Friday, September 18, 2009

On the Nature of Science

There are critiques of primal therapy as not having enough science behind it. Apart from the fact that we have done four brainwave studies, neurochemistry and physiologic studies, having done several double blind studies (discussed in Primal Healing), there is yet another aspect to all this apotheosis of science. Before the observations of Jane Goodall and her seminal work on chimps in the field there were hundreds of statistical studies of chimps and apes. But until she had living experience there was not much progress. Her work involved clinical observation and inductive logic. And her impact on the field was revolutionary. I think our situation is similar to Goodall’s. We have done the usual statistical work but watching how it all works out inside human beings is critical. Further, seeing how we can reverse early traumas is of major importance. We can see what causes migraines over and over again in our clinical setting. Patients come in all “down” and migrained and relive oxygen deprivation, leaving without the symptom. We never suggested the correlation, we only observed and wrote about it. We worked in the “field,” as it were. This is not to deride science; on the contrary, it is to state that science has many shapes and forms.

Or in the case of high blood pressure, we watched it rise and fall with the reliving of early pain; in particular, reliving anoxia or hypoxia. And that the deeper we go in primals the more migraine and high blood pressure can be eliminated. These are biologic truths, something beyond facts that clarify the overarching truths. There are layers of truths. It is possible to explore and relive more recent hurts but the migraine will not disappear until the prototype is addressed. Migraine, then, will stop occurring when the original reason for it has been experienced; that is, during birth when oxygen was insufficient, engendering the massive constriction and then dilation of some of the brain’s blood vessels. This is the reason why it is so important not to have a personal agenda for our patient. If we do, the patient will go to where we decide instead of where her biology dictates. Because once there is a migraine the system knows that we must address oxygen impairment. They are tied together. We will start reliving only related pains and finally descend to remote causes. We don’t have to decide anything; her biology will decide for us. But if we don’t pay attention to this basic biologic law the patient will suffer. That is, symptoms are related to specific causes; not immediately apparent.

We are a therapy of nature, of following basic biologic laws, not an intellectual theory to be superimposed on patients. We need to trust biology, not defy it. We need to know that human need is the kernel of civilization and the jewel of any psychotherapy. When we find need we will find deprivation; and when we find deprivation we will find neurosis. And when we relive need and its deprivation we will resolve neurosis.


  1. DR Janov

    I think observations from real first-hand experience are "bigger" than science, because that's what keeps all the scientific ideas and assumptions in perspective, and holds them to account.

  2. Dear Art,

    I have never seen so much research done in other psychotherapy books, like I've seen in the primal literature. So what I think the critics basically say is not that "there is no research" but rather "we don't belive it". When I asked one anti-primal professional what alternative is to primal therapy, he said "cognitive-bihevioral therapy". At that moment I lost any desire to continue the conversation.


  3. You tell me

    How should you get a "healthy" person to understand that she is sick? How to tell that a behavior is ill when it valued as successful? Someone who easily put together a puzzle as smart... when it's the only thing he is good at... a mathematician “worth” a title when it binds him to illness... a lonely man who in the guise of a professor just is a child.

    The big question… how do you explain that something is sick… when it is valued as success

    Frank Larsson

  4. Marjan: It is a well-known syndrome: "I won't believe it even if you prove it." art

  5. Frank: These are the kind of intelletual exercises I do not indulge in since I have so many people who know they hurt. art janov

  6. Art
    I know and understand that you have enough patients who need your help at your institution... but to get through establishment would revolutionize the process of primal therapy spreading... I am looking for the barriers established (intellectual) constitutes for recognition of primal therapy... they are a much bigger obstacle than we think... they have "training"... education as violated on the question of primal therapy's value... I also suspect that fear is a bigger problem than we think... many intellectuals go on medication to keep up... the cognitive activity is what the Swedish government acknowledged as the only "scientific" method of therapy ... this is a great tragedy ... a barrier that without their dominance make room for Primal Therapy... they don’t respond to your research results... this is something that cannot be tolerated... we bury ourselves in ignorance and must therefore do everything in our way to preventing it ... this is a proof how qualified "knowledge" and education does not measure up to its title.
    Frank Larsson

  7. Frank,

    Even if PT was finally accepted as 'the truth' of how to deal with neurosis, it could not even have a smudge of an impact on a world of 6 billion neurotics. It would take too long to scale the enterprise up, even if it had absolute social and financial support.

    I also think that people like Arthur Janov are too rare. Most people cannot be trusted to develop an effective therapy of this type in a disciplined way, even if they wanted to - they just won't have the right combination of traits. My point is that I don't think you can put much faith in the idea of effective PT being developed by a thousand others in parallel. I doubt it could scale up much like that (though to some degree it surely could).

    A real "revolution" will come from the understanding of how to better take care of children and ourselves (in spite of our neurosis) so as to progressively (yet slowly - intergenerationally) allow neurosis to retract from our species.

    As I have expressed in a earlier post, I think the real far-reaching value of PT is that it can provide an enhanced understanding of what makes us sick and dysfunctional, and what we can reasonably do about it to eventually clear ourselves of repression. Unfortunately the vast majority of us are going to die neurotic for a long time to come. PT in itself cannot change that I don't think.

    I'm not saying PT is not a worthwhile social investment, I'm just making a point of its limits.

  8. Andrew you may be right but if we can point the way to how to rear children that will be the way to go. Treating even many thousands of people still won't make a dent in the world. But if we can make just a few people happy and without pain it is not so bad. art janov

  9. All,

    It's a topic of great interest to me, and it is significant, I think, that no matter what the blog title of the week, this topic surfaces frequently.

