Sunday, June 28, 2009

More on Beliefs (Part 2/3)

Sometimes people only respond to feelings and vote for political candidates who reflect them. But often they vote for an idea that reflects their underlying needs and feelings: e.g., "This man will make our country safe." We can ignore the reality of what he does because his rhetoric soothes apprehensions and salves fear. But of course, the leader has to first install fear — the enemy is planning secret attacks. Then, I will protect you by arming heavily. "Yes, yes I will vote for more and more arms so I can feel safe." Too often individuals vote their feelings in the guise of an idea. The more neurotic (heavily repressed) a person is, the greater the distance between his ideas and feelings — what I call the Janovian gap — the more symbolic her ideas. By neurotic I mean someone with a high degree of imprinted, blocked pain that distorts the whole system physically and psychologically. It is not just that someone has far-out ideas. They are linked into a major system. They have anchors into a personality. There are certain traumas imprinted in the system that require repression, and the interplay between them is the hub of neurosis. The outcome of that interaction, the resulting symptoms, is what we generally call neurosis. Belief systems are just another form of symptoms. They do not spring full blown out of the air. There are historical causes. Once we understand this, we can see how one can give up drugs and booze in favor of being born-again; ideas smother the pains just as well as, if not better than, drugs. That is why those who are unwell will tend to fall ill prematurely, stricken by an internal reality of which they are not aware. The more warped the ideas, the more likely the person will have a warped physiology, and vice versa. It isn’t just ideas we are dealing with; it is a whole human being whose ideas reflect his buried needs and feelings. Twisted ideas and beliefs, in my view, presage a shorter lifespan. The system is neurotic not just one’s beliefs. In psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy they tend to help change ideas without realizing that they part and parcel of a human, and a human with a history. And of course, there are the various tests for progress in therapy usually of the verbal variety so that if one says one is better, one is considered better. Or on certain questions, "Are you more comfortable with yourself now after therapy?" We see that the more one is defended and thereby feels more comfortable, the more progress we consider the patient has made. Key psychological factors lead people into belief systems, cults and self-destructive situations. The Arab suicide bombers, the followers at Waco and Jonestown were in the grip of something much stronger and much older than reason and good judgment. They were victims, first, of a culture that extolled death and the hereafter. That is: We don’t die; we just go on in a different form. Thus death is rather meaningless. They were also victims of basic unfulfilled need; the need that meant survival early on. A matrix of unconscious feelings and unending neediness impelled the suicide bombers, People’s Temple and Heaven's Gate members and the Branch Davidians to search for what had been deprived them in childhood, even though they had forgotten and, for the most part, had no memory of the existence of such needs. Deprived childhood need (the need to be caressed, soothed, valued, loved) had driven them into the hands of an equally needy demagogue who had promised them fulfillment; in return they would follow, adore and deify the leader. Each cult member is as naive, needy and vulnerable as an infant turning toward its mother for warmth, sustenance, protection and guidance. They look like adults but they are basically babies.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More on Beliefs (Part 1/3)

All belief systems have something in common. They are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively. And belief systems all respond to an almost universal, hard-wired need. It is not that we need to believe; we believe because we need. The belief itself, whatever it may be, comes later when we have the conceptual apparatus for beliefs. A one-year-old doesn't have that possibility. The need/feeling doesn’t go away; it begins its subterranean life.

My task is to see how, when feelings are blocked and rerouted, they turn into defensive ideas. These ideas have a dual role; to reflect previous experience and at the same time serve to mask the pain of it. The ideas that flow out of feelings remain symbolic derivatives of them; for if one were to feel the real feelings behind them, one would be in great pain. One patient relived suffocating during birth. He wanted to leave his wife because she was "suffocating" him and not giving him any breathing space. Those feelings saved his marriage. Clearly it is not always one-to-one, but I underline it because it offers clues to understanding "les idées fixes." They are handmaidens of feeling.

