Monday, March 14, 2011

Is Depression a Disease like Diabetes?

So I saw a video lecture by Robert Sapolsky the neurobiologist at Stanford University about depression. Whenever anyone gets outside their field to lecture I get worried. Even when I discuss neurology you are far better off listening to someone like Sapolsky. So what does the bearded doctor say? That depression is like diabetes and is a biologic disease.

Well all diseases are biologic in the end since they effect the physiologic system. The question is, is it biologic in origin? If you don’t see what I see every day then yes you can make that mistake. But if you see patients going back in time to preverbal days to relive origins of depression then you know it is NOT a biologic disease in origin. That confusion between origins and results; making the results the cause is a very common mistake in psychology and neurology. I promise not to discuss neurology anymore if neurologists will lay off psychology. Just because a professor has a doctorate in finance doesn’t mean he can lecture in psychology. We are all smart in little ways.

So what are the hallmarks of depression?
1. a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
2. no energy. Everything is a great effort.
3. A big dark hole that one cannot crawl out of.
4. Everything is in slow motion, labored movements and shallow breathing
5. What’s the point of it all?
6. An emotional numbness
7. No joy in anything
8. No able to talk or express oneself
9. Nothing to live for
10. Extreme fatigue
11. Nothing to live for
12. Cannot concentrate
13. Wish to die
14. Lack of sexual interest
15. Total despair

I could go on. But you all fill in the blanks. Is all that caused by our biology? Watch out for cause and effect. Now the catch: all that is also what one feels during the trauma of birth; and indeed when patients relive these events they lessen their depression. All that the depressives feel had their precise beginnings during womblife and at birth.
Why? What can a fetus do when the mother smokes continuously? What can the poor guy do when the mother takes painkillers and tranquilizers every few hours. He is helpless and hopeless; there is nothing he can do. No escape. Death is near as the little system goes into alarm mode. That may be later translated into wanting to die because it is the only way to stop the pain. It is a big dark hole that he cannot climb out of. He cannot talk or scream or show his pain; no one to listen, no one to hear. No one cares. Of course there is extreme fatigue; think of the effort it takes to get born when the newborn is drugged out of his mind. There are labored movements as he can barely move at all. And on and on. You can read The Janov Solution for the long version of this discussion. But there is a cause and if you have no idea about the imprint, even though all new information supports it; and if you have no idea about how early those imprints are laid down, then of course you will confuse cause and effect and lecture about how depression is a biologic disease just like diabetes (Sapolsky’s idea). In a strange way, it is not so far off the mark. Because diabetes too is biologic but it may well be that early experience sets off this disease, as well.

You see that once you believe that, then there are only physiologic therapies such as drugs that you believe in. You eschew psychologic explanations and therapy. Worse, you no longer look for causes because, you see, you already know it is BIOLOGIC. Dr. Drew of television fame for treatment of addiction calls all this a brain disease. Of course, there are brain effects but what is the cause? Life experience, for the most part. But if you never see those experiences, hidden as they are during womblife and birth, then you have no choice but to believe it is all brain disease. But when my patients relive birth and then we see fingerprints coming up on both legs immediately afterward we know about the imprint and its enduring nature. Or when they relive anoxia at birth and then lessen their addiction we see the connection. But if you do not have the means to observe all that your conclusions will be faulty. And you will be led to believe that addiction is a brain disease.

Depression is by and large a parasympathetic reaction. I suggest reading my books for a full discussion of this but the depressive is stuck at the time when he was in the trough trying to get born; all to no avail as drugs rushed in to block his efforts, or he was strangled on the cord, or he had unavoidable trauma during womblife that left a mark on him. The system goes into parasympathetic excess or passivity in order to survive, and that survival mode, parasympathetic, endures for a lifetime. We are stuck way back there and we don’t know it. I know it and my patients know it. And now you know it. We all know it. Ahhh.


