Saturday, September 7, 2013
On the Imprint: Its Role in Psychotherapy
It seems that by now in Science, we have a good idea of what the imprint is about. Something I did not know about 50 years ago when I first posited the concept. The reason it is so important is that it determines personality, illness, whether we are constipated or not and many other facets of our lives. It is now an established fact in human development. I will explain but let me first say that once we understand the nature of the imprint we understand that no basic change in personality can take place in therapy without altering the imprint.
So what is the imprint? It is a memory, an ensemble of all the circumstances surrounding a key adverse event; a memory of an early trauma encapsulated. It is not just a “memory” in the usual sense of recall or actively going back to consciously retrieve something forgotten in the past. It is an event sealed-in biochemically forevermore and it affects us forevermore. It drives our behavior and the kind of sickness we will suffer from, will be get Alzheimers disease or cancer? The imprint may be able to answer those questions. And you cannot get there from here; you cannot willfully try to retrieve the memory because “willful” is the opposite of what is needed. One needs to let go of high level cortical processes and descend down the levels of consciousness where the imprint exists. And there we find that we cannot reach out to it because it is encapsulated, surrounded by aspects of the methyl chemical group, which helps encase it and make it unreachable. In effect, it is methylation that is heavily responsible for the imprint and its enduring affects. To retrieve the memory we need to “live” on the level of its existence for a time, use the right brain to lift it toward conscious/awareness, and bit by small bit integrate parts of the memory into the brain and the entire system. Thus, we need to de-methylate the memory. Until we do that there can be no profound change in anyone despite all claims to the contrary, notwithstanding. Not meditation, not cognitive therapy, not mindfulness or hundreds of other nonsense approaches that ignore neurobiology. And, I might add, that ignore evolution; how the brain evolves and what levels of the brain are holdovers from our animal history. No one can make real change when two-thirds of our brains are unacknowledged. We have the tail and the feet but we still don’t know what it is; how can we treat it?
Yes, one might add but this is just a theory. Yes but a substantial one with much research and therapeutic years behind it. And for over fifty years we have not seen any substantial change in patients until they descend down into the levels where the imprint exists. It is the deep unconscious and it has not been seen or observed in any way because it is out of contact with our intellectual brain. It is the province of the shark and chimp brain; the province of non-verbal behavior.
There are easily several hundred current research studies on methylation, acetylation and phosphorylation that describe how imprinted memory reroutes the brain. How it changes brain circuits. Do we really think that changing our perceptions, rationales and attitudes can alter those basic processes? Research says “No.” There are chemical processes that help open up the memory system and others such as with methyl that closes it down. But once locked-in, it lives on and experience does not change it. The evolution of the genes has been rerouted. Epigenetics reigns. That is crucial; experience cannot change it. That is why we cannot love neurosis away or exhort it to change, or plead and beg for it do something “healthy.” Its ineluctable road is already paved with bumps and crevasses. We are destined to travel them unconsciously. We could say in this sense that our lives our predetermined.
Let me give you an example. We see a patient and we do not know why he is so hyperactive, cannot sit still and cannot concentrate. How do we now what’s wrong? We won’t until we know what events at birth or in the womb transpired to fix this affliction in the system. Was the mother on coke, both kinds? What she very active and nervous throughout her pregnancy, especially since her husband left her. Was there a war going on? Was she depressed or was she given heavy drugs to hurry birth along? Hundreds of questions that need answering. A therapist can say, “I’m not interested in the patient’s past; it is her present that counts. Yes but the present is very dependent on that past. This is too often a rationale to simplify therapy but it is simplistic, at best. How did the pregnancy evolve? We know that bickering parents often produce allergic children. Should we ignore the gestation period? We know that a carrying mother takes drugs it has a profound effect on the later drug taking of the offspring. Should we ignore that too? We will never know the true causes of adult cancer and Alzheimers disease without know the patient’s history. So what on earth does paying your attention to your breathing in mindfulness therapy do to the imprint? What does it do to prevent serious disease? Nada!
So how can we understand mental illness with 2/3rds of the brain missing? It is a practice with one arm tied behind. In my clinic with many hundreds of patients over fifty years of primal I have seen what a carrying mother’s heavy smoking does to create severe mental illness. It happens too often to be a chance affair. Or the mother’s drug taking and how it affects later drug use in the offspring. Karen Nyberg’s research, which I quoted in my other blogs, is instructive. There is a heavy correlation between the two. We must change the imprint and begin to reverse the memory and its impact. Our research will tell us more about this. How on earth can we understand anorexia without knowing about the research (Roberts and others) on early trauma and later eating disorders? The research states that it is largely due to epigenetics. And key epigenetic changes take place very early in our lives that alter fetal programming and the evolution of the fetus/baby. Let us not forget the critical window where those events are engraved for a lifetime. That is where we therapists must go; to that window where trauma was impressed into the brain and whole system. If we do not, then we cannot understand anxiety states in our patients or ADD which shuts down focus and concentration. It is not here and now; it is there and then that must be our focus because there and then determines here and now, to a great extent. If we exclude there and then we will not know that later eating disorders are often caused by the nutrition of the carrying mother. That has been confirmed by numerous studies. Let us take off our blinders and look at the whole brain. And above all, the whole person.
We need to make clear that we need to change consciousness in psycho-therapy, not just awareness. Too many therapists conflate awareness with consciousness. Consciousness encompasses many layers of brain function not just the neo-cortex. It is all levels working fluidly together that form consciousness. Awareness is but one level trying to do the work of all layers.
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.