The first thing to understand about ideas (and here I am always discussing defensive ideas) is that they evolve, just as our brain evolves. We don’t start out life with ideas, and mankind didn’t start out in its journey from reptiles with the ability to think and conceptualize. It all evolved. In the brain this is what happens. We start out with the deepest part of the brain, the brainstem, which houses instincts and basic needs and most survival functions (heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure), which evolve into a limbic, feeling system that offers us the capacity to feel; and then the brain produces the neo-new cortex, especially its front part (prefrontal), which allows us to think in words and ideas. Remember, the brain produces itself. There is no deity that does it, but it enables us now to call upon a deity to quell our pain. And lo and behold! It does. The need for more and more cortex meant that brain cells had to migrate to higher levels to take on new functions. Those functions included beliefs that allowed us to flee danger; only this time the danger was internal. We could flee "into our heads" and away from ourselves; from imprinted feeling/danger.

In our personal evolution we develop ideas out of our previous early experience that dictates who we are and what we believe and think. Ideas and beliefs don’t just stick out there waiting to be corrected and changed. Pain is never set down just as an idea; it is an experience, and it is that experience one must revisit and relive in order to understand the origin of one’s ideas. We must go back to finish the sequence that began with an angry look by the father when the baby cried loudly in the crib — feel that experience again, only this time feel the need that the baby dared not to express at the time. The need never just disappears; it is capped and sequestered under a lid of resignation and despair. Later, it becomes a "need for;" the idea that someone else can fill the bill, which is never true. Someone else can paper over, but not fulfill. The only fulfillment was possible at the time. Thereafter, all fulfillments become symbolic. What better symbols than words — I love you, will watch over you, guide and protect you. They are just sounds but sounds that have a meaning, and that meaning is surcease, relief and soothing. Sounds that now have a physiologic base.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Being Smart Versus Being Intellectual

I have to read in my field every day for hours just to keep up. I read a book this morning about false memory syndrome. Basically it analyzes the brain structures, specifically the hippocampus, which may be damaged causing false memory (I simplify). These are Harvard trained scientists. I am suggesting that unless one feels, that is, first feel one’s needs and pain from their lack of fulfillment, it is difficult to know profoundly what the truth is. And when one relates how “scientific” this proposition is, it can be unassailable. In short, intellectuals must rely on abstractions, statistics and not a “wild” proposition that comes from observation.

I believe that intellectuals, and I include some of the great minds of the century that I have treated, generally live “in their heads”, cut off from feelings yet driven by them. Their sex life is a shambles because they are often sexless and fuckless. They cannot use their head to help become sexual, nor to do their bidding. In fact, they use their heads to flee from feeling. If they did not they would be wallowing in pain all of the time. So they are left-brain dominated and cannot see the nuance or subtleties in social intercourse. And they cannot see obvious emotional realities. Trust a man or woman who can make love. We see how a president is more dangerous, the less he fucks.

In psychology it means turning to the intellect for answers to great emotional problems. In short, being stuck in the left brain means to depend solely on that brain’s indices, relying on what numbers tell them because they cannot trust their emotions. So the intelligent person sees reality far better than the intellectual. Being intellectual is, by and large, a defense, no matter how smart the person is. He knows facts and figures but knows very little about the human condition. He often cannot make the leap into imagination or possibilities. He is stuck “listening” to the orphaned voice of intellect. Because he is constantly channeled into the thinking brain, he cannot see beyond his needs and is a victim of philosophies, no matter how dressed up they are in complex notions. He will never adopt a feeling therapy when he has no idea what that is.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Critical Window: Why We Can't Change

