Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Examination of Psychoanalysis (Part 5/13)

  To cure someone of neurosis , a patient's inner reality has to be accepted as true on some level.
If the childhood seductions did not occur on a physical level (which they do, all too frequently), then they occurred on an emotional level. The adult with memories of childhood seduction was seduced. As a child he was repeatedly seduced into fulfilling the needs and expectations of the parent, rather than freely being himself. He was repeatedly seduced into acting, speaking, walking, thinking, behaving in whatever ways appeased and satisfied the parent. This kind of covert seduction might be even more harmful than "real" seduction because it is so insidious. Under the guise of parental authority and obedience, the child develops neurotic fears and problems "for no apparent reason." The child feels violated, but he is told that this is what it means to be a good boy. The child has no choice but to feel that all of his fears are without cause -- because the cause is unadmitted. Most parents are guilty of imposing their own wills and needs, of repeatedly manipulating their children to be what they never were and to do what they never did. If Freud's concept of unconscious wishes does indeed enter the picture, it enters it on the side of the parent, not of the child. It is the parent's own unconscious wishes that are picked up by the child and later contribute to the development of his neurosis.

The significance and ramifications of Freud's move away from the real-life trauma of the seduction theory to the hypothesized wishes of the libido theory. A fascinating but controversial insight into the possible hidden motivations for Freud's theoretical shift has been provided by Jeffrey M. Masson ’s book , The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984) ., Masson argues convincingly that Freud abandoned the seduction theory out of a misguided desire to protect both himself and his friend Fleiss. . Apparently, Fleiss had bungled an operation on one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein. The operation had been undertaken because of Fleiss' dubious and bizarre theory that sexual problems could be cured through nasal surgery. Eckstein suffered from profuse bleeding as a result of the operation, during which she nearly died.
In an article in The Atlantic Monthly of February 1984 which excerpted his book, Masson writes:

Freud had the option to recognize (his and Fleiss's mistake), confess it to Emma Eckstein, confront Fleiss with the truth, and face the consequences. Or he could protect Fleiss by excusing what had happened. But in order to do this, to efface the external trauma of the operation, it would prove necessary to construct a theory based on hysterical fantasies, a theory whereby the external traumas suffered by the patient never happened, and were inventions. If Emma Eckstein's problems (her bleeding) had nothing to do with the real world (Fleiss's operation), then her earlier accounts of seduction could well have been fantasies.
As Masson points out, once Freud had decided that Eckstein's hemorrhages were hysterical symptoms and the result of sexual fantasies, he was free to give up his original seduction theory. Masson traces Freud's struggle with the issue of real versus fantasized trauma and notes that in 1897 Freud was beginning to recognize that children have aggressive impulses towards their parents. Of course, says Masson, if seductions had actually occurred, then these impulses were natural and righteous reactions to unbearable injury. But once Freud became convinced that the seductions were only fantasies -- that the parents were innocent --then impulses took over from seduction in Freud's theories.
An act was replaced by an impulse, a deed by a fantasy. This new " reality" came to be so important for Freud that the impulses of parents against their children were forgotten, never to reclaim importance in his writings. It was not only the aggressive acts of the parent that were attributed to the fantasy life of a child; now aggressive impulses, too, belonged to the child, not the adult.
Not surprisingly, Jeffrey Masson's reinstatement of the seduction theory met with resistance from the psychoanalytic community. He quotes a letter from Anna Freud, with whom he apparently had a number of disagreements over his disclosures. Anna Freud wrote:
Keeping up the seduction theory would mean to abandon the Oedipus complex, and with it the whole importance of phantasy life, conscious or unconscious phantasy. In fact, I think there would have been no psychoanalysis afterwards.
As Masson points out, this is a crucial point because most therapies "are based openly or implicitly, on Freudian theory."
Masson does not think that Freud made a conscious cold-blooded decision to ignore his earlier experiences. Nevertheless, he believes that, in doing so, Freud had forsaken the important truth "that sexual, physical and emotional violence is a real and tragic part of the lives of many children."
If this etiological formulation is true, and if it is further true that such events form the core of every severe neurosis, then it will be impossible to achieve a successful cure of a neurosis if these central events are ignored.
Masson further says that any analyst who turns memories into fantasies "does violence to the inner life of his patient and is in covert collusion with what made her ill in the first place." Success in the terms of such a treatment is measured in the ability of the patient to suppress her memories and knowledge of the past and to believe that the emotions which overwhelm her are displaced. This means a denial of self and a denial of reality, which spells the end of the patient's independence, since her health is tied to the analyst's view of her. Masson is led to condemn psychoanalysis because "the silence demanded of the child by the person who violated her is perpetuated and enforced by the very person to whom has come for help."

Masson writes:
Free and honest retrieval of painful memories cannot occur in the face of skepticism and fear of the truth. If the analyst is frightened of the real history of his own science, he will never be able to face the past of any of his patients.
It is conceivable that this concept could be expanded to include not the analyst’s fear of his science as much as his past. In fact, it may be the analyst’s need to deny his own pain, which keeps him from admitting the trauma-filled pasts of his patients.

