Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Insanity in the Treatment of Insanity

I read something in a respected scientific journal that set my hair on fire. I wonder how long it will be until shrinks catch on to science; to neurology and evolution. An understanding of these would prevent a lot of the current nonsense in psychotherapy. A case in point: the article, “At Risk for Psychosis” (in the sept/oct issue of Scientific American Mind ( The reason my hair is burning is not because they are incorrect and unscientific but because so many will go on suffering due to this lack of understanding. It isn’t just some shrink missing the point; it is that this kind of therapy is a waste of time and misleading.

So what is it? It is this: “In one type of therapy practitioners encourage patients to look for evidence supporting their delusions.” If it is a delusion and is false, why would we force the patient to look for supporting evidence? Unless of course we think it is all in the mind, this psychosis, and therefore we can convince her otherwise. It is, they reason, just a matter of illogic logic. We straighten out their ideas and voila, all is well.

So first let us look at psychosis. We know now that many kinds of psychosis derive from imprints very early in our lives; for example, a smoking pregnant mother can lead to later psychosis in her child. But there are many studies indicating that how the mother feels and the drugs she takes while carrying can have serious adverse effects on the offspring. An anguished mother can lead to sexual dysfunction and mental disorders years later. That is, those early memory/imprints are the most powerful because they impact the developing brain and its effects on the organ systems, and because they are often a matter of life and death. When a mother is heavily anesthetized while giving birth, that drug overpowers the neonate and leaves a lasting impression. It weakens the child and makes her vulnerable to disease later on. When there is later trauma, psychosis could be on result. But mental psychosis is only one of many options in reacting to trauma. We can go crazy in our body, as well.

First let us look at this brain of ours. We know through my writings, that there are three distinct levels of brain function: the brainstem, limbic system and cortical-thing/believing one. They all have the capacity of reacting to early pain in very different ways. When there is early pain engraved while we are being carried, the pain is first registered and then moves upwards in an attempt to connect to its cortical/comprehending counterpart. Unfortunately, repression blocks its travel and keeps it hidden. There are many more neural pathways leading upward than downward. The route for the neural circuits, therefore, is one way, not a two way street. More information flows upward toward conscious connection than downward. In brief, contrary to cognitive therapy and its offshoot sisters, ideas do not change feelings; rather, feelings move upward and change ideas. This is what it is meant to be in terms of evolution. The lower brain levels predate later ones by millions of years. The earlier ones are survival systems, don’t forget. They are meant to be strong and invulnerable. If they could change easily or were weak, our survival would be threatened. In most primates this abundance of neural cells leading from the amygdala to the cortex is evident. And those higher level connections are found almost throughout the whole neocortex. There is a range of brainstem connections to higher cortical centers, as well. This includes the locus coeruleus which in some respects is the terror center of the brain (at least one of them). Here again we begin to understand how a lower site, the locus coeruleus, connects higher up and drives obsessions and paranoid ideas. It is what keeps awake at night ruminating about hurts or imagined hurts. It is these projections to higher areas that can account for delusions when the lower level is triggered by current events; a rejection or an insult. When a patient relives what I call first-line, brainstem imprints, he can stop his ruminations and delusions. It is how we know, among many other ways, how lower level imprints drive higher level thoughts.

The work of Dr. Jaak Panksepp (author of Affective Neuroscience) is most relevant here. He demonstrates how the brain circuits are more plentiful and move upward and forward rather than downward. This is especially true of the feeling structures such as the amygdala which has its circuits reaching upwards toward the neocortex. There are other scientists (Luiz Pessoa), who demonstrate how certain structures are suppressed; they are recruited by feelings and thereby diminish cognitive/insight/understanding. In short, feelings reign over thoughts. If we want to understand psychology we must first understand how the brain works and how evolution is built into our human brain development.

Contrarily there is evidence now to show how cortical/insight/thoughts can suppress feelings. There are structures alongside the temple of the brain that have to do with integration of feelings; that is the orbitofrontal area.

From this structure there are relatively few networks leading down to feeling centers. Let’s not drown the fish. Feelings drive thoughts much more than thoughts drive feelings. This should undermine the cognitivists, but it doesn’t. We will see in a moment why this is so important in alleviating suffering.

Feelings are genetically coded to unravel and appear on a timetable to help us survive. That is why they are so strong. They boost alertness and vigilance and keep us aware. And they work in see-saw fashion with awareness. The hyperawareness we see can ultimately suppress feelings for a time. Too much arousal can shut down feelings and put us over the feeling/primal zone.

