Saturday, November 9, 2013
How Womb Life Shapes Us
There is a recent experiment that throws light on this subject. Babies can learn a musical melody while still in the womb. They recognize it after they are born. They took two groups of babies, testing them at birth and again at four months. The tests were of brain responses. They were greater in those who recognized the tune. And it was equally true at four months of age. One key conclusion by the authors was that, “ a baby can be relaxed and soothed by melodies it hears before birth.” Obvious. But the neurotic mother’s metabolism also plays a tune, a fast or erratic one. And that baby is not longer soothed; rather, she is galvanized. Or confused, or dazed. And this state is imprinted in the same way that she is soothed with nursery rhymes. (twinkle twinkle little star). (see Eino Partanen, University of Helsinki, Finland).
Here is what makes early life so important; experiences can be engraved for life. They stick and they guide behavior thereafter. They make us open as individuals or closed as personality traits.
The point is that we start learning long before we think we start learning. Yes, it is a nursery rhyme, but any key experience affects us for a very long time. Long before we can say, “Oh yes, I remember when my daddy came home drunk and beat us!” These are things of instincts, primordial memories that have no words, yet shape us ineluctably as any later trauma; more-so, because very early experience is stamped in with a force that is often powerful because it is stamped in to a vulnerable, naïve soul that has little previous experience to fall back on. There is no reservoir of perceptions that help establish a frame of reference to make sense of things.
The experience joins in the a-perceptive mass which helps form an orientation to life that ultimately shapes one’s attitudes, interests and perceptions. Later when we are asked what made you think that,? there are childhood experiences we can evoke but also many pre-birth experiences of which we are unaware. These join into the ensemble of experience that form us. And these are the experiences that psychotherapy ignores systematically. How can we know what drives us when we ignore life in the womb there the mother is severely depressed or takes heavy duty painkillers? How can we know about terror and anxiety in a patient when we ignore a father who left home when the fetus was seven months? Or neglect to take into account a severe auto accident where the mother was pinned against the seat and the baby petrified? We ignore this because we do not know about the imprint of experience and how it endures perhaps for lifetime. We do not “grow out” of experience; we grow into them.
If we do not understand our malleability early on or how the brain changes all along the nine months of pregnancy we can’t hope to figure out endogenous depression at age thirty. Those early experiences are still part of us and guide behavior. So when a therapist says “I focus on behavior and try to make the patient take a healthier more wholesome attitude,” we know she is missing out. She is missing out on causative factors that are alive and well inside of us. And when we address the imprint we make real profound changes in the patient as he relives those central imprints. It is supporting evidence that the traumatic event lives on. Otherwise, obviously there would be no change.
Now we see why some of us suffer endogenous depression. Children whose mothers were depressed while carrying are more likely to have depressed offspring. (major work done at Bristol University, England who studied 8000 depressed mothers. Also see the work and comments of prof. Carmine Pariante of King’s College, London Institute of Psychiatry, Published in JAMA Psychiatry 2013,).
These studies are part of current science that should affect our practices. We need to investigate birth weight in our patients because recent studies point to birth weight as affecting how long we live and the rapidity of aging. (International J. of Epidemiology. 2013).
I don’t want to drown the fish but I do want to underline what we as therapists must do to be effective and help patients: read the scientific literature. That is our key responsibility. We don’t want to rely on the writings of Freud or Jung from one hundred years ago. There is a new science out that we must adhere to.
What is uplifting about this research is that those nursery rhymes can still play in our minds as we mature. We carry around that relaxation as an imprinted memory, maybe for all of our lives.
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.