In Freud's seduction theory, sexual assault is always the central event in the etiology of neurosis. Today it is acknowledged in many schools of psychotherapy that though sexual assault happens frequently and exerts a devastating influence, it is no t the sole cause of debilitating neurosis. Any serious deprivation, neglect, or abuse of basic needs during childhood is a trauma , which leads to neurosis in adulthood. Nevertheless the results of Freud’s misguided theory has resonated in psychology for years. As Masson writes in The Atlantic Monthly:
By shifting the emphasis from an actual world of sadness, misery, and cruelty to an internal stage on which actors perform invented dramas for an invisible audience of their own creation, Freud began a trend away from the real world which, it seems to me, is at the root of the present-day sterility of psychoanalysis and psychiatry throughout the world.
Masson's work confirms our belief that psychoanalysis failed because it attributed neurosis to the wrong causes and in some cases, . In fact, it attributed it to causes that do n’t exist. This was a mistake , which helped set psychotherapy on its misguided course -- on a course , which led away from a dialectical approach to healing neurosis. When subsequent theorists rejected its focus and method , they buried Freud’s important notions. Instead of returning to identify where psychoanalysis veered off track, they shut the door, turn ing their backs on not only the past of their science, but the past of their patients as well.
By abandoning the seduction theory, Freud ensured the failure of his treatment by handing his critics a justification for rejecting psychoanalysis. Today modern Freudians have shifted toward the present by adopting “ego psychology,” an approach that focuses on t he present day adjustments of the patient, beginning a steady march into non-dynamic , here and now theories and methods , which discounted the unconscious and steered away from addressing the generating sources of neurosis.


  1. Hi Art,

    Your articles regarding “An Examination of Psychoanalysis” could not have come at a better time from a motivational and educational point of view. I am very pleased to have undergone PT, to have had the opportunity to apply and deepen my experience as a father during 16-17 years and during a considerable time to have been experiencing the traditional psychotherapy’s fear and reactionary approach and also seen the outside world’s fear and skeptisism for those who dared to feel and to live their pain. Of course, writing about my lifelong experience of epilepsy, pain and neuroses has enabled me to confront my different memories on all levels.

    The world's reaction is a reflection of the repression being implemented by most (cognitive) psychotherapists. In your text, you are referring to the analyst's fear of his past, which will keep him from admitting the trauma-filled past of his patiens. The outside world (the people I meet) fears those who believe in the reverse evolution. As a primal person, we are different. Those neurotics who carry great pain are withdrawing and many others who have a latent pain are on guard. The interesting thing about my view of the neuroses I am meeting, is that they make me feel and experience my neurotic behavior (which I’m aware of) in many past situations, which I then “knew” to be crazy, but which I could defend verbally and intellectually until the world gave up ... . In a sane world there is no capacity for neurotic constriction and corruption! However, sometimes I can miss my neurotic behavior, but only for a few seconds until I feel how much more relaxed and healthy I feel acting in a real way...

    Jan Johnsson

  2. An email from Jan: "My view on my epilepsy is that I have conquered it! To be on guard I consider myself an epileptic! What has happend a few times during 2011 is that I, in a dream, can sense that I will have a fit and a kind of mini tickle passes through my frontal lobes. With my studies and tests of seizures I know what the tickles are. For somebody else it would be like an itching anywhere on the body.
    I'm living a normal life, hiking in the mountains and keeping myself fit. If I drunk, smoked and lived a more sloppy life it is possible that I could have a seizure. After my last big batch of primals 2-3 years ago, when a lot of neurosis were relived and dissolved, I have not experienced any hallucinations and petit mals.
    The second title of my book will be "Demystifying my Epilepsy". That is exactly what You an PT have helped me to do. It is so much more than the seizures which need to be explained and felt. Epilepsy was part of my physiologic and neurotic package which I developed.
    To say that PT has helped me conquer my epilepsy is in no way an exaggeration. Quite the contrary.

  3. An email comment:"what is often also done is that professors, and I have had this happen to me, will tell you that a straightforward look at Freud's later theory can't be done without a thorough understanding of all his works and possibly a working understanding of the German language. I have found this as well in the defense of ridiculous Bible stories where again you are made to feel intellectually foolish to think you know anything without a thorough reading of the entire Bible, thousands of commentaries, and a working knowledge of several ancient languages. The authoritarian stance often leaves a student feeling puzzled and mystified, and I have seen this through out the educational system as I experienced it as well. I remember asking a teacher how we can say Columbus discovered the Americas when there were already people here... I was told to "shut up David, Columbus discovered American". Couldn't they have said that perhaps he was one of the first Europeans to discover America??? Rationality is missing in our schools Art, and text books are under assault right here in Texas... BIZARRE..."

  4. Another email comment (Part 1): "This is a great contribution - this particular entry (#5) but also your entire series, "An Examination of Psychoanalysis."

    I agree with everything you say here, and largely with Jeffrey Masson's arguments as well. I think you are right to give him credit for recognizing the folly of Freud's rejection of the Seduction Theory, and you are also right to make sure to note that not all childhood trauma involves sexual abuse (though surely some of it does), but rather a range of forms of emotional abuse, some of which may have sexual aspects even if they don't involve overt sexual abuse. I think that some parents inflict on their children a psychological form of sexual abuse that may not involve direct acting-out but seductive kinds of behavior that are tantamount to sexual abuse in, as you say, their insidiousness (which may make them even worse).

