Sunday, March 3, 2013

Primal Therapy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

 This is from a former patient who saw combat duty in Vietnam.  He is discussing PTSD and how, as I have written, it is the background childhood that helps determine PTSD.  
He looked around at the wounded at his camp and shouted, "I can't help you," which is what he wanted to say to his sick mother.  It effected his whole life. It is a moving story but with Primal therapy's help he is now a recording artist.  As they say in France…."Chapeau!!"   art

"When I came for Primal therapy in 1980 I had a pretty full plate of Primal pain. My mother had been in and out of mental institutions since I was seven diagnosed with clinical depression.  She was  a highly intelligent and sensitive woman.  I always thought she wasn’t made for this world. I needed love desperately from a woman too damaged by life herself to fill my needs not to mention my siblings.
Yet she tried. I have a an old photo of her and I in front of some church in New Mexico standing  behind me with her arms over my shoulders, touching my chest with her hands when I was a child.
I was always trying to make it ok for her. If I could somehow help her then of course she would be able to be the mother I needed her to be. During the times she came home from the hospitals she would mostly stay in her bedroom with the door always shut. Then she’d be gone again for months at  a time.  Once I heard her yell my name from her bedroom and went into to see what it was.  She awoke and my hope that she needed me to help her disappeared when she told me she was having a bad dream. She was calling out in her sleep for her older brother who I was named after. He had died before I was born of Leukemia and from what I understood my mother adored him.
On a Sunday morning 2 years before she took her own life I had a premonition that something was wrong. I was twelve years old and this odd feeling was based on nothing but my own inner voice.  My father was not home and my grandmother was visiting. I went to my mother’s room and when I asked her if she was ok she didn’t respond but somehow I knew she wasn’t sleeping. She was unconscious from an overdose of barbituates. I tried to shake her awake and yelled for my grandmother.

 I remember my grandmother lifting her arm and just letting it drop which has always seemed strange to me. It was a cold unfeeling act. My grandmother resented my father marrying such a weak woman I learned when I was older. She despised weakness.
I walked out onto the open porch off her bedroom and stood there at the railing while my grandmother called an ambulance.  My mother survived because of me. I had saved her. It was a temporary measure that only delayed her death from suicide 2 years later. In my therapy I realized I was better off with her gone than alive. A harsh reality because I truly loved her. I believed my having saved her that one time set the stage in my becoming a medical caregiver when I joined the Navy at eighteen.
Navy training as a Hospital Corpsman was like academics had been throughout my life which was difficult. Focusing and concentrating had never been easy for me. What is now referred to as ADD.

 I enjoyed working as a Navy Corpsman which because of it’s reputation I could finally be proud of that achievement.  After 4 months at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego we were sent for another 2 months to train with the Marines at Camp Pendleton an hour north. It was a modified boot camp with Marines training us for combat duty in their Field Medical Sevice School.  Sidenote: The Marine Corps is a department of the Navy and the Navy supplies their medical care and needs.
After  working on the east coast at Bethesda Naval  Hospital where I was assigned to the emergency room,  I learned practical nursing skills. Along with the training of caring for the wounded  at Camp  Pendleton it was only a matter of time before I got orders for Vietnam. This was 1969 and all the corpsmen I knew at Bethesda seemed to  get  orders on a regular basis until it was my turn.
I arrived in Vietnam in March 1970. I was put in the Combined Action Platoons near Danang. It was somewhat different from regular infantry in that we provided security to the villages in our area of operation living out in the field 24/7. As a medic I held clinics with the villagers.

We also trained our Vietnamese counterparts who were like their National Guardsmen who lived in the area. We ran patrols, ambushes and  a few operations.  I can say I saw enough of the horrors of war that I came home broken with severe symptoms of classic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately,  it wasn’t being recognized  by the veteran’s hospital at that time up to the late 1970’s. I was turned away when I went in for help and told I was psycho-neurotic by the intake nurse.  I began having suicidal feelings that I was so immersed in that I planned my death a number of times.
My being a corpsman was all about helping others. I put my life at risk to help others but in war it’s so crazy and chaotic that the opportunity to actually save a person’s life was rare at least for me.  People were beyond help or dead by the time I got to them
I ran out one night at the call of  “corpsman up,” when we got hit by small arms fire from the Viet Cong at the edge of a village. An RPG or rocket propelled grenade  had blown up the corner of a Vietnamese home near where we were sleeping.  The person I pulled from the rubble by the wrists had no lower half of their body as I watched the light leave his eyes under the glare of the parachute flares.
I survived ten months of combat duty as our unit was being disbanded and I was transferred around to several platoons from Chu Lai up to Hoi Anh. I had experienced a breakdown while in my 10th month and went into the rear to seek medical care for the immersion foot and jungle rot sores I had on my lower back. I weighed 142 lbs at 6’3”. I was really leaving to save myself. I couldn’t function any longer and felt tremendous guilt at abandoning my platoon. I realized on some level that I was of no use to them any longer. I was sick in my soul being both mentally and physically exhausted.

