Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Bit More on the Feeling and Non-Feeling Brain

I cannot trust it when people say they got a lot out of therapy, unless of course, they are feeling.  I can trust their right brain; it is to be trusted, like when they tell me their dreams and I know that the feelings inside doesn’t lie.  That feeling comes from the right brain.  That is why I always go for the feeling inside the dream.  It tells us where the patient is.  The story the feeling tells is just that—a story, a concoction derived from the feeling.  It is a concoction that makes rational the feeling and gives it some kind of sense; but the story is only important to help us get to the feeling.  The feeling gave birth to the story so let us not waste time on it.  Analyzing the story changes nothing because that same feeling will make up another one, and another until the feeling is felt and integrated.  No different from the obsession driven by a feeling.  “I don’t feel safe”, "I’ll be safe if I check the locks twenty times a day.”  Let us not focus on check the locks; let’s focus on feeling unsafe and why. That forms the emotional leitmotiv.

    So some say we in our therapy need to do follow up studies.  I agree, but they want self-reports from the patient re: their progress, and I say it is rarely to be trusted.  But the machines that measure feelings and pain, the blood and urine studies do not lie and reflect for us the truth inside.

Yes, it is also important for what the patient says but it must be accompanied by physiologic measurements, blood pressure, cortisol levels, heart rate, etc.

  So why the skepticism?  Because the feeling of happiness and progress in therapy is most often left brain and that can be very deceptive.  That is why using that brain to get to the past is an oxymoron.  It cannot be done; talking about the pass won’t get us to feeling.  I repeat, the ability to retrieve old memories is right brain.  It handles feelings present and past.  We need that road to go back, otherwise we are discussing the past but without feeling and experiencing it.  We are on the left road and it is not the right one, if you follow me.  Intellect and cognitive memory won’t get us there.          The problem is today in psychologic science that they won’t followup studies using the very brain that is leading us astray. And we really think  that if we discuss our past that is fine.  It is not!  It is a head trip and we have had enough of that.


  1. Art , your insistence on the uselessness of insight generation to actually restoring feeling is very important. Insights no doubt give us some hormonal buzz but ultimately only maintain the split in ourselves. I think Primal therapy is the only therapy that actually recognizes that simply thinking or talking about one's pain is a limited exercise. Yes, it is the feeling that underlies the idea (dream content) that should be our focus. I think this point of view is consistent with all of the knowledge that ethological and evolutionary approaches to psychology have offered. This is that as humans we are constituted of species-specific behavioural needs, fixed pattern actions and evolved sequences (bioprograms) that must be expressed and not disturbed if we are to live loving lives. Where these patterns are prohibited by our environments we will suffer and develop compulsions, disorders etc. that reveals necessary human sequences have been disrupted. Talking about the problem wont fix it that is for sure. Trying to reconfigure the disturbed neural circuit is the only way and to do this getting beyond the limitations of words seems really apparent.
    I am about to do some research into trichotillomania (hair pulling and eating) at Turku Univ. Finland and if ever there was a problem that told us that we need to delve below words it is this. Ancient grooming biograms are enacted here but the disorder means the grooming behaviours have become self-directed in the absence of an object (person) to whom normal loving behaviour can be directed. No amount of talking is going to fix that. In this way Art's insistence on the need to engage with the right brain at the frequency of arousal that evokes the original trauma makes so much sense to me.

  2. Art: Have you ever been interested in Wilhelm Reich's work on orgone energy and do you feel it has any importance to psychological/physiological well-being? Reich's emphasis was from outside in and not inside out but his focus on reducing muscular armour and changing the phenotype are really interesting.

  3. Will: I t was interesting many decades ago but no longer. He was onto something then got lost. Art Janov

  4. A facebook comment:
    "I hate how some people want to make everything of the story of the dream; like Jungian analysis; wallowing, indulging, analysing and attributing various things- they may as well be doing a creative writing class! When I ask them the feeling they look at me like that is trite, overly simple, beside the point. I know psychiatrists even who work like this; in private practice; even incorporating astrology. They leave people even more f--ked up than when they came in!"

  5. Will, are you saying we still have the desire to eat each other's head lice? An ancient hominid biogram for bonding and personal hygiene? If we don't have someone to groom we will turn on ourselves? I'm pulling my hair out trying to find the science behind this, and hypnosis, and psychology in general.

    Will, the psychology world is full of wild theories. I hope you are thinking without assuming.

  6. Hi,
    In our own brains there's a way information can be collected and stored like a menu. Then like a child playing at running a restaurant, we can replay that information and it finds it's way back onto the guests' plates.
    There seem s to be a tendency to continue offering some of that information to 'guests' even when more recent info supersedes the old.

    Discarding 'out of date' food (and info) is a challenge for us when we have worked so hard to acquire it. Seems a waste doesn't it?

    Thus out of date and not very nutricious food finds its' way back into unsuspecting patients 50 minute hr. I'm sure many psychotherapists know they are offering out of date food but they can't help themselves. The 'therapeutic alliance' is so well established (the guests keep coming back for more) that they have little personal choice than to continue
    with the old menu.

    There are psychotherapies that focus on feelings and sensations (Integrative Bodywork for eg) but they are still limited by the 50 minute hr.

    Eventually such out of date meals rushed through in 50 minutes will become obsolete, I hope. I certainly don't go to those restaurants any more.

    Paul G.

  7. Paul: I stopped eating at the cafe of lost souls a long time ago. AJ

  8. Art: Me too! So much "level B" knowledge is just a substitute for "level A" knowledge.

    There are a trillion ways to push back symptoms. Only one core way to address the cause. Why be an expert on the former?


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.