Friday, November 14, 2008

Let's Stop Talking to the Wrong Brain!

A New Paradigm for Psychotherapy

In over one hundred years of psychotherapy very little has changed, except cosmetically. It is still the fifty-minute hour, the sit-up face-to-face-talk with a plethora of insights swaddled in the gentle and dulcet tones of a concerned therapist. There is still the horror of the unconscious as a place of ill-defined demons—something to be avoided at all costs. No one says it, but it is implied in the careful steering the patient into the present and away from the past. The Freudians now call it ego-psychology but it is still psychoanalysis with a slightly different focus; an habiliment—antique get-up with a modern facade. Sadly, in the name of progress they have moved away from the past into a more present approach. The same is true for all of the cognitive/behavior therapies. There is an apotheosis of the present, of the here-and-now, and a move away from the one thing that is curative--history. We are historic beings, imprinted neuro-physiologically with our past. Any proper treatment must address that history. More sadly, for one hundred years we have been talking to the wrong brain! It is that brain that prevents any hope of a cure for emotional illness. Talking to the brain that talks was fine a century ago but now we know so much more about the brain and what it contains; and we know that the damage done to us is imprinted on lower levels of consciousness—far below where words live. We need to learn a new language—that of the unconscious—a language with no words, just feelings and sensations. I submit that psychotherapy has not changed radically in all this time because we always believed that words could help us make profound change in patients; after all, we call it “mental illness.” And, in fact, words often are the defense against feeling. Our goal is to produce feeling human beings, not mental giants.

Now why is that so important? Because we can only heal where we were wounded. We know now that emotional wounds lie deep in the brain out of conscious/awareness. Although the lower brain “talks” to us all of the time, we have never learned how to talk to it. It talks to us in our nightmares, in our high blood pressure and migraines, in our sexual difficulties and in our inability to get along with others. Our history is asserting itself in our every waking moment; yet we go to psychotherapists who want to concentrate solely on the here-and-now. Yet we are walking archives, living in the there-and-`then. We have focused on the present and words because it is the easiest to access and takes no great effort. On top of that, we have not known how to access history. We do now. To get better we need to take the emotional trip to our history and undo the damage through reliving—what I call a “primal.” The trip is not difficult because we can ride the vehicle of feeling back into the past. There is where our problems begin and there is where resolution resides. Knowing how to get on the vehicle of feeling is a little more complicated. If we get on the right train every stop we make will be the right one. If we get on the wrong train, every stop will be wrong.

How do I know that the past is engraved in our brains for a lifetime? And how do I know that reliving changes things for the better? There are now hundreds of studies in the scientific literature documenting the effects of pre-birth and birth traumas on later symptoms and behavior. Allow me to relate one research experiment we did to verify my point. It was at the UCLA Pulmonary Laboratory. We wired two patients to a number of instruments, oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, and blood samples every 3 minutes while they relived, as it turned out, oxygen deficit at birth, something we had not planned at all. Neither patient observed the other so we had a rather pure experience on the part of both men. After the reliving, we did another experiment where each patient mimicked the primal in every way (same movements and breathing) except being in the past. Both almost fainted after 3 or 4 minutes in what was clearly a hyperventilation syndrome (clawed hands). While in the past feeling they breathed very deeply (I call this “locomotive breathing” because that is what it sounds like and seems to emanate from the brainstem--medulla), for about twenty minutes with no hyperventilation. What the researchers from the pulmonary laboratory found was that when the patient was back in the old feeling and its context of anoxia at birth the body needed oxygen; the patient was “back there” in every way, not the least of which was physiologically. It was evidence of the veracity of reliving; that patients can and do go back in time. And they not only go back psychologically but in a complete biologic state. The corollary to this is that the early need for love stays the same and does not change throughout our lifetime. We seek symbolic, substitute fulfillment but it is never fulfilling and compels us to go on seeking more and more, always in vain. The critical time when need must be fulfilled has past.

What we found at UCLA was that despite the heavy prolonged breathing the acid-alkaline balance did not change. The conclusion of the investigators, who were not Primal, was that no other factor other than memory could account for the results. In short, the life-and-death memory was real. It was imprinted. Despite the fact that the blood oxygen was normal in the room the brain was sending signals of a great lack of oxygen, and the heavy breathing ensued. There was no hyperventilation syndrome because the whole system was back in history re-experiencing a key trauma and urgent need.

