Monday, August 9, 2010

Making a Nightmare into a Nightmare

You know, when I run the schools of psychology, which ought to be never, I would insist that students learn a minimum of neurology so that they do not concoct theories that fly in the face of how the brain works. It is not that neurology will offer up psychological insights, but that it will dictate what you must not invent. A case in point: the NY Times just ran a piece entitled, Therapy Takes the Terror Out Of Nightmares (also in Intn’l Herald Tribune July 27/10). It is the brainchild of Dr. Krakow of the Sleep Clinic at Maimonide’s Sleep Arts Center. What he has decided to do to take the force out of nightmares is give the person a new script. So what does he do? He offers a script that is more “normal” and less frightening. So the dangerous enemy becomes a friendly ghost. “We call that a new dream,” he says. It is known as dream mastery. But wait a minute, is the dream just the symbol or is it also the terrible feeling? When you master a dream it should be all of it, unless you are once again skimming the surface.

OK, so where is that dream coming from? Is it just a whim by the person? Something that can be change so easily? Or does it come from the depths of our consciousness, or unconsciousness? I have written enough now to indicate that deep sleep where much of the terror lies is on what I call the first-line. It has to do with sensations of terror, rage and murder, being crushed, suffocated, chased, etc. These are imprints from traumas that happened while we lived life in the womb, or at birth and just after. They are registered low in the neuraxis and later form the feeling/sensation stuff of nightmares. They tell us that there are dark matter down there that must be dealt with. The nightmare is the topmost element, the verbal and image we put on it. It is not the nightmare per se. It is the effluvia of the feeling, the intellectual part we ascribe to it. The feelings are imprinted which accounts for the obsessive, compulsive and repetitive nature of the nightmare. They are part of our nature, our biology and must be understood as such.

This mastery theory is another nonsense by the cognitive school, sold by intellectuals who do not understand about feelings and their nature in our biologic economy. So when they concoct a new scenario, and it is exactly the cognitive therapy applied to dream sleep, where we provide a new more wholesome scenario for your bad and naughty thoughts. Do they think our dreams and nightmares are just capriciousness? Do we make them out of whole cloth or do they fill an important function in our neurologic functioning? What they do is help patients adopt a new outlet for the very same sensations/feelings. And what happens to those feelings? Do they go away? No. Imprints never go away until resolved. Their pressure then leads to high blood pressure, headaches and all sorts of maladies perhaps leading to serious ailments such as cancer. They pressure always remains and drives us. Yes we can choose a nice thought but that is literally icing on the cake. It has no effect on the lower level feelings. But those feelings have a lot of effect on images on thoughts provided by higher nerve centers. We could provide endless new scenarios that would change nothing. Worse, it is being used on combat fatigue and trauma of war. They are simply providing a better defense. And that is what cognitive therapy is: better defenses provided by those who have better defenses and who apotheosizes defenses as the "nec plus ultra". These professionals have the imprimatur and cachet of major research centers and are more likely to be believed. That makes them all the more dangerous. What are they doing? Trying to influence and dissuade biologic processes. First, we need to understand what those are and what role they play in our physiology. Maybe they are normal, necessary and absolutely essential. They should not be summarily altered at our whim. Certainly not by someone who skims along the top and ignores what our bodies are doing and what they need. They are using it for rape victims. I have treated many rape victims; their pain is beyond belief and has to be relived over months and months. There is no shortcut for that. None. Here we are again, rearranging the furniture on the Titanic while there are big holes in the hull. Jesus! Wake up!


  1. Doctor Janov,

    I like the english word "control freak" because it describes so well what this kind of psychlogist is trying to do to his patients. Let's think about a doctor saying to his patient after discovering he has cancer that he can cure heart attacks and he wants his patient to believe that he is bound to have a stroke. It sounds a bit like in a Molière play...It could be funny if it wasn't real.

  2. It sounds a bit like dealing with bridge builders who refuse to believe that Force = mass x acceleration. We already know that dreams are the end-point rationalisation for lower-level feelings of which originate in the lower brains. Trying to change the dream (at the end-point level) is the same as trying distract yourself from the feeling - and, of course that's what cognitive therapy is about.

    Do cognitive therapists tell their patients that they are resolving their feelings when they "think forced happy thoughts", or do they tell them they are only successfully [maybe?] blocking their pain? Maybe change can begin with honest representation.

  3. Yann: You know, when doctors cannot themselves feel they adopt a therapy that amounts to the same thing. aj

  4. The discovery of Primal Pain was, IMO, the greatest discovery mankind ever made: reason--we now know enough about ourselves to change everything. The ensuing formulation of Primal Theory is the only psychological theory since Freud and until and unless it is acknowledged most psychological experiments are an effort in futility. The reason, IMO, that a non-feeling (neurotic) medical, psychological and sociological professions attack Primal Therapy and it's efficacy in order to circumvent looking at Primal Theory. History (if we are to have one) will, IMO, view these professions in the same light as the Papacy (the ruling authority of their time) when looking at the Copernicus/Galileo theory of the heavens. The world is a changing--rapidly and many are proposing righting the wrongs. Most of us are scared of the consequences, but putting a positive spin on it, never did,or ever will, change reality. The only 'reality' (for each of us), IMO, is what we "feel". Attempting to 'think-out' reality will leave us with six billion answers.