  1. Art: another great blog, BUT it seems to me no-one is getting it. As I see it, IT'S VERY SIMPLE. Unless you have RE-LIVED your pre-birth, infant, early childhood event, then these professors, scientists, university studies are talking through the top of their heads (or maybe the other end of their bodies). They don't get it because they are wrapped up in their own academia (learnedness). How does one get through to them????

    Art, I hate to say this, but you are not getting through to them. Sadly, by using their language I don't believe you are EVER going to get through to them. I am considered a NUT, even to some on this site because I say:- "the problem is in our thinking", science, studying, academics, the university system.

    It's all so simple IF you ask the right question, but these guys aren't asking the right question. They are immersed in their own learnedness and cannot see outside of it. They are stuck in their own academic box. Jack

  2. Ya know, watching science constantly resisting the obvious is endless entertainment. Thomas Szasz has many good books ripping up the field of psychology, (PT excluded by me). He is very good at showing it for the fraud it truly is. I note the tendency of psychology to refer to brain diseases, almost as if to suggest there was nothing we could do about any of it. Now, I am not one to throw stones at people or suggest they are immoral. We do not choose what happens to us that shapes us. But at the same time, I think we do have some control over our behavior. Some quite a bit and some not so much. Lots of varying degrees.

    To me, there is great interesting exploring why they resist the ideas of PT so vigorously. I have trouble believing they do not “see” it or believe it. Honestly, Arthur, you have done a very good job keeping us up to date with research and growing understanding and it is just too obvious to anyone, as is evidenced by many who post here, that there is much we can do about these so called diseases. Just think, by not admitting change, they can supply drugs, which you constantly need like fake therapy, in order to feel good. If you misbehave, they can deny our fix. The drugs have long term problems as well. They are not the answer or solution.

    But I don’t think they want a solution. They like the problems. They like keeping people confused and without direction. They keep them drugged with mindless entertainment and dumbed down educational criteria. Nobody likes a smart @$$ because they wise people up and that is not appreciated in many circles. So it is our lot to always be sort of a lunatic fringe. Only the brave need come here. And for those who like lies and sweet nothings whispered into their ears, there is always psychology, so called.

    On a more specific note, the last time I caught Dr. Drew, whose mannerisms are fairly pleasant, it seemed like he was not reigning in the “inmates” enough and as one patient put it, I have been in rehab many times and never in my life have I seen anything like this. It was mayhem. But some call that good television. But I would not be one of those.

    I have seen lot of psychologists, helpers, fixers, gurus and other such types. But I wondered at the complete lack of ground rules of some of those. Patients can be very fragile and I have seen some spoiled ones just attack many and they are seldom reigned in. It is quite the circus to watch.

    That’s “entertainment,” Arthur! You and I should be dazzled and impressed. Shame on us for not being so ;-)

  3. I was wondering Arthur, many people may not be overly interested in psychology, per say. But knowing how much primal imprints mess with sexual behavior, perhaps a book strictly about sexual problems and why they are as they are and how they are corrected, might broaden the appeal of the book a little. People are interested sex and how to fix performance and joy. I recall my cousin telling me about her girlfriend who could not have an orgasm. She would try just about anyone to see if she could get off but with no luck. We both know that her system is shutting down that response.

    But many people would like to be liberated from the prison of not being able to feel or enjoy sex. There is more incentive to pursue PT, maybe, when sex is the goal. Few want to hunt down fear and pain and face them. Many books have been written about sex but none come close to what you have discovered. You have many cases that could illustrate the very many different twists and complications of Primal Pain (PP) and their effect on sex behavior. Just something for consideration. Publicity and interest is always difficult unless you got some interesting bait. A little leverage might help offset the scale a little.

  4. I thought this was a particularily well said post, Art.

    1. You say: "I promise not to discuss neurology anymore if neurologists will lay off psychology."

    Promise nothing! Everything is connected and an "outsider" can always have something to say. A Ph.d doesn't mean you 'own' a territory.

