Thursday, November 5, 2015
Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 7/20)
A key point in all of this is that physiologic reactions are the basis upon which feelings are constructed. Thus, what distorts physiologic responses will distort psychological reactions, as well. If the system is highly activated due to early trauma, chances are we will find, later on, a hyperactive individual who will search out projects to keep himself active and busy. If dopamine and other alerting chemicals are in short supply, we may have someone, instead, who is passive and phlegmatic, who concocts reasons for not doing anything, for not following through. It is not a one-to-one relationship, but physiology does direct our psychology, only after psychology has its say.
Neuroscientists in Italy did a complete literature search of many databases for panic disorders (Perna, Guerriero, Brambilla & Caldirola, 2014). Yes, the brainstem was involved. The brainstem, which registers very early trauma and sets the tone for how we respond to it later in life. So mother’s drug- taking and later birth anesthesia sets up a panic reaction to lack of oxygen. Later in life, closed doors or windows become a threat and can set up a panic attack. Their summary was as follows: “Panic patients tend to have abnormal brainstem activation to emotional stimuli when compared with healthy controls.” Let’s be wary of concentrating on the brainstem without acknowledging the milieu it lives in. The brainstem is the mechanism for the process of translating terror, but where does the terror come from? We will never find that out by a detailed examination of the brain cells. We will find out through knowing the terror that the mother has undergone while pregnant. I saw a patient recently whose mother underwent a severe auto crash with baby in the car. This child had a lifelong anxiety state. Her brainstem was constantly reacting to the imprint.
Here are my questions for researchers: where does that state come from? What causes that brainstem reaction? Or does the brainstem just go off and do its own special thing? What is the exact relationship between certain experiences and brainstem activation? Those are the answers that will lead to proper therapies, but they cannot be answered by research alone. Above all, why is the brainstem so involved? Maybe the damage is registered there because it dominates during the first weeks or days of life in the womb. And the brainstem becomes methylated early on. And as I say, it is the earliest imprints that are the most damaging. There is where therapy needs to begin. It is clear that if we want cure, we need to descend to the lower depths, the zone of the interior to read the notes from the underground. Those notes have a most painful message, one which can only be read a bit at a time. If you do not believe in imprints then all is lost and you will never arrive at the generating sources of an affliction or symptom.
When can a fetus begin to feel pain? A better question might be this: when can the fetus signify pain? Research from K. J. S. Anand, a professor of pediatrics and neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, suggests this happens once the neural circuits are in place (Anand & Hickey, 1987). When Anand placed a needle into a fetus (in a process known as amniocentesis), the fetus grimaced in pain and its stress hormone levels rose dramatically. Not only did the baby suffer but, from our point of view, that suffering can be coded and registered in the memory system, thereafter awaiting connection. This is what we in feeling therapy are about — connection— restoring the missing links in the circuitry. Some serious diseases have been considered only in the domain of inheritance, muscular dystrophy being one of many. The cures for these afflictions have been slow in coming, in my view, because our emphasis has been on inherited factors rather than in-utero experience. If we don’t regard gestation as critical, our diagnoses and treatments are bound to be flawed.
Beyond gestation and birth, early childhood is important, as well, when attempting to identify the origins of later life problems, as evidence of imprinting can be seen in the experiences of very young children. There is a study by a Canadian group from the Douglas Mental Health University in Montreal that found when child abuse exists there is a change in the gene NR3C1 (glucocorticoid receptor gene) that affects how the child will deal with the abuse (McGowan et al., 2009). Measures of the gene’s function were much lower in abuse victims who eventually took their own lives. It appears that childhood abuse had changed the gene’s structure, making the gene less active. And these modifications endured throughout the children’s lives. Epigenetics had affected the function of the stress apparatus, what is called the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), a complex part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure.
Patrick McGowan, one of the study’s principal researchers, implies that the changes are more or less permanent; they alter the gene’s activity, leading to later illness and suicidal tendencies. When the NR3C1 gene is ineffective, it cannot produce the kind of alerting, galvanizing chemicals that help one fight through things. (Clearly, such trauma also diminishes an individual’s adaptive capacity, as I discuss below.) As a result, the body behaves as though it were constantly under stress. Moreover, what this research group believes is that mothers can affect the fate of their children even before they are born. Epigenetic changes passed on during gestation may contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts later on. So what looks like genetics, in reality, is a much more complex interaction between biological and environmental factors, an intricate “if-then” sequence which spans generations. What this may mean is that my notion of the imprint has to be wound way back. A more accurate framework holds that the experience of the parent leaves an imprint on the sperm and egg. One experiment by researchers at the University of New South Wales was done with male rats that were fed a high-fat diet (Ng et al., 2010). Their sperm seemed to change — that is, many of their babies had adult-onset disease, even though the mothers were normal. The children had a greater frequency for deviated insulin and glucose resistance, hence a propensity for diabetes, even though the fathers had no previous history of the disease. So what looks like pure heredity is actually a molecular memory of the experiential effects on that heredity. These research animals had defects with their on/off switches. This imprint endures and affects our physiology for perhaps a lifetime, sowing the seeds for later adverse effects on the kidney, liver, or heart. For humans, this may mean the tendency to be fat derives, in part, from what a father ate before conception. If that father over-ate as a child, his offspring have a much greater chance of being fat and developing diabetes.
Clearly, we need to change our focus in order to understand who we are. Our idea of what is heredity is rapidly changing. There are all kinds of intriguing possibilities. In one recent experiment, some animals that were raised in an enriched environment and appeared smarter had offspring who seemed to inherit that intelligence (finding their way through mazes more easily) even though they were not raised in an enriched milieu. Let’s be clear: when the parent had a chance to develop intellectually his offspring had a better shot at being smart. Somewhere, there are indelible and permanent marks on the sperm and egg.
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.