Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Mystery Known as Depression, Part 12/12


There is scarcely a professional among us who believes in the absolute necessity of reliving old events and altering their imprints; yet it is that very process that is curative. It is curative because it deals uniquely with history and memory. This is not to be confused with recall. Recall is cerebral, neo-cortical. Reliving the imprint is neuro-physiologic, and is remembered in that way. While imprints are usually not in the therapist’s lexicon, I believe it will be the sine qua non for the future of psychotherapy.

There are now hundreds of studies in the scientific literature documenting the effects of pre-birth and birth traumas on later symptoms and behavior (and this is discussed in detail in Primal Healing.) There are research case studi es we did to verify my point. I have written about the UCLA experiment in my book (Janov, 1996) but I want to sum up the importance of it. This is research we did together with Dr. Donald Tashkin, former director of the Pulmonary Laboratory in 1992. Two patients were wired to many instruments while we helped them into a reliving session, a primal. Neither patient observed the other so we had a rather pure experience on the part of both men. They both relived severe oxygen deprivation during a birth trauma, something we had not planned at all. After being immersed in a memory of oxygen deprivation they began what I term "locomotive breathing," because that is what it sounds like and seems to emanate in part from the brainstem, in particular the medulla. This deep, raspy, rapid, compulsive breathing went on for over twenty minutes.

The heavy breathing was an attempt to compensate for the lack of oxygen they experienced during the memory event. This is never a voluntary effort. It seems “forced” on the person from low in the brain. It is as though the patient is making up for the deprivation event by gasping for air. Once begun it is very hard to stop until it has run its course.
Heavy breathing can go on for many minutes and it may take many sessions for the cause to be comprehensible. Though this heavy breathing goes on for up to twenty minutes there never is any hyperventilation. After the reliving, we did another experiment where each patient mimicked the primal in every way (same movements and heavy breathing) except for not being in the past. That is, it happens out of a deliberate action by the patient living in the present. Both got dizzy and almost fainted after 3 or 4 minutes in what was clearly a hyperventilation syndrome (clawed hands).

It happens systematically to those who attempt to go back to the past without being totally in the memory. In fact it is one of our controls on the veracity of the feeling. If they run out of air right away it is simple abreaction, and unconnected and not integrated event. The reason is rather simple; the subjects were breathing voluntarily, not automatically out of the memory. They were breathing from “on top,” not from the bottom. The memory offers us the truth of the experience.

What the researchers from the pulmonary laboratory found was that when the patient was back in the old feeling and its context of anoxia at birth the body needed oxygen; the patient was “back there” in every way, not the least of which was physiologically. They go back in a complete biologic state. What we found at UCLA was that despite the heavy prolonged breathing the acid-alkaline balance did not change. The conclusion of the UCLA investigators, who were not associated with Primal Therapy in any way, was that no other factor other than memory could account for the results. In short, the life-and-death memory was real. It was imprinted. Despite the fact that the oxygen was normal in the room the brain was sending signals of a great lack of oxygen, and the heavy breathing ensued. There was no hyperventilation syndrome because the whole system was back in history re-experiencing a key trauma and urgent need of oxygen. They were reliving not just in their heads or their thoughts but with every part of them. Patients are indeed in their past. They are living in their history, living in their personal past; and, I might add, living inside a brain from antiquity. Their lives are revolving around history with only a dim awareness of the present when they are reliving in a primal.

These experiments are the best supporting information for primal therapy , as the experience cannot be faked. The fact that his imprint endures and is immutable means that it constantly affects so much of our feelings, moods and behavior. It means that there is a profound origin for depression which began its life before we began life on the planet. In the case of one of our patients trying to get born against massive anesthetic the feeling was, "I just can't try any more. I have to give up. It is hopeless." Here was the deep preverbal forerunner for depression; the physiology of depression.

Once we establish that we are propelled by imprints embedded in an ancient brain we see that it has everything to do with our current behavior and symptoms, then we must acknowledge that the primitive brain affects not only our breathing but also most of our current life, our moods, values and attitudes. Those imprints must be considered when we want to understand depression. It is not just breathing that is affected but most of the brainstem functions; digestion, elimination and many mid-line events. We go to doctor after doctor to try to solve a stomach problem when the memory will give it all up as soon as we can access it. It will tell us all because it was there at the scene “of the crime.” It will tell us of the carrying mother’s anguish, her use of drugs and alcohol or her own depression. Therein lies the answer – history. It divulges all of its secrets when we descend to meet it. It won’t come up to confess its history verbally; we need to meet it half way. Then it may say in its own nonverbal way, my stomach aches, as we plunge into history; my stomach is not working well. Later on there is colic that speaks more of what is wrong. And still later a drug addiction. The point is that when life is not going well and one is unhappy for unknown reasons we need to look at generating sources. It is never a matter of thinking healthy thoughts; it is a matter of knowing what underlies unhealthy thoughts.

