Tuesday, November 20, 2012
What Really Counts in Our Development
As I have pointed out, the brain develops into three different systems. I call them the first, second and third lines. The first is brain stem and parts of the archaic limbic system, the second is basically limbic system, including the amygdala, hippocampus and other structures such as the anterior caudate nucleus. Each of these structures (including the striatum) contribute to our general feeling capacity. They are connected to the top level prefrontal cortex to help us be aware of our feelings; this is the area of insights. And they are evolved out of the brainstem that provides the energy and gravity of feelings. The first line is silent and wordless. It grunts, exhibits rage, terror and great physical reactions that are never expressed in words; that is why we need higher levels to provide those words when necessary. But less us not believe that the cognitive level by itself can make any changes--insights. It misses out on the serious sensations that exist on the deepest brain levels.
So we have a basic primitive ineffable level, a higher emotional one and finally, a verbal one. All together they form a fully feeling experience. When we relive events from our childhood there is generally all levels involved.
There is the memory by the third line, then we add the emotion to it in therapy and then allow the punch of the feeling to join in. When we relive events before birth, during gestation, it is a first line experience where there are no words or even tears. When we read a speech too often we lack the emotional level; it remains dry, cognitive and intellectual.
When are born we have most of the brain neurons we will ever need, except for some limbic brain cells that go on developing throughout our lives. Early on the brain is developing networks and circuits where different brain structures are connected to each other. But lack of love and trauma during early childhood seriously affects how the brain develops and what networks there are. The feeling system will recruit aspects of the limbic system into a feeling network. Except when there is little emotion in the environment, when the parents are two stones who do not react much. It affects the brain development of the child. The emotions become stunted. The cognitive level may go on developing but it leaves the emotional level behind. We get brainy people who don’t feel much.
We know from much research that neglect in the first months of life on earth adversely affects brain development; there are later learning problems and relating difficulties. But picture the traumas before birth during gestation; imagine the kind of long lasting damage there will be. This is the kind of damage that affects physical systems, the precursor to heart problems later in life and cancer. Why so? Because the newly forming heart cells (and other cells) are being affected by a mother who is anxious and/or depressed, weakening the baby’s circulatory system. First line damage equals first line reactions. This damage may not be apparent for decades but the beginning vulnerability is already there. It has changed the way that neurons develop and differentiate. There is now a sort of detour going on. And more, there is suppression of those traumas automatically so that each trauma evokes its own repression, and here we may have the beginnings of later cancer. This means that first line repression is heavy and deleterious.
Speaking of cancer, I am hoping to carry out some research to follow up on something we did decades ago. We did a double blind study of Natural Killer (NK) cells which are part of the immune system charged with watching out for newly developing cancer cells in order to kill them. After one year of our therapy there is a significant increase in NK cells. What I want to do with a research team is pierce the tumor take out key cells, multiply them a lot and then re-infuse those extracted cells back into the person’s system slowly over time. If I am not mistaken those infused cells will kill only the tumor cells and nothing else. This will be a lot more efficient than chemo therapy and will only destroy cancer cells, leaving the healthy ones alone. And because NK cells are genetically designed to go wherever there are the bad cells it will be less dangerous and far more effective. All we need right now is the money to do it.
When I discuss the idea of detour it may be exactly what happens in the brain, for there is a migration of neurons from the brain stem up. And when there is trauma those neurons may well take a different route in their development (see the work of Bruce Perry in Texas). This migration is foremost in the earliest months in the womb so that a mother’s smoking or pill-popping alters the migration and brain evolution. One way this happens is that we are born with a certain gene pool but how these genes evolved is due to epigenetics, events impacting genetic development. This determines how the nerve cells evolve, how dense the dendrites are and how they connect with other nerve cells. Dendrites accept the messages from other nerve cells. When they are sparse or less dense we don’t get the full message. A carrying mother’s smoking can alter the baby’s oxygen supply for life. That means breathing problems later on.
So we have an ordered evolution of brain cells from the stem cell area on upward. And each new system appears on a fixed time-line. These systems occur in order so that we can’t speak at 3 months. Brainstem functions include digestion, breathing and blood circulation. If later on there are symptoms in these areas, we need to look at first line events. Did the mother smoke heavily in the first 4 months of pregnancy? If so, there are likely to be serious developmental problems including evidence of mental illness later on. These primitive neurons are there long before the cortical neurons exist, both in evolutionary times and in personal ones. And during gestation and the first months of life on earth they are the most sensitive to environment impacts.
This is no more than saying that there are critical windows when the system is the most sensitive. Not being touched at age ten is not going to have the impact if there is no touch right after birth. What this means is that the critical period for the first line is far more malleable than later critical periods. And its impact the greatest, which is why we always need to include this period in any of our studies, and especially in our therapy of patients. This first line is the epoch of longest lasting effects and of the greatest impact in terms of our evolution and brain development. This has been emphasized in a study by Cornell University (Nov, 21, 2007. “Trauma Earlier in Life May Affect Response to Stress Years Later”). During womb-life there is a new organizing framework which determines how the person faces life later on. The brain is “settling in.” And it imprints this frame of reference to guide our lives.
What new research is showing is that those young children who are abused, neglected or otherwise unloved have smaller brains than those who grew up loved. This implies all kinds of associated problems from learning to relating. We and our brains need others; we need attention and love and caring. And we need it during the greatest epoch of our critical window—the first line. That is when there are irreversible imprints with widespread effects. Our lives are in danger when we are unloved; when the mother is heavily depressed or drinks. Institutional children do die when there is no love in the first years of life. So instead of children not being allowed to speak at dinner there must be lively conversations all of the time. They need information and stimulation. They need food for the brain. So just imagine what damage happens to children who are unloved as children, and before that when the critical window is wide open during first line before birth. If we can see the damage done to young children in institutions can we imagine what goes on earlier in the womb when we cannot see the damage? The earlier the damage the more irreversible it becomes. Luckily we have a therapy that goes deep and undoes some of the damage. But with no first line therapy there will never be a cure, not if we ignore the crucial critical window where so much impact exists. There has been an attachment theory around for more than fifty years, but consider the attachment between the baby and the carrying mother where her every mood is transmitted directly to the fetus. When she is anxious so is her baby; when she is depressed so is her baby. And as the pain mounts from womb-life on there will be a greater tendency to shut off the right feeling brain and flee to the left where there is no direct pain.
All I am reiterating is that there is information and research to show that the earlier the impact on the brain the more damaging and long lasting the effects. We must never ignore this period if we want to help our patients.
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.