Friday, September 3, 2010

Still More on Depression

David Laplante and Michael Meaney of McGill University, Canada write the following: "We suspect that high levels of prenatal stress exposure, particularly in early in pregnancy, may negatively affect the brain development of the fetus." ("Stress During Pregnancy Affects General Intellectual and Language Functioning in Human Toddlers." David Laplante, Michael Meaney, et al, Pediatric Research, Vol. 56, No. 3, 2004.) They studied pregnant women during a severe ice storm in Canada in 1998. In this study they note: "Imprinting at birth may predispose individuals to certain patterns of behavior that remain masked throughout most of adult life." K.J.S. Anand and associates state that in a number of suicides by violent means "the significant risk factors were those perinatal events that were likely to cause pain in the newborn." (Page 70.) They also point out the pregnant women who smoked heavily had babies more prone to criminality later on. And mothers, who took drugs while pregnant, had children far more prone to drug use, both serious opiates (morphine) and speed (amphetamine). There are literally hundreds of studies now to bolster the hypothesis about early imprints, how they last, and alter our systems.

This is new material. Some 20 years ago, most of this research had not been thought of. Most clinical studies confirm what we have been saying for almost 40 years. Proof of that is now not in question among scientists. What is in question is the necessity of reliving it all. There is scarcely a psychotherapist among us who believes in the absolute necessity of reliving old events and altering their imprints, yet it is that very process that is curative. Might I say that the only process that is curative is one that deals with history and memory?

When I state that the patient "remembers" his time in the womb, we must keep in mind that memory can be something beyond verbal recall. The body remembers in its lack of oxygen, its lack of freedom to move, both in a physical and anatomical sense, its being strangled on the cord or its sense of being overwhelmed and shut down by anesthesia. Clearly, at the outset there is no intellectual recall but there is a lower brain system that has recorded the experience.

Imprints are usually not in the therapist’s lexicon; if nine months of fetal life is ignored, then there is no choice: rules and more rules, 10 or 12 steps to nirvana, etc. Feelings are the opposite of rules. Rules are one causative factor in depression. The depressive too often grew up with rules and regulations instead of warmth, kindness and caresses. They too often go to a therapy that has rules — known as behavior or cognitive therapy, an attempt to change behavior — that involves rules of conduct. The approach is basically, "Do me." It is unfortunate that in most conventional therapies the patient is "done to." It is what parents did now writ large. The person is the recipient of a variety of manipulations. When we ignore feelings, we need to be "done to." This is what happened to many of us growing up — being ordered around without regard to how we feel. It can be as subtle as never asking a child what she wants for dinner. She learns, however subtly, that her needs and feelings don’t count. We certainly do not want to compound the error.


  1. I once had a re-living experience of a very early childhood event before I knew about Primal Therapy. What I said after that experience was: "if that was a memory, then all my prior memories were not real memories." On reading "The Primal Scream" it suddenly made total sense to me, when you defined it as a "re-living". Now I see memory as a remembrance of an event with some sensations, whereas I now know that a "re-living" is to totally go back into the feeling of that old experience. A whole new and very different experience.

    What I have long tried to understand is why few understand FULLY what you have been stating, long and loud, in your writings. I have reached the conclusion that only those that have had some experience of those things, actually 'comprehend' them ... in any depth. To me that is so sad, for I see no other way to get across to humanity at large about our "neurotic" condition. In short, it is a failure of the use of words. Words are no substitute for an experience.

    For all that, I still try. My two cents worth; is to say that depression (to those who suffer it) is; old old feelings of infancy and early childhood, trying to express themselves; in order to resolve it ... finally. If only depressives knew what their depression was, it might, just might, lead to better understanding and perhaps a chance to re-live and resolve some of it's devastation. It also could help the medical profession to finally come to grips with the problem ... for which, I feel, they are floundering.

  2. Dear Art ,in reading and rereading Your article ,my female cousin`s son comes to my mind .He clearly suffered hypoxia during his birth and her`s ! -she a diabetic- .His right arm is somewhat disabled (like those monsters Stalin, german King Frederik ..) But and now a b i g but this did not prevent him to "function" very properly (girls dating ,profession career...) and to me he is -like his mother and his grandmother completely free of any signs of depression 1 Is he the proverbial exception to the rule or did he inherit their well functioning defense system .by the way -he did inherit his father's athletic phyique -contrary ton mine (204cm .Yours emanuel
    PS. In Brasilia there is a 14 years old girl with 206 cm!!!! With an adorable pretty face and publich attention ...Under 14 years old teenie You might google this girl


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.