Friday, August 13, 2010

40 Years in Psychoanalysis

This from a gal who spent 40 years in psychoanalysis:

(My Shrunk Life by Daphne Merkin, NY Times, Aug. 8, 2010m Magazine Section
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“To this day, I’m not sure that I am in possession of substantially greater self-knowledge than someone who has never been inside a therapist’s office. What I do know, aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present in ways we can’t begin to imagine, is a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity for reframing your life story, becomes — how should I put this? — addictive. Projection. Repression. Acting out. Defenses. Secondary compensation. Transference. Even in these quick-fix, medicated times, when people are more likely to look to Wellbutrin and life coaches than to the mystique-surrounded, intangible promise of psychoanalysis, these words speak to me with all the charged power of poetry, scattering light into opaque depths, interpreting that which lies beneath awareness. Whether they do so rightly or wrongly is almost beside the point."

You know why it is beside the point? Because all that is beside the point; the point being I need a mommy and a loving daddy and I will pay money every week to get one, even a faux one. Learning a new way to see your life story is not therapy; it is reorientation toward the same neurosis. Jungians do it, Freudians do it, Cognitivists do it, “Let’s fall in love.” Does anyone else see the insanity of forty years of therapy? I see it often when parents who do not want to be bothered loving their child send her out to be repaired like a broken vacuum cleaner. “If you want love, go there; only don’t bother me.” And the repairman says, "let’s look at your life through my eyes.” Oh yes, let’s not feel the pain of it all; just look at it differently. "And don’t you do the interpreting; come to me for decades and let me do it." Such narcissism. Such arrogance. "I know best". "And I even know best what lies in your unconscious". "I know what feelings your hiding even at the age of two".

The first lesson I give students is to never think you know what the patient is feeling; you will be wrong. Only he knows and only he will give up from his unconscious when the time is right. It is the patient’s symptom, his behavior and his feelings. They belong to him and no one else. They are buried in the unconscious for a good reason; they are not ready to be felt. The patient knows when, and it is precisely when he can fully experience it and not before. It is his timetable, not ours because it is his life, not ours. So where do we therapists get off telling him or her what the problem is, where the lack of love is and how it all happened.

It is the same old neurologic mistake, believing that words and beliefs can change feelings, when all of evolution and the structure of the brain dictates otherwise. It is feelings that are the more powerful, that give rise to beliefs that may indeed counter those feelings, and the person then believes those beliefs and defends them because they defend him.

Daphne mentions transference. The Freudians are still analyzing transference when it should be obvious that instead of explaining how the patient is transferring feelings from daddy onto him, that she needs to express those needs to daddy; to cry, scream and beg for love where it belongs; then we do not have to analyze any transference. Analyzing changes nothing; it explains. If you had a virus we could analyze it and explain why you have it, but much better to treat it and the cause. “I know you’re hungry but I cannot give you any food,” is the same as I know you need love but I cannot give you any. Offering food (love) to a starving patient is better than not doing it; and there we have the "raison d’etre" for analysis; I know. I did it for 17 years and was trained at the Freudian center of the west. We give love but we don’t call it that. But we listen endlessly to your travails, are concerned, helpful, encouraging, and concentrate only on you. That is why all of the studies on therapy insist on the warmth and kindliness of the therapist—because that is what they are selling. I’ve got a hard sell; I am selling pain. But at the end of that pain lies liberation.

(From Bruce Wilson, science writer: Ferenczi and Freud would eventually break over their different therapeutic stances but not before Ferenczi noted in his clinical diary that Freud shared with him the harsh sentiment “that neurotics are a rabble, good only to support us financially and to allow us to learn from their cases: psychoanalysis as a therapy may be worthless.”)