OK, let’s get down to the business at hand. In this piece on psychosis in the Scientific American Mind, they want to have the patient gather evidence to support his delusions. They think that if they crack their intellectual defense it can lead the patient to logic so that he can see his craziness. “So you see, there is no reason to think that way.” But there is and it is not faulty logic; it is created to push down the powerful feelings. A way to bind that energy and keep it logical. That is the point, isn’t it? The paranoia is trying to use his inherent logic to make sense out of his feelings.

Let’s share the framework: feelings/sensations with great power are engraved into the brain and physical system. Their powerful force moves toward connection.
They can go all the way to the top in our therapy or they can be blocked at certain levels. When blocking occurs against this massive force, the body and its cells can go crazy. In other words, there are many ways to go crazy and cancer is one of them; where the integrity of the cell implodes and overspills its boundaries. Or some of that power reaches higher up and stimulates the production of ideas—of paranoid ideation. It is the same impressed pain extending to different areas. Here feelings move toward the higher levels and gather up ideas to deal with them. Thus early trauma and lack of love move around in the brain and force sometimes elaborate thoughts—they are coming to get me and want to kill me. I have seen enough of this to lead me to know that some devastating feelings are behind those thoughts. “I am dying in the womb” may be the real feeling, and the delusions is “they want to kill me”. In any case, despite the rhetoric, death is the end result.
The delusion about “they” is just the ginger bread covering the feeling. The important part is dying. And is why if want to get to causes we need to explore the deep-lying terror. It is never a matter of logic and illogic. Illogic is often forced by imprints.

The delusion is an outgrowth of a terrible feeling; it is designed as part of a defense. To spend time changing the defense is a useless enterprise.  The problem is feelings, not ideas the patient has concocted. Why does he have those feelings and what are they; not why does he think like that? Where do those thoughts come from? If that question is not considered, the patient will go on suffering. It should be very clear how strange ideas arrive when we give delusional patients strong medication that works on lower brain areas and it stops their delusions. We don’t really touch ideational areas of the brain yet they change radically. Clearly it is the lower centers that send messages higher up to distort thinking and create paranoid ideas.

What the current researchers want to do is create another diagnosis in the diagnostic manual called, attenuated psychosis syndrome. How that helps is beyond me, except that it gives the inventor some cachet? It is psychosis but not really. It is all couched in behavioral terms such as (and I am not kidding) hallucinations or delusions once a week; you or a loved one is bothered by your symptoms, symptoms have appeared or worsened in the past year; and above all, no other disorder can explain the problem.

They want to ape medical diagnosis where if you get headaches more than once a week you have the migraine syndrome. And how is it that my diagnosis depends on whether someone else is bothered by it?

There is nothing, nothing about the patient and her history; just behavior. But of course what else could we expect from cognitive/behaviorists? Now as to why patients are required to gather evidence for their delusions, I am at a loss. But if you assume ideas are the problem and not the history behind them, then you might agree with all this. And allow the patient to spend his time in the futile search for supporting evidence. It is all about suppressing symptoms, suppressing behavior. It is assumed by them that the ideas are what’s wrong instead of seeing what caused those ideas; but if you believe in cognition alone, then of course there is no higher place to go than ideas. If you believe that ideas emanate from nowhere, as you must if you believe in the cognitive approach, then you may focus only on ideas. No deeper force exists for them. It is all part of the “mindfulness” approach; it is all in your head and it is that head we must deal with. Only those bereft of feelings and unattached to their history could think that way. They personally skim the surface and so does their therapy.


  1. Hi Art,

    -"When a patient relives what I call first-line, brainstem imprints, he can stop his ruminations and delusions"-.

    To an extent I seem to be experiencing something similar by reliving my 2nd line traumas.

    Also, by working through my 2nd line my 1st line symptoms are becoming much more obvious.

    Paul G.

  2. Art: It's all so simple, but therein is the problem; simplicity cannot (they say) be the answer. They/we are looking in the wrong place,; that is the shrinks. I am trying to think of a convenient analogy and the only one that comes to mind is we're looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

    All I know is, feelings are the Royal Road to understanding and recovery. Problem for the shrinks is that feelings are way too ephemeral for them to get their hands on. It may turn out that brain scan (MRI) led us down Alice's rabbit hole where we meet only the Mock Turtle or the Queen of Hearts. Que lastima.