    2. You say: "...That may be later translated into wanting to die because it is the only way to stop the pain."

    Yeah. I don't mean to get into a religious debate, but I'm suspiscious that that feeling you describe is what drives many people to be athiest - that is, they're attracted to the idea of ultimate death because it's the only way they can imagine having any kind of final peace/relief. I think people tend to pick a religion (or religious disposition) on the basis of what matches their feelings/needs etc.
    (Hmmm, maybe I should start up a cult that targets a niche neurotic market. 10% of say 200 people's income could do me quite nicely.)

  5. Richard,

    Panic is acceptable when the suffering is at its infancy... there are no distractions then.


  6. Dear Dr. Janov,
    Depression hovers over me like a dark cloud. The hallmarks of depression that you listed I experience some of them or most of them all of the time. My mother said she was given ether at the time of my birth. I am passive and in survival mode I am parasympathetic. Only after several cups of coffee in the morning do I feel artificially energized.
    I was in primal therapy in the 70's and 80's. At that time I didn't seem to have difficulty with second line feelings but with the first line I never thought that I got the help that I really needed. Does depression only get resolved through feeling birth primals? When I was in therapy I felt that I was too 'good' of a patient; i went into a feeling too quickly. Over the years I have lost access to even second line now. I hope to get to the primal center this year.
    Thank you so much for all your writing; it gives me hope.


  7. An email comment:
    "Thanks for that. I guess I'm definately not depressed. Remember Set and Setting Art? Think. Humans can, believe it or not, actually think...I defined Intellegence as the ability to derive constructive conclusions and solutions from inadequate information. Wasn't it you who ONCE wrote that integration was the beads on a string or pearls on a necklace...of thoughts, feelings, words and gestures...or something very close to that...into one loop or strand. Tryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy to remember Art. Now where oh where did I put my glasses...those feet.....ooooohhhhh...there they are. b. "

  8. Jean. We know so much more now. I hope one day you will come back and let us get to the bottom of your depression. In the old days we just did not know enough. Like science it improves a bit at a time. art janov

  9. Apollo: As it happens I wrote the book, Sex And The Subconscious, which is out in France but not yet sold in America. If not published soon I will put it out on my blog. It is a big book. AJ

  10. Another email comment: "Hi, Art once again thanks for what you wrote on depression. It's my impression, that this diagnosis, is the most common one of all. I have had the code memorized for years, 296.33. Its as prevalent as the common cold. What's unusual, is anyone getting better from it. Once your diagnosed as depressed, it's like a sentence of Doom. It's probably true that when someone gets better, through Primal Therapy, most professionals would say, that the patient has been mis diagnosed, that they never were really depressed in the first place."

  11. Labelling depression a disease like diabetes is a very convenient way to avoid feelings and real effective therapeutic relationships.So the depressed person does not have to take the risk of really opening up about their depresson, and the doctor does not have to feel any real concern or compassion; he or she can hide behind their professionnal and scientific reserve.Because, make no mistake, I am beginning to see that whatever the techniques used by a therapist, what the patient needs is an understanding and caring person to be there for them.At least that`s what I feel I need. And NOT a bunch of anti-depressant pills to gobble up.

    I have seen the disease concept used in AA for other dubious purposes. To combat the moralism alcoholics were subjected to in society , the founders of AA came up with the apparently scientific concept that alcoholism was a disease, you know, like arthritis or pneumonia. You wouldn`t judge the arthritic, so please don`t judge us drinkers, they say.I suppose that manoeuver helped. But adding to that apparently scientific orientation, AA also weirdly mixes in all this mystical nonsense about an apparent Higher Power that will save the alcoholic.And they`ve added some shallow group therapy...and voila...70 years later, a social phenomenon millions swear by despite its confusion and superficiality. AA has the merit , in my opinion at least, of having saved many lives, to bring people from what Freud called their "hysterical misery" to "common every day unhappiness" (the same modest goal as psychoanalysis).