I want therapy to be honest. Let’s tell the patient what we are selling. It is fair to her to know what she is buying and not to think she is buying cure while she is buying a daddy. (For those of you who are interested look on our website and see Grand Delusion. There lies many pages on Freud.) Some, like Woody Allen are buying something a bit more sophisticated. Someone to talk to, a daddy who will respond and not be indifferent to his gems. There are all kinds of reasons to stay in Analysis but the bottom line is the need we are acting out there. And believe me going to cognitive/insight therapy is an act out. Going through the motions of getting well without the pain, which is an oxymoron.

Let me tell you about one experience I had not long ago. I was watching French television, which I do mostly, and on Saturday night they have a concert. One singer was wonderful, mesmurizing and they showed a lady in the audience transfixed and full of emotion, just feeling. I turned off the television and felt, “My God, that’s the reaction I have waiting for all my life. To have my parents just once listen to me and be interested.” I then had a primal where I begged them to listen and felt the pain of their not being able to. Much better than rushing to an analyst, waiting a week for him to see me, to have the need/feeling analyzed to death. We give patients the tools to go on feeling and getting better on their own. I also teach all of my patients my techniques and why I employ them. No secrets, no special lingo and above all, nothing to learn about my theory. They don’t have to speak my language—transference—I speak theirs. And that language is feeling.

Of course her therapy felt like a good conversation with a friend. It was. You bought a friend, what else did you want? She could not leave her shrinks because she could not leave her needs. They were never dealt with, so they remained pristine pure until old age. You are a client because you are buying a service. You are a patient when science and medicine enters the picture and you are being treated and cured; that is, addressing the originating causes of the problem.

Daphne is an addict, getting her fix of love every week for years. Much better for all kinds of addicts to feel their pain so that they no longer need a fix, a fix to kill or soften the hurt. My wife was in psychoanalysis in New York. Every time she cried the hour was up and she had to go. It is inhuman. In primal therapy there is no time limit. You leave when you feel like it. That is human. Feelings dictate the length of the session and the content of the session. Make sense?


  1. Art, I like things to be tidy. I was hoping that primal therapy would be tidy. eg. you start with the easy primals, then you move on to the difficult primals, and then for the most part, you're done.

    Eighty something and you're still experiencing the 'easy' primals. You still haven't entirely resolved your need for mom and dad. But you have experienced the most difficult primals - birth and maybe prenatal? Not tidy! lol.

    OK I guess I better lose my expectations of a smooth orderly progression towards my first-line pain. Obviously feelings are not stored on a shelf in alphabetical order.

  2. People are detached from emotions, no? Feelings are foreign to them. They clearly do not understand the mechanisms of emotions in our psyches. But most of our society prefers that as well. How do you convince them otherwise?

    As I see it, Primal therapy will never be big or mainstream because it is not natural in the aspect that people avoid uncomfortable emotions which Primal Therapy asks them to face/feel. Natural (as in common) instinct is to run form discomfort and pain.

    What would you say that has not already been said? I only ask if there is perhaps a way you could explain why emotions, which we naturally run from, are so important to face/feel and what keeps the mainstream from wanting or accepting this?

    I was just reading John Gatto’s book, “Weapons of Mass Instruction,” which so boldly points out the total failure of mass institutional education and why the status quo likes it that way and is served by that way. Are we afraid to maybe address those things are regards to Primal therapy (PT)as something the status quo would prefer to avoid and why they like what they already have?

    To me, these might be worthwhile directions to consider. If the world is broken and needs fixed, then how do we fix it? Is it even broken? To me, if PT is meaningful as a therapy, it should not be afraid to address the evidence wherever it may lead or tackle meaningful problems towards a great acceptance. I’m just saying.

    Scott, Southern Maine

  3. on June 13 I wrote
    "Art, I wonder if you still have some neurotic need to be heard. You are a write-aholic.

    I'm always trying to think of the best words when I write in this blog. My parents never listened to me.

    Just wondering, how does a right-brainer avoid feeling fully?"

    Regarding your french TV primal, maybe my comment had some influence on your 'timetable of feelings'
    Or did you primal before I posted that?

