Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Abreaction

I have been thinking a lot lately about abreaction.  I think it is the scourge of primal therapy. It is what is happening in almost every mock primal therapy I know, which is why we have such a hard time helping patients once they have abreacted over time.  Patients get grooved into false pistes and we cannot get them out of it.  And they sicker and sicker and never know it.  Why? Because they get some kind of relief with the discharge  of the energy of feeling but never ever resolve anything.  The feelings remains suspended in time, unchanged and unresolved.  And then what happens?  The feelings on every line triggered en masse, become impacted, first, second and third lines as a block. They then become impenetrable and cannot be felt and liberated. The result is overload.  That means that the energy of all levels of consciousness surge forward; due their incredible load they become too weighted to feel and experience.  The excess, now stays in the system ceasing spillways for the energy; that means it goes where there is least resistance; the result is the system does its best to integrate overload but it fails.  Specific symptoms result: depression, anxiety,  hopelessness, migraines, high blood pressure, 
epilepsy, and a multitude of other afflictions  (how high reflects the power and energy of the overload).   The symptoms are most difficult to control because all levels are involved; not any specific feeling.  Hence no resolution.  Why not a feeling that could liberate?  In bad therapy no single feeling is addressed and relived at a time with resolution.  The therapist takes charge and directs the whole process out of his own unconscious and his deep unfulfilled need.  So, instead of going all the way with hopelessness,  for example, the therapists offers hope and destroys the resolution of the feeling.  Or does not know how deep the feeling is and cuts it off prematurely, when it has deep roots that need reliving, too. 

I have been trying to figure how what to do about the treatment of this overload.  Old patients from other therapies come in and try to feel but nothing changes.  All the  three lines of therapy are consolidated and untouchable.  The groove remains.  It is much worse than a single neurosis.  It is like three at once.  I have come up on a solution which we shall try with no proof at all if it will work:  try a week or more of Primal therapy but add a first-line blocker to the mix before therapy thus reducing part of the consolidation/overload, and permitting a  single lighter feeling at a time.  That should be more "feelable" and allows one separate out the levels of consciousness and take away its heavy load.  We shall try it but no certainty of the result until  much time and therapy has gone on.  Which is why we need to have therapy on the right track right away. That means therapists who know what they are doing;  therapists with proper training of how the brain works, as well as how the therapy needs to go. And we need to avoid those who love the drama of reliving birth; usually done far too early with no preparation.  It is often a result of helter-skelter therapy with no proper organization.

 I think this leads up to the same problem with many other therapies that do not touch a feeling but partially dredge it up unresolved.  The great problem is that as feelings are elicited but not resolved, they create a reservoir of feeling that produces more depression and anxiety and the patients never know why.  Those feelings adhere to other feelings and almost glue them together.  It gets more and more difficult to penetrate them.  As feelings continue on their journey with  the effects on the heart, blood system and organs continues on unabated.  Disaster lurks.  


  1. Hi Gary & all,

    Up again with insomnia ruminating the troubles of my life and of the world in general, here I go again:

    I hope Art posts this even though I also hope I don't get the last word. . ! Art has frequently given me 'the last word' on posts and this has served to remind me of one of my many 'fixations' to be 'perfect and right'. I have long realised how much my defenses depend on this 'correctness' and I have become increasingly more complicated and neurotic revolving around this particular hubris. A right old 'merry go round' I can assure you. . .

    Learned early on in my childhood - to click my heels and salute, or else. . .

    And Gary, in a 'knee jerk' reaction to your 'last word' on the matter of human abuse to animals and their suffering - (no, I'm sure it's NOT your last word)! - In reaction to that I am feeling even more of a failure to meet my own high expectations. . . let alone yours. Desperately trying and failing to 'click my heels and salute'. . .

    This thing about being brought up to "Be Perfect, Even As Your Father In Heaven" is that until where all that started becomes accessible, well, then the act out that inevitably must follow it, can always only ever reduce and reduce the scope of relationships; until possibly, eventually (as you have said several times) you end up with an incredibly low opinion of others and almost completely isolated. Possibly living the life of a hermit, of an ascetic with only your beloved beliefs and fantastically high 'standards'. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a 'patch of territory' big enough to keep a menagerie of (non human) sentients as a substitute family, well, you can even live that ideal 'indefinitely' due to the 'enclosed' or 'hermetically sealed' reality you have created for yourself.