If we have trouble in our emotional life we need to examine our life before birth. When the whole system is gearing up for life on the planet, gestational life has already constructed a crucible for that life outside the womb. Life in the womb is perhaps the most important time of our lives; so much of adult symptoms and behavior can be traced to that epoch. So what happens in the womb becomes a harbinger of what to expect, all on an unconscious level. So we anticipate a catastrophe, ruminate constantly about it, never realizing that the bad thing has already happened. We are actually worried about the past, not the future. If we could drop into those past feelings there would be no more worry about the future. But that past is remote, maybe occurring before we set foot on earth. No wonder it is a mystery.
I have written about the prototype, the “now print” that is engraved in the neurophysiologic system even before birth. Any severe trauma while the mother is carrying can be imprinted into his system where it may well remain for the rest of his life. Here it may change the brain circuits and cause a permanent deviation in the function of organ systems. There is less possibility of that kind of imprint occurring after birth. It is “now print” because it is setting down a prototype of heuristic (guiding) value that will direct behavior thereafter. It is memory of survival, of what worked before to save our lives. And it worked when the input stimulus may have been a life-and-death matter as so many traumas during womb-life are. This will happen despite the fact that there is no fully functioning neo-cortex to remember the scene; it happens below the level of conscious/awareness, which is why we cannot get there through the vehicle of language. Here we have a learning system that is distinct from the verbal learning/memory system that we will develop later. It is neurophysiologic memory.
The prototype folds all that surrounds a feeling/memory, compresses and instills it into a general principle that directs behavior. The principle is survival. When confronted with an obstacle, for example, “it is best to retreat,” not confront. Here is where passivity was life-saving. What the body learns is not struggling for air when the mother is anesthetized at birth, but retreating into less use of energy and oxygen—passivity. To undo that imprint, not so easily done, we need to return to the brain that registered it. We need to relive it. Why? Because the deviations of the system are built on that memory/imprint. All this has already been decided sub-cortically. She is no longer leading a conscious life. We can begin to see why adults do not make profound change even though many have undergone psychoanalytic therapy or have taken LSD or Extasy, can claim deep change. Biologically it seems that this kind of metamorphosis cannot take pace. For the imprint of pain is sealed in and cannot be opened again. It has a label, “Not to be open before feeling therapy.”

Once the window for fulfillment of need is closed, that is, when the need must be fulfilled to avoid pain, I seriously doubt that any comprehensive change can take place.
If someone says that the patient must then be offered a new ending for what he relived, or that she needs extensive insights afterward, we understand immediately that we have enlisted the aid of the adult brain and undercut what the patient has felt during the session.

We know that in reliving gestational life or the birth trauma we are succumbing to deep and long, slow-wave brain signatures, which denotes life before birth. To then appeal to the late developing new-comer, the neo-cortex, with its faster frequency wave to finish off the sequence cannot work. When we add a complex intellectual discussion to the mix we confound the work of the deep unconscious. Essentially it takes the patient into higher brain centers—the neo-cortex. The same can be said for early childhood pain where the brain that should be employed, the right feeling side, is abdicated for the left-brain explanatory, understanding one. In short, we continue to talk to the wrong brain.
A patient with a very rapid, left frontal cortical signature cannot be feeling until we bring her into the feeling zone. The frontal thinking apparatus must recede for a time. And again, language only plays a secondary role. One way we help patients into the primal/feeling zone is to offer tranquilizers to the patient for a short period of time to push down some inordinate pain from gestation or birth. The overload of pain and all levels may prevent a person from integrating one feeling at a time.

We must remember that in dealing with very early life we are mostly describing the work of the right brain. The left-brain focus will not get us there. Yet after a year of our therapy the left-brain often achieves its full force so that each side is more in equilibrium with the other—a more harmonious brain. It’s not just the brain that is in equilibrium; it is the body temperature, blood pressure and key hormones. In short, the person is in equilibrium. Except in rare cases (of perhaps genetics) no person who is in harmony should show high resting cortisol levels.
For a therapist to offer a patient an understanding of his motivation,or to propose a different ending for his feeling/ pain, negates the whole notion of the critical window. That is a time when needs can only be fulfilled; and at no other time. That is an awfully important idea. That means that corrective emotional experiences by a therapist cannot make profound change; indeed strategies by a therapist, no matter how well-meaning, can have only a limited impact. To rely on a more advanced, later-evolved brain to produce change is a vain exercise. The only way to resolve the earlier trauma is to travel back there neuro-physiologically and resolve on that level. Once the critical window is over with/closed, nothing can reopen it but feeling.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Transforming Feelings Through Resonance