    You can point the way how to rear children. That may help some. In my case, it didn't help enough. I did not realize the damage I did, all the while thinking I was in a special category as a parent, having this special inside knowledge about how kids hurt. Fiddlestix, as they say.

    Making a few people happy might be an option if not for all the advertisement that's been published. It's a little late for the "ma and pa" (no pun intended) model. And it is a significant underachievement.

    There are oodles of people who see psychiatrists for depression meds and psychologists for cognitive therapy, which according to our psychiatrist, is where the "real work" is supposed to occur. (The drugs are there just to set the stage, you see.) These people don't get their money's worth, and that can and should be changed. And we have the power to change it. So let's do that.

    What will not work is protectionism. We have to share what we can, and live with our limitations. People can learn to cry. People can learn to "hold" a feeling instead of acting it out. With practice and feedback, people can learn what good listening is and isn't. It really doesn't matter what you call it. A good listening can put someone into the zone and into touch with something they didn't notice before. Let's do it, and not be so concerned with what we call it.

    Meanwhile, if some of you neurologists out there could zero in on what actually happens chemically in a primal and afterward, how the neural nets grow and change and even sluff off dead "wood", that would be awesome. To the extent that it parallels what happens with drugs, I think it might be noticed.


  10. Dr Janov,

    I'm changing the subject a bit, but...

    I notice there is a site called "debunking primal therapy" which I have roughly had a look through, from a while back (I notice it's full empty assertions and have to just "believe he is right". It clearly doesn't 'debunk' anything in itself). I notice you and your clinic have not defended yourselves against this guys accusations (whoever he is?), going from what I have seen on the net at least.

    I can understand if you wouldn't want to make a response so as to dignify his attempt to do absolutely everything he can to damage your and your therapy's reputation, but I would say he's doing considerable damage to scare people off from PT anyway. Though I do not take his site seriously myself (he provides no credible reason to), I would still be interested to hear some of your thoughts on this if you ever wish to make them. I personally believe it could be in your interest to provide a response of some kind?

  11. Hi Art and everyone,
    I think this blog is a great idea, and this is an interesting thread, the question of what constitutes science. The over-emphasis on a rather positivist interpretation of 'objectivity' in our time may itself I suspect sometimes be symptomatic of a kind of pathology,a retreat into the 'head', given that the real experience of being human is inherently a highly subjective and embodied one (if you are able to feel your feelings that is). I'm not sure what the US is like, but here in the UK it is fashionable right now to conform to so called 'evidence based practice'. This usually means methods based on statistical truths, RCT's etc.such as CBT. Less weight is given to 'practice based evidence' grounded in clinical observation and reflective inquiry. Jung pointed out years ago that theories based only on statistical truths tend to obscure rather than illuminate human nature, because the individual is always a relative exception, an anomaly. "The real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule" he said in The Undiscovered Self. As long as a very materialistic, technological model of science remains in the ascendent, any therapy which emphasizes engagement with each client's own very individual, unique experience, patterns, defenses etc. may find itself at something of a disadvantage as far as 'proof' is concerned. But I don't think it's science per se that's the problem, only the somewhat narrow interpretation that's placed on it by some nowadays. Great scientists like Darwin, Newton, Gallileo,all were certainly well grounded in their own experience as a primary source of evidence.

    By the way, I was in PT myself back in the seventies at the Primal Institute in LA. Back then I think a lot of people rather mythologized PT and Art, maybe because of the Lennon connection,and I was no exception. In reality, it wasn't perfect of course, and it took me a while to work through my feelings of dissapointment around that, but then the desire for a perfect therapist who can 'fix' everything is itself about avoiding painful unmet needs I think. The ups and downs of PT were certainly an important part of my journey back to the real me, and I went on to become a succesful musician for many years and am now also an Integrative therapist in south east England.

    best wishes
    Jennifer Maidman

  12. Here is a guy who failed our training and could never face it so he got a mission to hurt us. In other words, "It is us not him." If only he could face his failure. We cannot spend or waste time answering losers like him. art janov

  13. On subjective versus objective...

    I think there's nothing wrong with objective analysis in psychology *so long as* the guy who is doing the observing understands what conclusions he can and cannot deducted from his external obsevations alone. I think that the reality is that very little of substance can be determined from the external-observer level alone, because all kinds of different behaviours and 'manifestations' can ultimately mean (and come from) all kinds of different things.

    You can't escape the need to factor in subjective reports relating to human experiences, if you want to have much to say at the end of the day. To ignore the subjective is to reduce things to a false over-simplification, and to deny a major aspect of the truth. The subjective IS real.

    ...Unless your psychology is only about changing behaviours, and to hell with how people actually feel and experince their lives. And if you ask me that kind of psychology can only be justified on a battlefield i.e. where behaviour alone really is everything because it equates to the difference between life and death. Unfortunately governments and commercial interests may only care about behaviours too, and they're the guys funding a lot of modern psychology (or 'behaviour control' research).

  14. Couldn't resist reading this damn blog again.

    I think it would be a good idea for all therapists to submit six-monthly results check-lists representing each and every patient. The results should show hormone levels, heart rate and blood pressure readings, and patient's personal statements.

    Every therapist would use a standardised results check-list, and submit their results to a central website. The central website can be viewed by everyone, including laymen. How's that for peer-review?

    Plenty of time should be allowed for therapists to agree on an appropriate check-list and to accumulate results data.

    Professionals would be able to submit questions and answers but laymen would not.

    Are there any therapists who think this is a good idea? Bad idea?


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.