Saturday, August 13, 2016

On the Difference Between Abreaction and Feeling (Part 7/15)

This is exactly what happens with mock primal therapy. The correct roots have been evaded while driving the patient into false byways. The result? Abreaction. A false root can mean leading the patient into first line, brainstem level where highly charged imprints await. So what does the doctor see as the first line intrudes? Gagging, shortness of breath, squirming, coughing. And what does he do? He encourages the patient to go into it when he is not nearly ready for such a deep experience. What does he get? Abreaction – temporary release plus a residue of feelings that could not be experienced, which push against defenses to make the patient feel bad. More often such great reactions produce fear in the therapist and he avoids dealing with it at all. It is left hanging and unresolved.

 But beware: there is also danger when the therapist is too passive. Those who do not recognize first line on the rise will keep the feeling down and only let it come up for experience when it is far too late. It is too late due to the lack of experience of the therapist who has no idea how to handle pretty strenuous feelings on the rise. So what happens? Abreaction again: feeling different memories from the ones at hand. Again a groove is formed and instead of deep resolving feelings, there are little by-ways that are not resolving. For this timid and reluctant therapist, Freud’s dictum about the unconscious still holds true: don’t go too deep. Freud decided almost one hundred years ago that digging deep into the unconscious was dangerous for the patient and would disturb his equilibrium irrevocably. We have seen the unconscious at work and it is simply not true.

 We therapists need to abjure being omniscient. We don’t know enough, and I cannot even guess how it happened that we became experts in the human condition. Whenever a therapist tells the patient what to feel we know he is already on the wrong path. We must sense feelings and follow the patient, not lead him. We take him by the hand and follow where he leads, not vice versa. We doctors must avoid the temptation to act smart. We spent years in college learning to be smart, and now we must elude it. How ironic! Yet the history of psychotherapy was intellectual and provided a therapy of the intellect, exactly what we don’t need. We don’t let the patient act “smart;” we allow her to act intelligent, to recognize her feelings and how they drive her and cause her to act out. When she tries to act smart we help her get to the feeling; of how to please momma or father. Finally it is a great relief just to be yourself and not have to act this way or that to get love.

 It seems banal and harmless that a therapist supplies insights for the patient, but it is far from that because the patient is given a guess about his feeling from the professional which may be accurate but most often is not because it does not emanate from the patient’s feelings, but from someone else’s. It is a subtle way of channeling the patient into a groove because the therapist is insecure and wants to make sure that the patient is really feeling. And a facile groove is what most people suffer from in abreaction; they find a release to direct their feeling and it becomes comfortable to stay in it. It becomes embedded until they cannot get out of it and they don’t even know they are in it. The force of the feeling, the actual content, finds its groove, and it takes months of proper therapy to help patients out of it. Abreaction has compounded the neurosis rather than eliminating it. Worse, the person is convinced he is better, and he is not. Much worse, the doctor is convinced that all is right, yet nothing is right. The whole process has become a charade; a delusion of wellness. It feels good for the patient because he can release the pressure of the upcoming feeling and that feels like progress: ergo he is getting better.

 When we try to insert ourselves into the feeling process we get a reflection of ourselves, not the patient. And that reflection relies on a host of theories concocted by doctors to explain that which needs no explanation. The mistakes in theory are as myriad as the unconscious of the doctor. He may see a need for power or of meaning or of sex and on and on. He often sees what is not there and refuses to see what is right there. His vision is limited by his openness. And that depends on how much he has felt and experienced of his own pain. You cannot be more open than your repression. That blocks so much: vision, insight, empathy compassion and understanding. If you live in your head you will never consider plunging to the depths of feeling; it is then all about explaining feelings, discussing them or writing about them. There is a form of therapy today where patients believe they can get well by keeping a journal about their feelings. Again, it is too obvious for comment but it is the top level that is embraced when we need to push far below it. The same is true for mindfulness therapy, which enhances attention and asks the patient to concentrate on details such as rate of breathing. This keeps that top level super-attentive when it should lie quietly. In these therapeutic schemes, there is no way to go deeper when every move that is made in therapy militates against feeling. They cannot go deeper because they are locked into kind of abreaction themselves. There is no larger, encompassing frame of reference that can guide them. They are as diverted from feelings as the patient who abreacts.