  3. How shall a professor with moral values ever be able to "understand" a behavior in which a man dresses in a woman’s panties... in attempt to satisfy the need for his mother… in that stage understand what the tone for the need of what mom means... in confusion of the "intensity"... the tone his patient releases the pressure by the need of dressing in women's panties? The twisted interpretation is probably what all of those "professors" in the psychological field perceive as such. Help fails ... help as the primal centers can offer.
    I am looking for legal arguments... help me? I do not think that only the scientific facts will suffice in a legal process... we need arguments that struck recognize... victims who are presumed to be those that make revolution possible.


  4. on this topic, can i recommend a book to everyone? i picked it up today for a buck at my local Dollar Tree, called "Unhinged-the trouble with psychiatry-a doctor's revelations about a profession in crisis", by psychiatrist Daniel J. Carlat, MD; published just last year, 2010; so far i've just skimmed it, but it seems to be addressing some of the same points, albeit from a different perspective.

  5. Hello Art and everyone,

    I think I can do a simple summary for what's going on:

    The neurotic suffers from compulsive thoughts driven by the lower brains. The cognitivist thinks you can talk the compulsions out of existence by sending new thoughts down to the lower brain, from the higher brain, to 'rationalise' the lower brain.
    But what the cognitivist does not understand is that at best the higher brain does not send new commands down to the lower brain (with respect to neurotic dynamics), but merely creates back-pressure from more thinking to suppress the original bottom-up signal that came from the lower brain.

    So again, the 'new' thinking just creates back pressure and in turn more repression - nothing is resolved. The basic status of the lower brain remains the same and as you have indicated, Art, that back-pressure just backfires into new/more physiological symptoms.

    Cognitivsts don't know this because they don't realise that the lower brain is first driven by unconscious pain and not ideas - the unconscious pain being that 'immortal' third party. And you have to bring that third party into consciousness for the real "neurological conversation" to begin. Only then can you put the (otherwise) conciousness pain signal in its proper (non-historic) place.

    Just another way of saying it!

  6. Hi,

    Also wanted to comment that I found it curious that there are more lines going bottom-up than top-down. It fits in well with how I see the human mind:

    Think of a man controlling a spot-light. The spot light is the intellect that illuminates what it's being pointed at, and the controller is the more primary or 'feeling' mind behind it. The controller is the "mind behind the mind".

    I think what makes many intellectuals "stupid" is not their inability to illuminate, but their inability to know what they should be pointing their spotlight at in the first place. From my casual observation those left-brainer's are too often looking at all the wrong things!

    I really do believe that the most important intelligence lies not so much our ability to think, but the ability to know what we should even be thinking about. And you certainly can't measure that dynamic what we call an IQ test.

  7. "It should be very clear how strange ideas arrive when we give delusional patients strong medication that works on lower brain areas and it stops their delusions."

    each medication comes with a ton of documentation which could prove that neurotic behaviour and beliefs are started by lower brain signals.

    if we wanted to build a case for primal therapy, those documents might be a good place to start. at the very least, they might generate some interest.

  8. Frank: LIFE BEFORE BIRTH should answer a lot of your questions. art. out in bookshops Oct 7

  9. Andrew: GEE why didn't I think of that. art

  10. A facebook comment: "I guess Mr Janov is just using the figure of hyperbole.As otherwise,i cannot understand how Janov, of all people,gets so badly affected when a neurotic behaves as such.Just cool down, Mr Janov,and allow me to put the fire out of your hair.Done.Jesus, man, you are going to get us worried.Getting as worked up as a neurotic who just missed the last bus to heaven.And now only buses to hell are about."

  11. To all:

    Some extra spices for the subject: The Insanity in the Treatment of Insanity

    If you have mild cognitive impairment, use the new Insulin nasal spray!!!

    I recently heard about a new Alzheimer's treatment, a nose spray containing insulin. How does it work and is there an Alzheimer's nose spray available?
    Insulin nasal spray could delay the decline of cognitive function in those with Alzheimer's and mild cognitive impairment, according to a new study. ...

    The pharmaceutical industry seams to be in desperate need of new money.