    Dr Janov effectively debunks the disease concept of "alcoholism" in his chapter about an "alcoholic" in "The Primal Revolution".

  12. Frank, when Art uses the word "panic" he is talking about the type of panic response that will stop you from fully experiencing a memory.

  13. Yet they were blind to the simple truths like the fact that power plants are built by people who break safety rules, are strategic targets in wars, and earthquakes can ultimately be of any size etc.

    This disaster we see developing in Japan is what you get when you have a world being run by psychopaths and robot-heads who can only think with half a brain! We desperately need to start screening the madness out of both private and public power.

  14. What is the opposite of Depression?

    Gaiety, elevated?

    After having read these Reflections a couple of times and when I analyzed the opposite of all your 15 hallmarks/examples of depression, then they would all fit on me! "I wish to die", hit me when I struggled myself into pieces in the wrong direction in a project or a relationship etc. It turned up in a force to commit suicide, lasting sometimes for hours. However, there was always another way to give myself a new opportunity.
    I can now finally permit myself to be lazy, considerate(!), stupid, bored, lost after having lived the horror of the struggle for life or death being stuck in the birth canal and numb. My need to be ”gaiety”, ”elevated” has slowed down to a point that I often see or experience new perspectives of life if I allow the feelings.
    When I write this, I can remember, when my psychiatrist gave me Cipramil to get out of a "depression". It brought me straight into my birth and epilepsy, so I did not take them. (You should have seen my doctors face, when I, at my last visit, gave her 2 years of potential Cipramil consumption, in a plastic bag, at a value of 8-9.000 USD together with the Biology of Love!.)

    Jan Johnsson

  15. Marco: The one thing AA should espouse is that we are the higher power and only we can cure ourselves, not someone out in space or wherever. AJ

  16. Jean. I really think that if you read my book on depression you will begin to understand your plight. Sorry for your distress. art janov

  17. Hey Art, you got half my post up there - my editing error.

    I was making an off-topic point about left-brainer's. That is, the ones in New Zealand who were pushing for nuclear power to be introduced into our country (which is still thankfully nuclear free).

    They were so certain it was safe because of the "statistics". So clued up on the numbers, so confident, yet at the same time so bloody stupid.

  18. Dr Janov: Yes, AA should espouse what you recommend, but they won't get off their mystical nonsense for a long while because their ideology is so entrenched within their souls and in our society.And, I beleive, you clearly explained why their espousal of God or some Higher Power is so strong within them, in that great chapter "Ideas as Opiates" in Prisoners of Pain. Unfortunately I cannot as yet be as objective about these matters as you are in that chapter. Therefore I just get irritated by these references to God. I still go to AA meetings though, it may surprise some, faute de mieux (translation for the gallicly illiterate: better than nothing).If one is regularly starved for human contact, AA at least gives me one meal. Which is nice.Just please spare me the illusions that some benevolent God is watching over us! Was this God watching over the japanese victims of the tsunami, or is It watching over some of the people in the liberated zones of Lybia who now may be slaughtered if that madman Gaddafi takes over!? Ah, but reasoned arguments cannot win over the God-obsessed neurotic... I forget so easily.

  19. Thanks Art. I just finished reading The Janov Solution, your book on depression. It was very helpful; I found myself having many insights while reading it thinking that if only I had gone deeper in my therapy back in the 70's and 80's and now I realize how really stuck in birth and first line I have been. Of course I don't think the therapy had evolved to this point yet. Also, I found myself feeling more hopeless after reading your book because if I go back to primaling and to the Center(which I obviously need to do) how will I ever get through all these early birth feelings, there is so much. Back in my days of therapy buddying was greatly encouraged. I think that helped lead me to getting stuck because I was abreacting without realizing it. How does one get back to feeling first line and birth via skype. Is that not how one does therapy from afar? I live on the east coast. Back in the old days the consensus was that 'feeling one's pain and primaling' at some point became an ongoing process and that there was an end to it---this is not so.


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.