  5. Andrew, I asked my cognitive therapist that exact question. He told me the cognitive therapy, in my case, was just "a few tricks to help me cope" because that is all I asked for. He said the behavioural therapy (exposure to the things I avoid) is where "more substantial changes can be made". He also told me that finding the source of the pain is like peeling back the layers of an onion. He said we reach a point where it becomes impossible to understand ultimate causes, and that it wasn't actually necessary to reach that level of understanding.
    He was never able to give me a proper answer to any of my very clear and specific questions. I liked him but he didn't know what he was talking about. He knew how to ask me many questions, ask me to fill out forms, ask me to choose a place to sit, prompt me to give a reaction to this and that....the techniques might seem impressive to someone who has never read anything about primal theory. But there were no answers to my questions.

  6. Dr Janov writes: "Jesus! Wake up!" Mankind is just waking up on all fronts very very slowly (environmental, human rights, psychological, etc..).I find this all hard to stomach, living amongst human beings where so many are still so unconscious , right up to utter fascist cruelty.Yesterday, I was flipping through a new book about Monsanto, a massive multi-national involved in the food trade.I mean, they and most farmers are just raping the earth. And they feel nothing about it.Obviously ,all farming should be organic, the health of the topsoil should be maintained , animals should not be raised with cruelty in farm factories , etc.. But the powers-that-be don't get this! Jesus! wake up! But they generally are not (yet?) waking up. I find this hard to take, living in a world so demented and ignorant.


  7. This «dream mastery» technique certainly sounds like more repression and further away from the reality. It is shame, especially since better techniques, even outside of Primal Therapy approach, has been in existence for many years. I have read an article about «dreams taming», many years ago. Instead of «programming» the brain to change the dream in a more pleasant one, they were programming it to «fight» whatever frightening situation in these recurring dreams. That one lady was describing how she could successfully confront the monster who was always coming back into her nightmares. Instead of running, she turned around and started telling the monster to stop frightening her. Apparently, the big monster deflated to a point where the lady could recognized the shadow of her own mother in the door of the bedroom, when she was a child. As a result, this recurring nightmare never came back. Sounds to me like having some sort of primal in our sleep and getting some positive result from it.

    Charles-Gilles Massé

  8. Charles-Gilles: It is rearranging the furniture on the Titanic again. art janov You cannot manipulate the brain into sanity.

  9. The lady could express her feelings to the monster while in her dream, which is closer to her reality and seem to got her closer to the source of her fear.

    May I ask how you are dealing with these kind of recurrent nightmares in Primal Therapy?

  10. Charles-Gilles: First, read Primal Healing and The Biology of Love by me to understand more about this. Nightmares are the psychotic episodes while we sleep. Bad dreams are the neurotic style and represent neurosis while sleeping. We always use the symbols to get the patient back into the FEELING of the dream because that is the real feeling inside the symbols and will lead the patient to his or her imprint. The symbols have no other importance and do not need to be analyzed forever. That is tantamount to psychoanalysis, talking feelings and their symbols to death. Feeling is what it is about. art janov

  11. Dear Art,
    I must confess: I skipped «Primal Healing». But I have read: «Le Cri Primal», «Biology of love», “The Primal Revolution», «Primal Man» and «Le corps se souvient» (I may be missing one or two). I also had Primal Therapy at the Primal Institute in New York, beginning in April 1979. I’m using the primal technique when needed ever since. Of the several hundred primals I had, many were dreams related. I had primals in session where a «troubling» dream was the main trigger. I did primal at night after being awakened by a dream. I sometimes started primalling in my sleep because I had realized I was dreaming and was able to started expressing the feeling related to the dream, and continue the primal once awake. I even had complete primals while sleeping without waking up. I know it because in a few cases, later on in the day, something happened that made me remember of the dream and the primal I had. So, with all due respect, I don’t think I need to read your two books «…to understand more about this …». I do agree that the feeling is everything and that the brain will use anything, object or person, to build up a scene in which the feeling will be felt.

    Now, I would like to come back to your reply to my first comment: «It is rearranging the furniture on the Titanic again. art janov You cannot manipulate the brain into sanity.»

    May I suggest that you read again carefully my comment? In the technique I was describing, the suggestion was that the dreamer would «confront» her monster instead of just running away. I was saying it was similar to Primal; you called that: «… manipulate the brain…»

    Notice this is very different than making believe that the «monster» is in fact «a friend» or some other form of denial. The lady, in confronting her monster will need to express her feelings, hereby increasing the likelihood of a connection. The connection is even more probable that it is being done in a sleeping state, when some cognitive defenses are lowered.

    I think a similar process would be done using the primal technique, would it not? Relax, describe the scene in the dream, get back there as much as possible, let yourself go back into the feeling, etc. Whatever the precise style of primalling is, at one point, to «… get back to the FEELING of the dream…», the patient will need to «… TALK TO THE MONSTER!… or DO TO THE MONSTER WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO!»

    Then please explain: why expressing feelings while sleeping is «brain manipulation» and doing it in a primal session is not?

    Charles-Gilles Massé


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.