Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On Evolution and Revolution (Part 1/3)

When scientists were polled recently about the greatest discovery in science, the majority chose Darwin’s Evolution. It explained so much in so many fields of scientific endeavor. That includes psychotherapy. In my opinion evolution is essential in the treatment of emotional problems. To put it differently, no one can make significant progress in psychotherapy when evolution is not central to its process. The brain developed in three major cycles, first described by Paul MacLean. I describe them as instinct/energy, feeling and then thinking. Each evolved and has many connections to higher levels. If we do a therapy with only the last evolved; that is, cognitive/insight therapy, we have neglected a great deal of our evolution. It is tantamount to neglecting most of our ancient history and, of course, most of our early personal history. When we ignore two thirds of our brain how can we possibly get well? I think that the thinkers (the cognitive/insight therapists) “cure” their patients so that they think they are better. This leaves out physiology and feeling.
Therefore, we need to systematically measure physiologic changes in our psychotherapy. Otherwise, we can have great new attitudes but our bodies may be degenerating.
I have often called my therapy, “evolution in reverse.” It includes evolution as its kernel. And it is that sense of evolution that makes it revolutionary. Because it overturns most current thinking about the value of thinking, particularly in terms of measuring progress in psychotherapy. What we feel is what we feel no matter what exhortations take place. And those often buried feelings determine our actions. Feelings can be deviated but there is always a home for them in the brain. They cannot be changed; though we can change our thinking about them, denying or projecting them.
Thoughts, bereft of feelings are, in essence, homeless; they have no roots. So any proper psychotherapy must adhere to the laws of biology and evolution; we need to find our roots, the basis of some many of our thoughts and beliefs. The history of mankind is found in us today, and the history of man/us is found in us, as well. When we follow our history in reverse it again must adhere to the natural order of things. In therapy if we do rebirthing it defies evolutionary principles by attacking the most remote and early imprints first. We must start in the present, give ourselves a good foundation in regard to our current lives and associated feelings and then finally arrive at the reptilian/instinctive brain a long time later. These are biologic laws that cannot be disregarded. Thus it is clear that rebirthing cannot ever work; indeed it most likely creates damage; and I have seen and treated the damage it does.
Any ploy or mechanism by a therapist that defies evolution will end in failure because evolution is merciless and unrelenting; it is how we survived. It will not allow us to cheat on its principles. If evolution is neglected it will perforce end in abreaction; the release of feeling without connection and resolution. Bioenergetics, focusing the body and muscles violates that law. Focusing on bodily release (the Gestalt Therapy, “act like an ape!” is inadequate). LSD and hallucinogens completely disregard the neurologic order of the nervous system, and spray feelings everywhere with no possible connection. A primal will teach us evolution because it will follow the neuraxis precisely and tell us where and how evolution took place.


  1. Grettings Arthur,
    I was in PT in LA way back in the 70's. It's especially nice to see Evolution discussed in relation to psychotherapy. There is plenty of good evidence from the developmentalists such as Piaget in this area which backs up the connections you make. Ken Wilber has pointed out that the sequence of evolution, both in the species, and in the individual is that each stage "transcends but includes" it's predescessor, as can be readily seen in the human organism, i.e we still have the lower 'reptillian' levels in our biology. Right down at the cellular level, our bodies reflect the earliest origins of life itself.

    However, as Wilber says, sometimes "transcend and include" becomes "transcend and repress", and that's when conflict arises. The interesting thing to me is that this kind of patterning is discernible both in individuals and in larger 'holons' (Arthur Koestler's word) such as social groups and cultures. 'Transcend and include' will always tend to alllow energy to flow freely throughout a given system. 'Transcend and repress' will inevitably lead to pressure and tension from whatever is denied or distorted, be that 'lower brain' , 'lower class' etc. etc. Arguably though, this very tension may constitute one of the drivers of the evolutionary process. Harry Stack Sullivan was onto this with his three stage model back in the 40's; unfortunately the language was a little obtuse, Protaxic, Parataxic, and Syntaxic, I prefer your terminology, but he had the right idea, and he also described how traumas can cause one level to impact on the next, e.g. "Parataxic Distortion" of the Syntaxic (i.e.cognitive) thinking processes. The important thing is that the levels need to become conciously and clearly differentiated within a holistic framework. Having said that, all 'abberations' thus generated are arguably no more or less 'natural' than anything else, no way of being more 'normal' than any other, because repression is itself evidently adaptive and a product of evolution.

    A key point I feel though is that all psychotherapies, including Primal, are themselves also recent products of evolution. How could they possibly be anything else? Presumably we evolved repression, the ability to shunt pain and trauma temporarily out of conciousness, out of absolute necessity so that the species might survive. It would now appear that, as a species, we are perhaps attempting to evolve ways of repairing some of the damage that was done on our long and painful evolutionary journey, psychotherapy being one possible response to that species-wide 'primal need'. In this larger context, local disputes about what is 'normal', who has the 'right way' can seem trivial. To quote Wilber again, "No one is 100% wrong. We are all touching part of the elephant". The challenge for all is to create Holarchies (transcend and include) rather than Heirarchies (transcend and repress). Psychotherapists of whatever persuasion do not somehow stand outside evolution itself.

