Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Let's Stop Psychologic Creationism

If we do not understand the evolution of the brain, we are little more than creationists, believing that the unconscious was installed in us by some force—God, nature or whatever—and there is nothing we can do about it.Therefore, we don’t touch it, and don’t go near it for fear of rattling the demons first put there by the religionists to keep parishioners in fear and therefore under control. “If you don’t behave and pray enough, those demons will get you.”

The Freudian twist is, “If you insist on going into the past, the demons will catch up with you and destroy your mind.” It is a turn on the old religious notion of the 1800s. That is one reason therapists stay away from it. But if they were ever to disregard that warning and let patients slip into their past, they would see what lies in the unconscious. What they would find is nothing more than our history, laid out in order from the present to the most remote, including birth and womb-life. And it would not be approximate; it would be precise, with memories lying in storage waiting their turn to be connected to conscious awareness.

And while we are on the subject of awareness, allow me to say that one central difference between the Primal and other insight approaches is the matter of consciousness. They reason that the unconscious did not result from specific events in our lives but from some genetic source that is never too specific. Yes, there are genetic forces, but let us not confuse nine critical months of life in the womb with genetic forces. Without a ground in evolution, we can never comprehend how neurosis evolves, and how a proper psychotherapy is neurosis in reverse, addressing the painful imprints in the reverse order in which they were laid down—not just addressing pain from our childhood, but also from infancy and most importantly, from our womb-life. And it’s not just addressing those events from the adult standpoint, but far more importantly, reliving those events with the brain that was the highest level of neural organization at the time. We had a brain in the womb that was capable of registering noxious events such as pain, coding and imprinting them, and keeping them for a lifetime. And those events direct our lives decades later.

Once we have a firm grasp on history and its evolution, we will know that addressing mental illness is not a matter of just understanding it but being immersed in it, submerged in our history, in its feelings, ceding to its power until words will no longer suffice. Words will simply not do the job; in fact, words are the antithesis of cure, inimical to any therapeutic progress,as odd as that sounds. Therein lies the rub. For it means flouting the Freudian warning about plunging patients into the deep unconscious, an unconscious, Freudians say, that will irrevocably disturb the psyche. And it is this caveat, along with many other equally wrong ones, that have kept the practice of psychotherapy in the dark ages, believing there are dark forces that propel us here and there beyond our control. It takes one to know one;

I practiced Freudian-oriented psychotherapy for many years. One key reason I did so was that there was relatively no other avenue for the practice of dynamic psychotherapy. At least Freud posited an unconscious, and were he alive today, I am sure he would not be a Freudian. I have said that we can only heal where we were wounded. We know now that emotional wounds lie deep in the brain outside of conscious/awareness. They are impressed low into the brain system long before we have words to describe them. We can heal those wounds if we can address them directly and not have to travel through a labyrinth of words. Theories have an evolution. Let us not stay “stuck in the past” to a theory frozen in time that has not basically changed or advanced. Freudian theory has seen very little change in 100 years. The attempt to take a current theory and attach it to a past frame of reference is taking a new science and attach-ing it to an old theory that is not longer valid. That is not progress. As I said earlier, if Freud were alive today, I doubt if he would be a Freudian. Can we imagine any other branch of medicine still in the grips of the science of the 1920s? Freud wrote his major, Interpretation of Dreams, at the beginning of the last century. Surely there has been a bit of progress since then.


  1. An email comment:
    "Wow! That was a PARTICULARLT GOOD ONE!!! I really like how you broke all that down. Lance the wound... Don't "discuss it". But people do need talk therapy to communicate better with others. Express their needs in a more productive way, etc...

  2. Another email comment:
    "Art...I didn't read this...yet. I just want you to know I feel love for you...or whatever it's called...jezzzus...I really do...my own personal wacked out shrink semi-virtual friend. What can I say. Keep writing"

  3. Dr. Janov,

    you write, what I think and feel!
    I hope many of this creationistic gurus read it!!!

    May I have your permission to translate “Let's Stop Psychologic Creationism” in to German?

    Thanks for your answer,

  4. Art

    Of course... evolution is fantastic and it carries with it something amazing to experience... "love". But we are probably already victims for the concept... what love provides in terms.
    It seems impossible to have love as an expression as the explanation of the human history... impossible because there are as many interpretations of love as there are people.
    If we look at the awareness and consciousness and see it for what it represents in its concept... I mean… consciousness for not being conscious and awareness as a defense against consciousness.
    This is what first must have its scientific solution before we can continue the debate of what the “psychological” issue contains... the evolutionary question.

    Art... this is really something you put your finger on.

  5. Sieglinde: yes of course you can. art janov

  6. I understand life is a goal in itself, and this breakingthrough therapy unclenches the pain defenses so that one can experience life as it is. But would you say Primal Therapy may have any type of influence on enhancing inbuilt remote viewing/spiritual insight capabilities? I mean, can I recover , so to speak, past life memories/painful experiences? Did you have that chance with any of your patients? Lots of love. Lars


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.