    And I'm sure it's far from 'ideal', even for you. . . Yet it has obviously given you a degree of 'free will' and with that you can act laudably in the interests of animal rights. . . The greatest irony of all this is that (as you obviously well know) animals can't answer back. For you to have made yourself a voice for them and to speak on their behalf here is absolutely brilliant. . . But I do have a human voice and this is one of my answers.

    Gary, I have to report that I can't meet these incredibly high standards and so in relationship with you I feel a complete failure. I wish I could help more and I do try to change my 'dietary habit'. . . But I doubt very much I will be able to live as you do, I just cannot reach those 'standards'. . . The issues in my sordid little life are just too much at odds. . .

    Arts recent 'extra post' on abreaction has left me reeling and feeling that life is barely worth living. Let me explain why as briefly as I can. Every fortnight I see my daughter. Great! You might think. . . Far from it. . . When she goes back to her mother I am left in an utter abject state of uncontrollable abreaction which I manage with various 'things'. I almost would rather be dead. NO! of course not, not for her, not for my son, not for what? For Whom? I really am faced with cutting off contact to avoid the inevitable "FATAL" consequences. . . But off course I am not going to cut contact with my daughter. But I went onto various drugs and they made me worse. . .

    Instinctively, the vast majority of people are 'holding back' a mountain of pain without knowing it and each and every one desperately (but mostly 'hidden desperation') trying to eek out some kind of supportive network. . . Gary, If I could come to Portugal to live a better life with you I would. But I doubt you could cope with my particular set of indescribably complex and neurotic problems. . . Neither could I cope with trying to achieve what you have, and even if I'm wrong and I could. . . Would you be able to support me?

    with all the love and regard for us all,

    Paul G.

    1. And another thing Paul. Sometimes just being held and holding someone else is the only thing which works, and no amount of words will do. ((((Paul/Gary)))).

  2. Art... I think you know more about this than you are prepared to admit!

    If three rivers inundate a society or only one... or three people trying to push through a door intended for one... or discover what happens if three small children must share one baby's bottle and all three are starving.

    What does not happen in our brain for what the brain stem... the limbic system and the neocortex are not cooperating... as flowing in all directions.

    It is close to understand in the context of how the brain works... so first we must learn how our brain works and understand it!

    We could have known much better if we followed what Art has been in the process of doing for so many years. Holy shit ... it makes me mad.

    I am confident that you will succeed ... but as you say it must be right. Very ... very interesting!

    your Frank

  3. I would like to know if birth can be felt through without any touch from the therapist.m I have been feeling different aspects of my birth, gently over time ( months ) bit by bit , it's been without overwhelm and without any one touching me.

    However 20 years ago I had a male Pediatrician/ " Primal " therapist squash me with a pillow and his body wait, and I told him to get off because It was too much; too triggering . Somewhere in my sanity I trusted my feelings, jumped to my feet after he got off me, then told him that it was too overwhelming to be squashed like that , and told the doctor that I would not be coming back if he was ever going to do that again.
    He agreed that he wouldn't touch me and so I continued my therapy .He kept his promise. I would say now , that there is no need to ever try to get a person to feel birth feelings, as they will surface in their own perfect time . And when they do I would say there is no need to interfere with touch.

    1. Reliving birth alone is a very very bad idea. I know. art

  4. Ps. I'm looking forward to being able to purchase the Legacy Program . Bravo !

    1. Katherinanina: It is great and a good idea. soon. art

  5. Off topic:

    Hello Art and all,

    Have you seen this video? I thought it was a great talk - correlating Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) with later dysfunctionality.

    She said that people with no ACE's are something like 10x less likely to kill themselves, as compared to people who have been abused, as one example of the findings.

    The thing is, I reckon if they included infantile damage and birth trauma in the ACE's, then they would probably find suicide is not just 10x less likely, but virtually non-existent for people with no ACE's.