Why is this so important? Because it can open up a whole universe to us about the depths of man’s unconscious. It confirms that very early experience is impressed into us, not just as a memory but as a wound that needs healing. It endures. Reliving is a real event; the baby-cries during a session can never be repeated by the patient after it. The marks that originally appeared during the birth trauma may again appear in a later session. It is clearly not a simulation. In other words, the past and its neurobiology remains encapsulated inside of us. This can account for a number of lingering diseases in adult life. What is remarkable is that it never changes; it is impervious to experience. No matter how much approval an actor gets he always needs more. It is why I maintain that only being in the context of an old traumatic memory can be curative. Consider, in the session, despite the adequate oxygen in the room the brain is signaling a serious lack of it and the body responds accordingly, it is gasping for air, all to do with the memory and not reality. Therein lies the tale. We are continually responding to old imprinted memory (reality) despite current reality.

The body smokes to kill the pain of anoxia or it takes drugs beyond all control of the upper reaches of the cortex. It is reacting to internal events. That is why lectures on smoking do very little good. The little girl inside the woman is taking drugs to kill her pain, something we never see. Something the person never sees, being disconnected that youth and its feelings.

Here is a seeming paradox: If I were to bring in cold, indifferent momma into the session and have her hug and touch her son during the session absolutely nothing would happen. But if the patient relives her lack of love, everything happens; there is a normalization of so many parameters. So if mother loves the child originally or he feels the lack of it now after thirty years the result is the same. Strange but true. In other words, we are dominated by history, and the way to resolve past pain is by being immersed in it again. We have done vital sign studies on literally thousands of patients to make that definitive statement.
Why is it urgent that we heed this advice? To end needless suffering. Let me offer an example. A new treatment for depression, aside from the endless amount of antidepressives prescribed, is brain surgery where they drill holds in the brain insert wires into the deeper recesses and can send signals to certain centers to alleviate depression. It often helps. But at what price? Brain surgery? The reason they resort to that is because all current therapies have no way to access the deep reaches of the brain where depression may be organized; hence surgery. I submit that we can access those deeper brain areas with very good results with depression. If that is true then brain surgery, a rather drastic affair, can be and should be avoided. This is not to blame the surgeons. They are doing their best to alleviate suffering. But there is another way, which is far less drastic, without the use of medication or surgery. We need to go far deeper to see and experience feelings. That is what is resolving. It means exploring and experiencing ultimate causes. That is what I call “cure.”

Theories have an evolution, and the truest will survive. Let us not stay stuck in the past to a theory frozen in time that has not basically changed or advanced. Freudian theory has very little changed in one hundred years. The attempt to take a current theory and attach it to a past frame of reference is taking a new science and attaching it to an old theory that is not longer valid. That is not progress. If Freud were alive today I doubt if he would be a Freudian. Can we imagine any other branch of medicine still in the grips of the science of 1920? Freud wrote his major, “Interpretation of Dreams,” at the beginning of the last century. Surely there is a bit of progress since then.

Let us not abandon the past in an effort to modernize current practice. Memory is medicine. Let us not eschew critical medicine in order to cure our ails.


  1. OK ... master. You re right. And without Your books ... I m maybe dead, a long time before now. I m not able to go through Primal Therapy. I m a suffering neurotic out there. But I will, as long as grass is green, not forget the following: "... the Herculean task is to be what we re not. The easiest thing to be is yourself." ff jahn

  2. The reason people are still talking to the "wrong" brain is because having a primal is not socially acceptable. Most people believe giving in to your feelings is sissy, and having a "nervous breakdown" is seen as a major catastrophe. Normal therapists don't even have a room where you could primal because there is no space alloted to something so noisy and messy.
    -If Primal Therapy had been made available in many more countries than the U.S. and if there would have been more exposure in the media more people would have understood and accepted it.
    -Treating depression with surgery is typical of the mechanistic view of life today. Mental problems always have to become physical ailments before the "experts" can treat them. So surgeans drill holes in your head or give electro shocks to your head to fix you up. A typical retarded solution!


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.