Saving myself. I have understood through” feelings” in therapy that my act-out to help others is about giving the help that I needed.  I learned recently of something my father told a friend of mine when he asked him ( my father ) about helping people as a doctor. My father said he did it for himself. It made “him” feel  good. He got the adulation and prestige of being a doctor from his patients. For him it was all about himself which makes perfect sense to how I knew him.  I was quite different. I was as smart as he was but I was never given a chance to succeed in life. He hated me for being different in creative ways and I never gave up trying to be myself though it cost me dearly.
I wanted to be a doctor but it was as far away as a distant star for me in reality. I would have been quite different  from my father without all my pain. I found that I cared deeply about those who were under my care in the Navy particularly in Vietnam.
This brings me to a scene in group therapy that Dr. Janov was conducting. I had been  connecting to feelings about the traumas of  war. I’ve discussed it with him and  the fact that traumas laid down at the age of 19 in war are just another layer of Primal pain.  He asked me once if I believed there was combat neurosis. I wasn’t in touch with these traumas until I’d been active in therapy for a number of years.
I was relating a scene or scenes from Vietnam in group therapy and how hopeless I felt trying to save anybody when they were dying while in a firefight or on an operation. I was sobbing as this feeling  descended into how I’d spent my childhood trying to help my clinically depressed mother. This “feeling” culminated in a gut wrenching realization that all my efforts were hopeless both in Vietnam and with my mother. The feeling was:  “ I can’t save you Mother!” And I couldn’t save my pals.

I have continued for many years feeling about how broken I felt when I came home from Vietnam and needed my father’s help which never came.  Not even the V.A. system was available to veterans of that era unless they were psychotic and locked away on some ward. I found temporary help through a very kind, private psychiatrist who kept me going until I discovered Primal  therapy.  I made it out here from Chicago on my own private pilgrimage over thirty years ago and though not fully functioning am enjoying a quality of life that never would have been without it."


  1. Hi,
    I sent this one to my son, his mother died about 8 years ago. He emailed me to say he dissolved and cried as a baby.

    I didn't get his reply email until much later; in the meantime we had an argument about me working too hard and putting work before my relationship with him and my grandson. He was in tears again and I was numb. . . . Sometimes as a parent you just can't be your children's therapist. . . Except of course children over three need to be able to accept parents can't be there for them all the time. That would be an act out indeed. I think he got the message but it was a cruel stroke of fate that put us into the situation where I had to spell it out for him.
    After that I was also on the floor in a mess.

    This sort of thing happens every Monday after weekend visits with my kids. It's like being stuck on rinse as the resonance down triggers off my boarding school alienation and then earlier infant abandonment and still earlier trauma.

    'Other people' in our lives have utterly not a clue as to what's going on for us. "Pull yourself together" etc. . .

    Paul G.

  2. Paul,

    "Except of course children over three need to be able to accept parents can't be there for them all the time."

    Unfortunately most children in the first world these days are put in daycare when they are only a few months old. Can't have either of the parents not working, it's unacceptable under unregulated capitalism. So the trauma of being away from your parents when you need them typically starts long before three years. I had a stay-at-home mom though, and I didn't go to daycare/kindergarten till I was 5. Of course, that is no guarantee against trauma when you have neurotic parents. Also at three months old I was hospitalized for several months. I had a bad case of pneumonia, and I was hospitalized again for the same reason a year later. My older brothers were never hospitalized as infants or anything, but still they are even more fucked up than me. Which I guess just goes to show that gestation and birth determine so much, as Art has been saying for years.

  3. Hi AnttiJ,

    My sister in law runs a very successful part state funded nursery (3 months onward) and still believes in slapping children but "of -course now we have to waste our time 'reasoning with them' "-.

    (No, I'm not making this up).

    Paul G.

    (I think she quite likes me really but doesn't dare admit it, for fear of making my older brother look like a t**t.

    Paul G.

  4. To be precise, My son is 'mixing up' what happened to him when the state 'intervened' in his life as a three year old (when he was still in the critical window) but legislated into extremely abusive foster care because of the legal situation I already spoke about in previous posts.

    IE: He was abreacting/out in an extremely subjective way which was beyond my powers of empathy at that time.

    Funnily enough the male social worker (at the the time he was two yrs old) said: "Well Paul, if you can't look after the children, we have too". The Job Centre had withdrawn my benefits because I was not available for work due to trying to look after my children. But the social worker said I wasn't fit to be a Dad because I didn't have enough money or family resources. (The female social worker said I would have to take the mother to court; "Let's You and Him Fight" not).

    So now my son feels abandoned by me because I have to work now (but the state would not fund my parent hood then, even thought they spent £250,000 or more on trying to re-instate the mother with all the chattels, sorry, I mean children). So, he himself is not coping looking after his son (my grandson) because he is also struggling with compounded trauma (partly caused by the state when he was two yrs old) and total alienation from so called 'friends' who spout the same CBT bullshit the state does.

    If that sounds complicated, it is. Mostly because I am being forced to take responsibility for the sins of his father even though I have always done so where possible and been willing to anyway (despite not having the advantage of an education in law as well as an education in social services child protection protocols, not to mention the unexamined out right advantage of being a 'mother' in a state that puts women as absolute legal owners of their chattels, oops, I mean children). It's just that every one else who is not related to him is either dead or not in the least bit f*****g interested apart from me and his half sister).

    Paul G.

  5. Primal pain is also why governments and other institutions don't work... Sorry to hear that Paul, thanks for your courage in sharing this reality concerning social dysfunctions. This is why I also believe in social activism. We will either create a more feeling world or we will create a world unfriendly to human life, and perhaps all life as we know it. (global warming etc.) Thanks for your courage.

  6. Hi Optimistintelligence,

    Thanks for noticing the conundrum my son and I are in.

    It's awful and makes my relations with both men and women a real struggle. When people find out what has happened they assume the worst or fail to comprehend the problem and tell us to forget the past and pull our socks together.

    Insights gained by my son and I are shocking. Nobody wants to know how extremely conditioned and prejudiced they are. Both women and men.

    Paul G.


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.