This is significant because it can open up a universe to us about the depths of man’s unconscious. It confirms that very early experience is impressed into us, not just as a memory but as a wound that needs healing. The corollary to this is that the early need for love endures, and does not change throughout our lifetime. We seek symbolic, substitute fulfillment but it is never fulfilling and compels us to go on seeking more and more, always in vain, because it is symbolic. The critical time when need must be fulfilled has passed. And we have found that we can only heal where we are wounded. This means a return to relive events deep imprints where breathing is organized. Thus, if the “wound”/trauma affected breathing at birth, due to a heavy dose of anesthesia, then it must be revisited and relived; a return to generating sources. This usually normalizes many functions, from cortisol levels to natural killer cells as well as blood pressure and body temperature. With reliving the system is allowed to function normally.

The marks that originally appeared during the birth trauma may again appear in a later session. (We have photographed these marks; they can be found in my books). The baby-cries during a session can never be repeated by the patient after it. It is clearly not a simulation. In other words, the past and its neurobiology remains encapsulated inside of us. This may account for a number of lingering diseases in adult life. What is remarkable is that it is impervious to later experience; no matter how much approval an actor gets he always needs more. It is why I maintain that only re-experiencing in the context of an old traumatic memory can be curative. Consider, in the session, despite the adequate oxygen in the room the brain is signaling a serious lack of it and the body responds accordingly-- gasping for air, living for the moment in the past. Engulfed by memory.

One would think that we learn from experience but those with heavy pain keep having the same experience over and over. That is why those who have one auto accident are likely to have another.

We have to ask the question, what is about reliving that is so important? Why is consciousness so critical? It means acknowledging the evolution of the brain. Although that seems evident, many current therapies treat the patient ahistorically, as if he/she had no history and there was no personal evolution. It is creationism in the guise of science. The universe was not created magically in seven days, and mental illness does not suddenly appear in people one day, without regard to their individual evolution. History must be the primary goal in psychotherapy if we want to get better. After all, what does it mean to “get better?” I believe it means getting our selves back, the self that hurts and feels. We must get our feelings back to become fully human.

Why relive? Because without access the agony portion of the memory has never been completely experienced. We carry that painful residue continuously inside of us. In Primal Therapy, we now react fully to the prototype. We no longer hold pain in storage where it has done its damage.

Depression is a terrible state. It feels devastating and never-ending, but fortunately, it no longer has to be. There is a way out; and that way out is the way in. But we have to have a map of the way; otherwise we are lost. The reason so many therapists believe it is untreatable except by drugs is that heretofore they have had no way to probe the inner depths of their patients. And that is where the problem lies. Depression seems like it is in the present, but actually, the person is walking around engulfed and ruminating in his/her past. In Primal Therapy, we help put the past back into history and thus bring the person into the present, now unencumbered. We cannot leave our past behind by any great amount of will or effort. In fact, trying to do so with will power only insures failure. We need to let go of that strong will and submerge ourselves into our feelings. In therapy, we provide access to ourselves, no more no less. But that is a lot, for it means an end to depression.

I use the terms radical and revolutionary for my therapy with caution; yet I believe it is. It is revolutionary, in form and content. Primal Therapy is a radical departure from the face-a- face, insight-besotted discussion between two unequal partners; one with a worldly knowledge and an unerring moral stance, the other a willing neophyte genuflecting psychologically to learn what the worldly one dispenses, acquiescing to the outside instead of the inside. I speak from experience, having practiced insight therapy for many years. The majesty of it all is intoxicating for the therapist. The power of directing someone else’s life is seductive – and wrong!

Sadly, in the name of progress and being modern we have moved away from the past into a more present approach. There is an apotheosis of the present, of the here-and-now, and a move away from the one thing that is curative--history. More sadly, for one hundred years we have been talking to the wrong brain! It is that brain – the intellectual, unfeeling brain – that prevents any hope of a cure for emotional illness. Talking to the brain that talks was fine a century ago but now we know so much more about the brain and what it contains; we can speak to the brain that feels in its own language.