  4. Scott On the contrary, Primal Therapy is nothing more than nature. it is not just a therapy, it is a style of life that goes on forever. It frees all emotions, laughter, sadness, etc. We are the mainstream only no one knows it. AJ

  5. Richard. I really think that beyond any personal need, I can help society and humanity with what I write. art

  6. AJ, yes, it is nature, but man has never been too fond of nature. He resists and persecutes it. Can you say Gulf Oil Crisis? And yes, PT goes on forever. It is feeling which we keep on ding forever. But whether we are truly mainstream or not, we are going to continue to be slighted by the world, raped, robbed, even killed at times. And we will continue to bear these things for it is not natural for people to confront what is not comfortable. It is always easier to run.

    I ought to know, my father and mother have always been runners. My brother was a big runner and now he is dead, 4 years since. We know that in the long term, facing the monsters is better than running for it provides relief. But most people out there will never believe that. Its just that way. I may not like gravity, but I am not about to try to defy it from the top of a tall building. I can't change the world, only myself. A minority we will always be, as I see it.

  7. I always “failed” as a child and through that came my life. Only through that I can feel myself… it's me and that only. In loneliness I have done everything possible to avoid by refusing being a failure… with all mad results. Now I “know” that. To be a failure with all that missing love is me… impossible to understand but to be with… death could not be worse.


  8. In interviews the psychiatrist R.D. Laing disclaimed the "expert" status of the therapist. When clients came to his office his attitude was, what as one human being to another can I do for you? He came to see the relationship between client and therapist as symmetrical to the point that he wasnt Dr Laing but simply Ronnie and whatever he could do to assist he would. A very informal approach and one that undermines the rationalistic distinction of subject/object. However, i don\t know how he responded to clients who came along with very strong attachment needs - maybe he slapped them or took them out for dinner depending on his mood? I imagine there must be some PT clients who come along expecting a "daddy" therapist and get a bit of a shock.

  9. Art Janov: Following your comments above that you beleive that you can help humanity: from all those case studies that I have read in your books, you and your staff sure do seem to have helped a lot of people. I wish I could say that you have helped me with Primal, but I have never done it, and will probably never be able to.So I can't confirm from my personal experience what you write in your books. I do however really enjoy reading you, which I do every day, and which helps a lot. Some days your books are the only contact I have with some Reality , because most people and books just confuse, puzzle, and irritate me (which is why I am going to get rid of three-quarters of my library pretty soon! and why , lonely as I am, I am moving even further away from most people)


  10. Art,

    A bit off topic, but I was just reflecting the other day that you are very right to focus on making your theory/therapy correlate to neurobiology.

    Now that we have the tools to see what's going on inside the patient going through any given therapy on the neurobiological level, we should now insist on the development of studies that show us the correlations between a given therapy and observable changes within the brain - if we are to take a given therapy seriously.

    It is only rational to do this. Now that we have the tools to show us some hard facts, we cannot justify not using them.

    A true science of psychotherapy will almost certainly be born out of neurology, because that will be the new authoritative benchmark--not just behavioural tests based on subjectivity idealised parameters.

  11. Art: In your response to Richard, I totally agree with you. Your contribution to mankind transcends any and all human failings you might have.

  12. Apollo,

    The problem is that we do not experiens... discover the pain our existence all is about. We are avoiding unpleasant things but only in our thoughts ... feelings are in full operation throughout our system ... we just avoid them.


  13. I received an email from a person who thought I was being mean to Art. I wasn't interested in his personal 'failings'. I was interested in the general nature of primal.
    Art I think you should publish this comment because I think this forum is too one-sided. We need more opinions from people who are not so convinced. We needn't be afraid to ask the occasional question (I ask too many) as long as the questions are not intended to be deeply personal.

  14. Andrew: No it won't be born out of neurology but will supported by it. We cannot ignore the brain and concoct theories "en vrac." Here and there and everywhere. We need precision but our clinical work is valid in itself. 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.