    This is where a 'Primal Revolution' can begin. We don't need to know the details of the mechanics behind trauma and later problems, for a start. If we can see the correlations we can get a grip on the mass-scale problem nonetheless, and in a language the technicians of this world must understand.

    And when the impact of inflatile damage is respected (the way it should be) people like Janov will start to win the respect they have always deserved.

    I have actually been pushing for research on this level with my engagement in politics, in New Zealand. If there is interest:

    1. Andrew, Hang on. In a few days you will find my 80 page piece on Epigenetics in the World Psychiatric Assoc. Activitas Nervosa Superior journal. Dr. Feinstein calls it a masterpiece as do other neurologists. art

  6. Arthur, I do get the abreaction thing. I understand it well. I know how easy it would be for me to abreact. And I would hope that I could just let feelings come up and not inject something from my consciousness. Peter Levine has written an interesting book, noting the very same things you have on abreaction. But he does not call it abreaction but his description is the same as yours. He advises that people not force feelings expected but just wait and let them come up and out on their own. Not sure how easy that is to convey to people. He has found unique insights into what you have practiced over the years as far as avoiding abreaction. But he has yet to recognize birth primals, but it was not you who invented those, it was your patients, and you were even slow to accept it. So you can not be blamed. I believe in your patients and you. I feel Levine also offers some new, good, helpful things in regards to primals.

    Here is a very incomplete example of his work:
    The key to not being swept away by intense emotional states is to catch them before they ignite and inflame us. The Buddhists have an expression for this: to "cool and extinguish the glowing embers before they ignite into a consuming flame." Constraint allows us to tame and befriend emotions so that we may be guided by them. It is the way we can become aware of our emotional undercurrent before it becomes an out-of-control emotion. The tools that allow us to do this are the twin sisters of awareness and embodiment.

    As people learn to master their emotions, they also begin to harness the underlying impulses to action. For example, underneath the emotions of rage and anger are the impulses of aggression. Healthy aggression is about protecting ourselves and those who are close to us. It is also about setting clear boundaries and getting the things we need, including food, shelter and mating partners. It is what empowers our lust for life. This passion for life must be supported by a capacity to embody a range of purposeful emotions. For now, let us back off and ask the following question: What is an emotion, anyway?
    End of quote

    1. Apollo: you can read my piece on Epigenetics today. art

  7. pg 312 "In An Unspoken Voice" P. Levine:
    (Reich had warned his contemporaries about mindlessly using emotional catharsis, pejoratively calling its promoters "freedom peddlers.") "Neo-Reichian release," "encounter groups," "primal therapy," "rebirthing" and other dramatic therapies co-opted the staid preeminence of the "talking cure" with an exuberant expressive zeal. Presently, at the beginning of the third millennium, we are seeing an emerging synthesis, a movement toward a more balanced emphasis on emotion and reason. In particular, experiential therapies are emerging, such as those described by Diana Fosha and others."' These include dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
    The ability to effectively contain and process extreme emotional states is one of the linchpins both of effective, truly dynamical trauma therapy and of living a vital, robust life. While love can sway us off our feet, powerful emotions like rage, fear and sorrow can pull our legs out from under us. We can be driven nearly insane by rage, paralyzed by fear and drowned by sorrow. Once triggered, such violent emotions can take over our existence. Rather than feeling our emotions, we become them; we are swallowed up by these emotions. This can be quite a dilemma because being informed by our emotions, not domineered by them, is crucial in directing our lives. We may have too much or too little; they may come upon us like a torrential flood or leave us dry like a parched desert. They may lead us in a positive direction or cause us untold suffering. They may prompt creative exultation or may provoke disastrous actions and poor decisions. They can lift us up or tear us down. No matter what the case, most of us realize that emotions (whatever they are) play a central role in the conduct of our lives.

  8. There is a movie with Kevin Costner "a perfect world". In the end Costner is being killed by sniper, I always cry during this moment, I think it is related with losing my father (nota bene he still lives but he is not alive).