  12. if a patient has a strong false belief of forceps, he could develop bruises on his head, similar to the blisters caused by the false belief of a hot coin. this is a clear example of the brain stem reacting to a message from the neocortex.
    art, you say the primal therapist does not put suggestions in the patient's head. that's good. but look - the patient's neocortex is already full of false suggestions. and as i have pointed out above, a false suggestion can be sent to the brain stem. does it make any difference whether the suggestion comes from the patient or the therapist?
    while the patient is regressing, you must not allow him to send false suggestions down to his brain stem. if this happens you will end up with abreaction or psychosis. right?
    (art sighs and says "richard, give me a break")
    you can have a break art. swallow a throat lozenge. i don't need an answer to this question. it's just very interesting to me. i'm sure you've got it all worked out.

  13. Richard: Hey give me a break. AJ. This has never happened so don't get so intellectual on me. Let's talk about the real world.

  14. Hi Andrew,

    -"I think what makes many intellectuals "stupid" is not their inability to illuminate, but their inability to know what they should be pointing their spotlight at in the first place. From my casual observation those left-brainer's are too often looking at all the wrong things!

    I really do believe that the most important intelligence lies not so much our ability to think, but the ability to know what we should even be thinking about"-.

    How very true.

    I am really interested in what happens to me when I do carpentry. As an occasional instructor I try to help novices understand the following:

    When I arrive in the workshop in the morning, despite having worked out what I want to do the evening before (and set up some of it ready), I am dissociated and cannot easily slip into any of the multitude of tasks I need to start the new day with, though I had it all worked out the evening before.

    What seems to help is beginning to discriminate between the tools I need and the tasks to do. This is the dichotomy between function and purpose. I also sussed out I need my reading glasses on to think this way as well!

    I know the how and I also know the why but actually the two aren't working together so I have to go through this rigmarole of pondering each to get them to marry. Sweeping up and making tea and getting the tools out and all that 'prep' helps (free association).

    These two: "Function & Purpose" are bedfellows but they don't co-operate. The 'path of least resistance' allows for a departmentalisation to occur in which function becomes one persons' job and purpose another. . .
    These two departments then refuse to co-operate because "IT" is more than "The Jobs-Worth". . .

    So the jobsworths begin this debate in which the purpose gets lost in a discussion about the function (of the smaller parts). This way the jobsworths end up in the office on a higher wage doing procurement because they are so good at arguing their way out of one "IT" into another "IT".

    What, I ask is "IT"?

    Well, "IT" is the responsibility to actually be present to the purpose rather than argue about the function. . .

    Purpose is like Consciousness and Function is like Awareness. We can be functional but that does not necessarily make us conscious of purpose. Sadly it is in my experience always the intellectuals who have turned my workshop into a talking shop and made arguments about the 'how' whilst completely forgetting the 'why'.

    Paul G.

  15. ok art. you know my intellect can't wait to see the real world. for now, it tends to sniff out any little contradiction and hangs on to it like a pitbull. i get bored of my own intellect.

    my thoughts have been racing all night long. when i finally fall asleep i fall straight into a nightmare. i've been getting about three or four hours of sleep each night. normally i get more than that. sometimes i go on the internet. every night there are hundreds of insomniacs in the yahoo chat rooms (all-nighters). they are the high-speed zombies of the night. fast furious conversations. very few of them can stop and reflect on anything. they don't ask many questions. they just try to make fun and ignore anyone who doesn't go with the flow. it's very sad. there's a whole world of pain out there.

    btw i hope you can appreciate andrew's ability to take your words and reduce them to a foolproof explanation. he turns a whole chapter into a fast furious conversation. not an easy thing to do. but his writing style would never work in a chat room. that's where your style is more likely to succeed. i see the merits in both.

  16. Hi,

    -"ok art. you know my intellect can't wait to see the real world. for now, it tends to sniff out any little contradiction and hangs on to it like a pitbull. i get bored of my own intellect".

    Turing, the WW2 code breaking mathematician said that you can solve a problem by identifying the contradictions. Something like that. I know for sure this is true.

    I suppose, on reflection that the contradictions begin to occur when mere existence (function, 1st line) starts to run at odds with its' own expression (2nd line) and worse, it's own self reflection (3rd line). . .

    Without a teacher who understands the evolutionary way we evolve through these developmental stages and the conflicts that emerge along the way,(should be our parents) we end up adults in need of experts like Art to teach us how to unravel our own knots for our selves. A longer attendance at the clinic is better than a shorter one so I am told.

    Insight is not enough.

    Paul G.


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.