 These cognitive theories are based on a basic distrust of feelings in favor of intellect; the opposite of one needs to produce a feeling cure. When a doctor defines his therapy as cognitive, he has already lost. It means he will deal with half the brain to the neglect of the other parts; above all the feeling parts; those parts that are healing.


  1. We have to lean on the child in us and trust what it tells us!

    We can say that we lean on the child in us when we come so far in our process of primal therapy that we will not fail... it to cope with the physiological process to heal from what need is all about. But otherwise also... we have to lean on the child in us to strengthen our opportunities to come alive... as it is the child in us it is all about. Then we have found the security not to fail... that is what Primal therapy is all about.

    When we do not have the child in us to lean on... then we have nothing left but the physiological process to repress. It can be likened to swim across the Atlantic without any whatsoever opportunities.

    We must lean on something when we can not find anything worthy to lean on... then it might be good to look for the child in us to lean on... even if it hurts.


  2. When we cognitively rolls over and gets emotional... that's when the critical window not seldom visualized it self. But too often without our knowledge... then hopeful around someone who perceives what it is that happening with us.

    What it can cause is a never-ending stream of emotions to mind without any idea of what it is that happening with us. Now we know what happens then!

    What it means to be channeled into our unconscious feelings are what we might least think of but has the greatest significance... the child in us.

    I can imagine that this phenomenon is the most fundamental obstacle to what we have in the sense of having to be recalled again and again about our feelings and what primal therapy trying to accomplish.

    If we once get the child in us to be what vi actually are in many sentences then we will never forget it... or can never forget it because it is what we repressed... the child in us... that's the crux about it all. We shall never make it more complicated than that!


    1. Hi Frank. If we have had a healthy gestation and good birth and reasonably decent childhood there is no reason to close off, and we remember our childhood. I have seen such people. But when that doesn't happen, by adulthood we close off and forget what it's like to be that child, and then have to go back and open up that door slowly without everything falling on our heads like at the opening of an over-stuffed closet.

    2. Yes Sheri!

      Yes... slowly and carefully finding the child in us in every step we take toward madness... madness that we never could possibly escape and saying what we never said... crying tears we never cried and look at what we never could keep in our minds of fears for whom we were.

      Your Frank

  3. Hi all,

    another poem from the depths. . . 'Underground':

    I exist underground;
    People don’t know this and I wonder
    if I’ll ever be found.

    I am alone
    down the bottom of my well.
    Though people draw water
    And their buckets appear in my realm,
    Do I even want to be lifted up?

    I feel like a fish out of water.
    Unable to breath the harsh reality
    Of surface life.

    For on the surface all is dry.
    No feeling,
    just a lie and another denial of that water.

    I do climb up ‘there’. . .
    I do share, but people don’t understand.
    People don’t feel that below their feet
    perhaps in their basement,
    there is another land where they might greet
    another hand filled with love and feeling.

    But no.
    People skim the surface of reality.
    I don’t mind, yet I do care.
    I say beware sometimes
    Because I can see the descent
    isn’t meant for everyone.

    I don’t know how I got to be here,

    I fell I think. . .

    Paul G.

    1. Enjoyed your poem, Paul, particularly the part near the end. I agree that the vast majority skim the surface of life, and that the trip down isn’t something for everybody. At the end of my session last night I told my therapist that I couldn’t believe the places inside I’m having to go to wrest this disease of mine.

      Your poem brought to mind a song I heard the other day on the radio, which I hadn’t heard in ages. It took me back to the early 80’s, shortly after I'd arrived here in L.A. to go to college. It was by a band called The Fixx. These lines resonated with me big time back then, long before I’d started my own descent:

      Don't be scared, don't be scared
      You can face the truth of it all
      Don't be scared, don't be scared
      If you can't bear the weight of it all

      They still resonate.


  4. Yesterday I had motorcycle accident, I've broken my hand. During my hospital stay (x ray etc) it reawakenes, pure terror and fear of death. All this personel in hospital is soo cold.

  5. Dear Piotr, glad your ok .
    Motorcycles are so dangerous but great fun at the same time.
    Hope your hand will be better soon!

    Katherina : )


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.