How do we transform sadness into depression? Anger into rage? Fear into terror? RESONANCE. The deeper we go in the nervous system the more unreasoned, out of control, impulsive feelings/sensations there are. For good reason. The deeper we go, down into the brainstem the more survival, animalistic, immediate reactions are elicited. Rage and terror are there to help us react quickly to save our lives. Also there is deep hopelessness (the basis for severe depression). It is all there and can be triggered off in the present through resonance. It seems to me that all basic feelings are held together through specific frequencies which unite such feelings as anger and rage. Rage and terror are the first line components of feelings that are triggered off, resonate, with/by current feelings which are far less severe. Nothing in the present is ordinarily meant to be terrorizing. Yet giving a speech can be just that. Why? Because when one’s childhood is ridden by constant lack of love and neglect and often hatred by parents, the defense system is weakened and resonance can go deeper without impediment because of weakened or leaky gates. Those early traumas when early and severe damage our ability to develop a good gating system.

So giving a speech elicits terror, which actually has nothing to do with what is going on in the present. But what is resonated with is real and tells us a lot about what lies down there in that primitive salamander brain. Is there an immediate life-threatening event? Often yes. A mother smoking or drinking or taking drugs. A pre-psychotic mother can do it due to her high levels of mobilizing chemicals. The excessive vital signs speak to us in the language of the body, and they tell us how severe the early event was. This is particularly true in psychotics. I treated a young man who was born on a marine base to parents who were divorcing. The mother abandoned him and he was reared thereafter by a father who was nearly always absent, sent to war zones. There was trauma after trauma, meaning no love.

The problem is that we often do not recognize the resonance factor and treat the top level as the problem. In cognitive/insight therapy the patient is convinced that there is nothing to be afraid of. Ay ay ay. There is a lot to be afraid of only we cannot see it. It is like anger management. We treat rage through top level cortical pleadings when the real rage lies sleepily but stealthily down deep ready to pounce. Here is where words are but a weak, weak weapon for dealing with it. We must understand resonance, for that is what we must treat. We must attack what we cannot see; the imprint that has been there for decades, something that will eventually give us cancer or a heart attack, and we will wonder why?

How can we be sure about all this? One way is through vital signs. We systematically measure all patients’ sessions before and after. As the resonance factor kicks in, we find that the deeper we go in the brain the greater the vital sign measures. So down in the brainstem where much of our birth trauma and prenatal trauma is registered is where we find the long slow-wave brain signatures in our patients as they approach the deeper levels. It is where we see blood pressure of 200 over 110, and of resting heart rate of over 100.

Thus, the terrific impact these very early imprints have is demonstrated every day in almost every session. A patient comes in very hopeless and depressed and her blood pressure is very low. Another comes in with great anger and his heart rate is exceedingly high. It is of a piece, and we literally see the contribution of each level of consciousness during the session. We rarely if ever find a patient down on the brainstem level without resonance. This alone should guide us in the therapy of those who are ridden by out-of-control impulsiveness.

Someone comes to a doctor with chronically very high blood pressure and they immediately give blood pressure medication. And they should offer medication. It must be controlled. In our therapy, we have an idea already of where the origins lie because we are a therapy of genesis, of genotypes, not phenotypes. In fact the phenotype (appearances) is one way to arrive at the genotype. If we suppress the phenotype with medication we can almost be sure the patient will not get well. We know very little of the minute details of a malady but we know a great deal about genesis. This tells us a great deal about the status of the gates, how leaky they are, how solid and impenetrable or refractory they are. As soon as the patient comes in her body is sending out information. If she is awash in first line input we know where we have to go in therapy. Either help her into the imprint or perhaps helping with the gating system through the temporary use of tranquilizers.

A new patient with very low blood pressure and body temperature already signifies parasympathetic excess. We may have to boost her vital functions for a time with energy boosters. We may have to offer something that enhances stress hormone output. As I have pointed out, in our therapy we attack the conductor of it all, not the individual players such as blood pressure or heart rate. And that is the difference between what we do and what other therapies do. We have an overview. We know the music and it often has no lyrics.

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.