    As a species, as you rightly say, we must "start in the present". Just as the individual needs a trustworthy 'cognitive life-raft' in place to safely access deep feelings without fragmenting, so does a society need a robust intellectual superstructure from which to access and integrate it's own collective demons. And the progression is as always, a dialectical one, breakdown, breakthrough, integrate and evolve, a constant churning and recycling of biological, emotional, ideological, psychic and spiritual processes. The dance of a Cosmos of which we are such an infinitessimal part. The 'fully functioning' human has perhaps yet to evolve on any wide scale. Psychotherapy holds the potential to be both revolutionary and truly evolutionary, but with just one caveat: I think it was Aurobindo who said something like "in order to truly see reality one must first remove oneself from the centre of the picture" .

    best wishes
    Jennifer Maidman (Musician, and Integrative Therapist, UK)

  2. Dr. Janov,

    The title suggests an essay that treats both evolution and revolution, but it seems the revolution part is either implicit or postponed for a later chapter. Maybe the idea is that the revolutionary techniques fail because they are revolution instead of evolution; discontinuity instead of continuity. That would be a good point. I'm old enough, though, to remember the title of a book you authored called The Primal Revolution. I hope at least one of the next two blogs in this series will weave your reflections on that book into the current, modern perspective.

    It could be I've anticipated your point about evolution/revolution incorrectly. I'm at a loss for a conjunction right now, but I'm thinking that sometimes the stage is correctly set for revolution, too. How do we know?

    Always enjoy your essays. Best wishes,


  3. Walden: The revolution is coming. art janov

  4. I'm just reflecting on this evolution stuff, and evolution in reverse, as you call it. Shouldn't it be the same with the evolution of therapy? In other words, if there is going to be a spread of knowledge about how to treat the human condition in a deeper way, doesn't that mean that you have to first engage the cognitivists in a way that satisfies them (like feeling the third line fully before going deeper)? And if you don't do that, if you recruit "evolution" in your argument for why modern therapy is not good enough because it doesn't go deep, and then you make a showstopper issue out of agreement about that depth and what it means, then aren't you failing on your own terms to take evolution in reverse?


  5. Dr. Janov
    ”What we feel is what we feel no matter what exhortations take place.” How can we be true to what we feel, if we are constantly forced to ignore our feelings. There is a dominating, emotionless reality out there, even among professionals, we cannot avoid.

  6. Walden,
    The world needs a new paradigm for psychology.
    Don't you see this isn't working? you can't convince the convinced.
    The only thing to be done these days is research into the huge gap between neurology and psychology. When someone comes up with a complete picture of what a feeling is in pure scientific terms, and creates a theory showing the full scope of relations between "body and mind" (as the old philosophical debate calls it), only then will there be a foundation for change, and then it will probably take time for it to settle in, as is always the case with revolutions in science.
    One must speak to people in their own language in order for them to understand, and once you offer a theory which can't be refuted, you unbalance the system, in hope that the new balance pivot will be yours.

  7. Walden,
    How should you ask a question about what you do... when what you do makes the question impossible? This revolution must be done by surpassed by a number of people certifying primal therapy's effects... the cognitive must find its own way ... they are too strong in their faith through requirements on their "professional" training... but all what you do or try puts a seed to the revolution and hopefully you will bring some of the cognitive therapists to Janovs institute.
    Frank Larsson

  8. Delphi,

    I agree with you at the start and at the end, but not in the middle.

    You say a new paradigm is needed. I agree. You say "one must speak to people in their own language...". I agree.

    In your middle part where you say "the only thing to be done..." I disagree before I read the end of the sentence. Any time you think there is only one possible solution, you should stop and think at least two more times. Putting the science in place so that no one could rationally disagree with it is just not ever going to work. Come on, folks, change doesn't happen like that. People don't accept change because they've been cornered into accepting it. You can be ahead of the curve, and right, and too demanding of those you wish to sway, and never make a dent. But there are other ways.


  9. Frank,

    I don't get your first point; too abstract for me.

    "Cognitivists", what are those?

    These days probably the majority of students interested in clinical psychology get pushed in the direction of the cognitive therapies because that's the current status quo. It's safe; it's what the universities teach.

    But that doesn't mean that some of those students are not human and open to other ideas, and open to their own feelings when they see another person hurting and needing to express.

    Narrow the gap; don't widen it.


  10. Jennifer: THis is very bright stuff. Congratulations Jennifer. I enjoy letters of this caliber. art janov


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.