Saturday, January 18, 2014
The New Science of Mind
There is a piece in the New York Times Science section, (September 8, 2013, by the Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel)(See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/opinion/sunday/the-new-science-of-mind.html). He is discussing the advances being made in the science of the mind, and in particular, psychotherapy. What he means by advances or progress is a deeper understanding of brain function. Here he states, “Consider the biology of depression. (We can) discern the outlines of a complex neural circuit that becomes disordered in depressive illness.” So here we have it; it is all about brain structure and function. No discussion of the human being that carries around that brain or her experiences. The brain and the mind are identical for him. He seems to think that brain scans are the wave of the future so that we can ferret out the nerve circuits involved in mental illness. He cites the work of Helen Mayberg of Emory University who gave two types of treatment to subjects: cognitive therapy where they train people to develop a more positive attitude to life and its adversities, or anti- depressant medication. She could tell by examining the function of the insula who would respond and who would not. Those who started with a low baseline did well with cognitive therapy. Those who had above baseline insula activity did better with medication.
What’s wrong with this picture? Are those the two key approaches in the treatment of depression? Is there any room for feelings? Either we medicate or change the subjects’ minds about life? It is no small thing that he is friends with a leader in the cognitive approach—Aaron Beck. What he believes is that they have discovered biologic markers for depression. And once we do that, what?
I have an idea. Why don’t we try to figure out what psychological factors change brain function? Why don’t we bring the emotional and mental into the equation? Otherwise, we are forced into a reductionist approach to consider it all within the brain; a form of pure solipsism. Like there is a brain but no person with experience. Or if there is a person with experience what are the experiences? And how do they change the brain? That is the real domain of psychotherapy. The brain and mind are not identical; otherwise how can the mind change the activity of the brain? For example, when we say this drill won’t hurt your teeth and it doesn’t. Or how hypnosis can change brain function. There are levels of reality; the chemical, the neurological and the psychological. They are different and cannot be equated to one another. Otherwise we get into the bind of saying that anorexia is due to too much or too little dopamine or serotonin. And we will never find out what makes for more or less of these chemicals floating around in our brains. So instead of minutely examining neural circuits or biochemistry let’s be psychologists and psychiatrists and examine the mind. If I read Kandel properly there is really no mind to deal with.
Of course there are changes on all levels due to experience but they are not necessarily causes; rather, they are accompaniments. They are responses, by and large, to experience. So what are those experiences? Look at migraine headaches. We have looked into this affliction and discovered that very early experience, anoxia at birth, is a major cause; the vascular system shuts down in an attempt to conserve oxygen. It is experience that counts here, and a specific kind of experience. If we examine the brain for 100 years we will come no closer to understanding migraine. Of course neural circuits change as most neuro-biologic functions change in reaction to trauma. This anoxic condition will certainly change the cortisol levels and the output of serotonin. But they are not causes? Does the function of the insula respond to severe input along with other limbic structures? Certainly. They are the result, not the cause of the symptom. Scientists removed from their feelings do not consider feelings in either causes or treatments. It is all cerebral, they assume. It is very much like assuming that those low in dopamine will not have a exaggerated reaction to coffee while those already agitated will have a greater reaction to coffee.
Kandel maintains that psychotherapy is a “biological treatment. A brain therapy”. And therefore there is no real place for psychotherapy. And then he goes on, “Any discussion of the biologic basis of psychiatric disorders must include genetics.” Not epigenetics where all the late research points, but inheritance. Again no place for life experience. It is either inherited or the problem is in the brain. He says it: Individual biology and genetics” make up the contribution to such things as depression. That is why it is a small step to operating on the brain to try to change depression. Again, when we get on the wrong train every stop we make is wrong. Let’s get on the right one.
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.