We need to learn a new language – that of the unconscious – a language without words that could help us make profound change in patients. After all, we call it “mental illness.” Yet, words often are the defense against feeling. Our goal is to produce feeling human beings, not mental giants. When one feels the prototypic trauma, one is on one's way to a solution for depression. That, plus feeling all of the harshness, the excessive discipline, the indifference and the lack of caring in one's family; and expressing all of the feelings and needs held back for those years. Expressing all that with the original feelings involved – that is why it is so forceful and terribly sad. The crucial, curative difference is that our therapy is not about the adult shedding a few tears – the adult crying about the past – but it is about becoming the baby and child with wrenching sobs and agonizing screams. "Be nice to me! Hold me! Cherish me. I'm your son! Let me be me. I'm your flesh and blood. Show that you want me. Let me express how I feel!" Those are the needs. When all that is physiologically re- experienced as what occurs during a Primal re-living, depression is no longer a mystery. And only when it is all felt, over months of reliving plus the birth trauma when appropriate, will the depression be resolved permanently. So the more one feels what caused the closure of the system, the more it becomes safe for the system to become open.
Finally, love can get in.

For References, see the full text at:


  1. Hi Art,

    Thanks, it's really well written.

    Paul G.

  2. It still seems amazing to me that you go toward those ghastly negative feelings instead of 'getting over it' or taking pills with side effects - and with the bonus of a longer more enjoyable life!

  3. Art ... thank you for discovering the science of the right to be healthy!

    I do not think the warnings about what is happening here and now in our lives could be enough... enough to see of what importance it has in the primal therapeutic process!

    To discover our behavior here and now is a prerequisite for success... even if a professional order stands in the way of recognition!

    Mom is and always has been one vocabulary to get on to convalesce from our suffering... it long before Janov discovered primal therapy's effects! So... the science has always existed... it 's just that we have not discovered it... it belongs to everyone's right!

    This applies to everything that man undertakes... detects... it's just a question of discovering the processes of what applies in the matter of science... science as no one can take out a patent... but well defend the scientific content for both warnings and benefit!

    Art ... "the discovery you made is the most important discovery mankind has made in any area"!

    Your Frank

  4. Hi Art

    I think your writing about long periods of deep breathing without hyperventilation was perhaps one of the most helpful pieces of advice prior to applying to the Primal Centre. It helped me gain a great deal of insight into past events. Simply listening to the body and feeling it's responses to present day events proved incredibly helpful and the deep breathing acted as the green light to explore the insights.

    1. Hi planespotter,

      I had one like that this afternoon. After a long period of sympathetic over exertion physically and mentally at work and at home this December; I started getting ADD more and more and more as Christmas / Solstice / new year approached. Taking all morning to get going this morning. To get on with the spreadsheet for my bookeeping. Then falling onto the bed crying. . . then that turned into grunting for a few seconds, like how it feels to be squeezed. . . then deep breathing for 20 minutes or more. I really wanted to be help, really felt the need to be held, wanted my pillow to hold as well as to cry into. This crying was like grunting out the need to breath and to relieve the sensation of being squeezed in my middle. Only 30 seconds or so followed by deep breathing.
      The suffering was before, the pain during and the relief after.

      Then up disorientated, but gradually more competent and off to get my son & grandson from the shops.

      I think I was reliving (for a moment) waking up after an unconscious birth due to significant anesthesia. . . real deep breathing and body temperature drop. . . pulling the covers over me, dozing and very deep breathing.

      There is a gap between my anxiety (starting to get the drug just prior to birth) and waking up after. . . I feel I was born drugged and pulled out by the head / neck / Jaw.

      Paul G.

  5. Dr. Janov,
    "...the more one feels what caused the closure of the system, the more it becomes safe for the system to become open. Finally, love can get in."
    This is what I need. I am numb since my husbands death - can't find my identity, can't feel my needs.

    A Happy healthy 2014 to all.

    1. You know, Sieglinde,it sounds banal but mourning takes time, and it should. There is so much sdness that has to get out. And it is too much for it to leave right away. Give it time. Don't fight it. This is the hardest thing any of us can go through. Hang in there. art

    2. Hi Sieglinde,

      thanks for letting us know and welcome back to the blog.

      Paul G.

    3. Hi Sieglinde

      So sorry to hear about your husband. Wishing you great strength and sympathy.

  6. very well written and explained , julie d


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.