting cable (corpus callosum) has been impaired or thinned out due to early trauma. Once the event has been dissociated, the right lower brain areas have a “mind of their own”. That is, the energy of the pain innervates the heart and key organs and begins the ever-so-subtle damage so that years later there is a serious illness and no one seem to know where it comes from. Suddenly the person develops high blood pressure or heart palpitations, or worse, a stroke. Because the origin is so remote, one could never dream that it was due to a birth trauma. The treating doctor says, “Have you been under stress lately?” “Not that I know of.”
I use the term “crucible” when referring to the womb because it encompasses various elements, molecules, and organ systems. It is broadly systemic. It forms and directs later development. The prototype sets the tone or the stage for what comes later. A twin I saw was left in the womb after his twin sister was pulled out. They had no idea he was in there (this was decades ago). He waited a long time and death threatened. Later his parents never offered any love or touch. He felt he waited for that as well, something that never came. The urgency of that wait was based on the life-and-death struggle in the womb (the crucible). That gave the trauma its force later on. He was sent away to boarding school at age six and waited years to come home to family. The family rarely, if ever, visited the school. As an adult any waiting was excruciating. One night he was going to make love to his girlfriend, but first she had to go to the bathroom. The inordinate wait put him back into old feelings (he was waiting for love—literally), and he lost his erection and could not get it back. The wait triggered off waiting for his parents to come and take him home from school, and then set off the prototype of waiting to be born.
The original reaction during the prototype was that he could do nothing to help himself (weak and helpless=impotent). There was an imprinted lower stratum of helplessness and hopelessness from that time on. When the early pain was provoked, the precise early reaction was also set in motion. It is not simply that the pain of the trauma is stimulated all the way down the chain of pain, but also the whole panoply of reactions with it. They are an integrated whole.
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.