  9. How have you dealt with patients who have perceived you as a symbolic father figure?

  10. There is the pain and there is a defense. But there is our view on our defense. If we find our defenses threatening in our present environment then we can lock ourselves in double-bind. We need defense but we have a resistance toward it. Defense about defense. Overload is the possible consequence.
    Does this make sense?

  11. Art: This piece raises questions for me about abreaction:
    1. What sort of proportion of your patients has abreacted? And of these, how many at some point successfully primal?
    2. Is there a correlation between the amount of abreaction done and the length of time it takes to primal at your center?
    3. This one interests me the most: Do your new intake patients take less time in getting into primals if their abreaction stopped some time before starting therapy at your center?
    In other words, does abreaction heal at all with time? I suspect not, but this raises yet another question: If a previous abreactor eventually starts primalling with you, does the damage resulting from the abreaction remain or can it be relived & resolved in primal therapy? I can´t imagine what reliving and FEELING abreaction would look like.
    Perhaps too - though this might have to remain hypothetical - it would be very helpful for abreactors (and everyone else in fact) to adopt the Natural Hygienist diet as this removes enormous unecessary stress from the organism, and abreactors already have enough of that through abreacting. I know that I have been immensely more relaxed, calmer and sleep much more soundly and deeply on the NH diet since going on it 13 years ago, and there are countless testimonies from people who have come off LT anti-depressants soon after adopting it.
    And exercise to bring down the pressure. Could that help? Gary

    1. Gary, good questions and I will try to answer them:

      It is usually not our patients who abreact: it is almost always those who have gone to mock therapists who abreact and then come to us for help. It is as dangerous as hell because they never get well.
      We watch over our patients all of the time to make sure it never happens.
      Those who come to us after years of abreacting rarely get better. It is now encased and unreachable. I wish it were not so but it is. We are starting a new approach I have developed to undo it. So we will see. All this because they did not want to travel to LA or wanted to save money. And what did they get? Destruction. I call it the Steve Jobs syndrome. He sealed his fate because he did not do due diligence. Our current therapy is refined and refined so we no longer lose time trying to figure things out. I never blame a patient because there are professionals out there using my name and my books and my letters to prove they are associated with me. Unsuspecting patients believe them including Steve Jobs. These charlatans should be in jail for the damage they do; alas, it is not possible. And there are now many hundreds of them.
      Abreaction never heals: it cannot because it avoids the sources of pain.
      France in her Legacy Program has filmed abreaction so you can see it, and now two professionals are coming to us for help after being badly treated by others.
      Once done over many months it became almost unassailable. art

  12. Art: Thanks for the reply. The "your patients" in point (1) referred to previous abreaction at OTHER centres, not yours. But I´d still like to know if you have had any success at all in Primal Therapy with previous abreactors, and if so, who are the "saveable"?
    And is the damage done by abreaction ever resolved even after years of subsequent primalling? Gary

    1. Gary: We are starting an experiment very soon with previous abreactors with a new approach. It is very very tough, and I am not kidding. art

    2. the extreme example could be the situation where patient's notion about her traumatic past is so reinforced from outside that she starts to believe more in it that story than her own experience. the outside can be influential> the rest of the family maybe knows about it, the patient knows about it... relatives, neighbors and finally the therapist eventually is informed about it. over a period of time combined with strong suffering all this becomes a good "excuse" for this relief in a form of abreaction. this abreaction is like some deeper belief system that takes over most of the brain and at the same time takes the energy of the feeling away from the feeling.
      it can impress the therapist too because it doesn't contain the story only but also the emotion. but even if the therapist doesn't buy it, what is to be done?

      among other things maybe making the primal therapeutic environment dliberately much different from previous abreactive one, could help too. to brake the abreactive rhythm. indeed removing the chance for the patient to abreact without the first line blockers could leave the person naked in front of catastrophic sensations. maybe even longer period than one week or even month or more of medication could take to brake the circle. could then the patient decide when is time to begin seeing the therapist? just thinking...

      this person could be even harder to treat than just a strongly religious one.

    3. One thing for sure, we are working very hard to find a way to undo the great damage from abreaction. art


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.