Saturday, October 31, 2015
Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 5/20)
Study after study has shown that a carrying mother’s stress can have long- lasting effects on how the genes unravel and are expressed in the offspring, which is the essence of epigenetics. Those brought up in abusive and unloving homes – under condition of famine, violence, war, divorce, etc. – had lifelong changes in their development, including chronically high levels of cortisol. Women who were abused by their husbands had children with excessive methylation of their gene. And this alteration was passed on to the baby just as if it were inherited. In this way, and in many others, the anxiety and depression of the carrying mother get translated into the baby. In short, he is born stressed. Later on, he will over-react to tense events with higher stress levels.
This is the definition of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And the point is that many of us carry around this latent high stress level for a lifetime. (We tested many of our entering patients for cortisol levels, and they were universally high to begin with, but dropped significantly after one year of therapy.) If we later add an unloving home and other stress factors, the latent levels become inordinately elevated. So then, a man enters combat and later suffers PTSD; we think that combat did it. Combat only exacerbated the reaction and made it manifest; it became an overt symptom. He was already PTSD, only latent. There is a recent study that proves the point, showing that those who had combat fatigue generally had more trauma growing up (Berntsen et al., 2012).
In that study, a team of Danish and American researchers interviewed a group of 746 Danish soldiers before, during and after their deployment to Afghanistan. The investigators, led by Dorthe Berntsen of Denmark’s Aarhus University, wanted to trace the causes of PTSD and find out why some soldiers developed the disorder while others did not. They found that the vast majority of subject soldiers handled the war experience with little or no psychological harm. Surprisingly, for those men who did develop serious stress symptoms, the cause was not found to be connected to battlefield trauma. Instead, the strongest predictor of PTSD was extreme childhood abuse, not combat experience. Researchers found that the PTSD sufferers were more likely to have been victims of severe beatings, burns and broken bones, or to have witnessed family violence as children. In addition, these soldiers had past experiences that they were unable, or unwilling, to talk about with the investigators.
However, in an unexpected twist on conventional wisdom, researchers found that some of the already stressed soldiers, about 13 percent, actually felt better after being sent to the battlefield. These were men who exhibited stress symptoms, such as major anxiety and frequent nightmares, before their deployment. But once in the war zone, their stress temporarily improved, only to reappear once they were safely back home. The question is: Why would they feel better when suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar and threatening situation? The answer, as this study suggests, is that being sent away to war allowed them to briefly escape their own private battlefield – the family.
“In other words, they showed improvement as soldiers only because they were in such poor psychological condition in civilian life,” concludes an article about the research published in Scientific American. “Army life – even combat— offered them more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than they had ever had at home. These soldiers were probably benefiting emotionally from being valued as individuals for the first time ever and from their first authentic camaraderie – mental health benefits that diminished after they once again returned to civilian life.”(11)
To cure the affliction of PTSD we need to deal with the trauma of combat and also the adversity from childhood that set the stage for it. In other words, there were antecedents for this affliction. Cure occurs when all the current and antecedent factors are addressed and relived. So a soldier can be aware of his combat trauma and unconscious of the traumas underlying it. It is what we can’t see that does so much damage. Moreover, the most deleterious traumas are those that occurred during the early critical period, when need is greatest and pain is at its asymptote. It means that the sealed-in imprint is almost irreversible in its effects (excluding Primal Therapy). War is such a powerful force that its effects can be engraved just as during a critical period in childhood, when the brain is so vulnerable. There is, therefore, a confluence of two traumas: one that is obvious and the other that we cannot see. We must not only treat what is obvious if we want to make sure that the PTSD does not linger on and on. To leave the basic primeval imprint intact and untouched means always that we must do something each day to handle the symptoms which never seem to go away.
That is why we must always include the concept of the imprint in any attempt to understand human behavior, whether it be PTSD or ADD or any number of ailments. It may seem like one abuse cannot be that bad as to cause such lasting damage; but it is one abuse among many, a series of traumas that are encapsulated and imprinted with a force that lasts a lifetime. A mother who fights with her spouse over time is setting up future behavior in the offspring. It not only upsets the mother but it also upsets the baby for life by changing his genetic inheritance. We have treated such cases and they are often punctuated by frequent trips to the emergency room for allergy and asthma attacks.
When a baby or fetus is traumatized he is more sensitive to later stress. His immune system is affected and he is more vulnerable to such things as Epstein-Barr disease or the herpes virus. In other words, when there is a virus around he will be more likely to fall ill, especially if he were unloved even in the womb (i.e. did not have his basic needs fulfilled) (Fagundes, Glaser, Malarkey & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2013). These afflictions are not considered mental illness, but they are often due to the same imprints involved in serious mental ailments. Here there is dysregulation of immune function, but it can have other effects, as well. Do we want to alleviate that immune problem or cure it? To cure it, we must find the imprints. They are there and when the patient is given access he will get there. Memories will come to greet him. Yes, we must treat the allergies, etc., but that only deals with manifestations, not cure.
In order to suffer “mental illness” we need a “mental” component, the cognitive apparatus that allows for mental deviation. Until that evolutionary step in brain development, we will suffer physically from that same imprint. Sometimes it is not different diseases we are dealing with, but different evolutionary stages of our growing up; our ontology. It is not possible to develop an “attention deficit” until we develop the cognitive capacity to pay attention and concentrate. And then it is the impact of multiple imprints or one very strong imprint that sends constant messages to the top level brain, the neo-cortex, trying to inform it of the problems on deeper levels, and thus interrupting normal thought. Those messages are importuning and unrelenting, and keep us from any long-term focus. They are trying to inform us of priorities; what is urgently in need of being dealt with.
(11) Herbert, W. (2012). Embattled Childhood: The Real Trauma in PTSD. Scientific American Mind Sci Am Mind, 23(5), 74-75. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind1112-74
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.