    I also agree with your criticisms of some latter-day Freudians who have taken up the mantle of here-and-now "ego psychology." I would say, however, that I've seen a few good signs of maturation - and acceptance of the realities you point out in this post - in the neo-Freudian movement generally known as "Relational Psychoanalysis." The best writer in Relational Psychoanalysis, in my view, is the late Stephen Mitchell, who wrote some very good books including "Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis."

    To Mitchell's credit, he's a Neo-Freudian who seems to have adopted an approach a good deal closer (at least from within the realm of Freudian psychoanalysis) to yours in the following respects: Real regard for the patient's reality; acceptance of the primacy of past experience and the need for exploration of the unconscious, including memories and attendant feelings; a move away from the authoritarian and distant role for the therapist, as it calls for more authentic engagement of the therapist but without trying to fill unmet needs in so doing - rather letting the relationship between patient and therapist be a conduit for deeper awareness on the part of the patient on how this reflects his/her own past relations with parents and the traumas that occured. The "transference work" he discusses seems less overly intellectualized or mystified than is typical in classical psychoanalysis, and done more for the simple purpose of helping the patient better grasp his/her own deep experience of his/her own past traumas.


  5. Part 2: "While Mitchell's version of Relational Psychoanalysis lacks the most direct, liberating emphasis on experiencing of early traumas and full expression of the levels of feeling that occured back then (even those that were UNconscious then), there is enough openness and integrity in their approach, I think, that something similar happens in this form of treatment, at least from time-to-time. It's not Primary Therapy, it's not rigorous in that way, of course. But it's a kind of Psychoanalysis that at least corrects many of the misapprehensions of strict Freudianism and its modern offshoots...in so doing, I think patients probably do benefit more, and have experiences that help them to regain more of a capcity to feel, with some memories/feelings arising from past traumas.

    Again, this doesn't nearly fulfill the criteria you've developed regarding Primal Therapy (and I doubt any of the patients get to any "first-line" experiences, since their theory doesn't seem to touch on this area - unsurprisingly), but it is at least one small heartening trend within Freudian Psychoanalysis - which has veered off into so many misdirections over the past century. Mitchell's humanism and insight led him to a form of treatment at least more grounded in the patients' real experience, in the past, and in the realm of feeling rather than strictly the realm of intellectual insight or phony cognitive shifts masquerading as real change. I give him credit for those contributions, and his basic human decency and a good deal of wisdom is apparent in his written works. It's unfortunate that he suddenly died at such a young age - I believe he had a heart attack in his early 50s. Perhaps he would have eventually found his way to an even deeper and more effective approach that would have been closer to Primal Theory / Therapy.

    Essentially, I wondered if you had come across any of Dr. Mitchell's work and considered Relational Psychoanalysis from the perspectives of Primary Theory.

    Thank you for taking time on your blog - I always find it interesting, engaging, and challenging. I wish you all the best in all aspects of your important work.

    Best regards,

    New York, NY

    [I am a writer on psychology and mind-body health, and I also work with cancer patients to find integrative therapies that work (my service is called "Cancer Guide Consultations.") My most recent book, from 2001, is "MIND-BODY UNITY: A New Vision for Mind-Body Science and Medicine," published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2001. I write a great deal there about the role of mind and emotions in cancer and heart disease, with strong emphasis on the scientific research that has helped prove and explain how mind-body relationships influence the initiation and progression of these (and other) diseases. Much of this discussion involves the field of "psychoneuroimmunology" - with its plumbing the depths of how the Brain and Immune System are utterly interconnected.]"

  6. Hi,

    It is more than interesting to listen to Arts' Primal evaluation of other theories and practices. The science he informs us with seems consistent and offers a broad range of new research in many other scientific fields with potentially comprehensive outcomes. Nevertheless, as my body-work therapist said when I put him onto this blog:

    "Too many words, we all know the theory anyway". . .

    Annoying half truth, or do I mean 3rd truth.

    One third of the truth is in the way the 3rd line part of our triune brain can function seemingly 'independently' of our feelings. From one evolutionary view this makes the intellect look like a defensive outgrowth, as if the person exists behind their intellectual ramparts/castle walls/portcullises/arrow slits/turrets etc.

    I am finding out that this 3rd part of me IS part of me. I am not just an emotional entity behind it.

    An interesting observation Frank made about Jacks' challenging remarks, something like:

    -"it seem odd to use science to discredit science"-.

    Well not at all, because the 3rd line is part of the whole of us and therefore is just as validly scrutinised as any other part. I have come to see that it is possible for a greater amount of our personal living energy to be invested in the ramparts/turrets/arrow slits of our mind etc.

    A good example of this is the cult of meditation particularly that of Maharishi Mesh who I now see predominantly lived in his head. He became a figure of devotion for many who are trying to avoid pain.

    I say this because I have found that living in my head with a reflective view works as both defence and belief system simultaneously. Baron Von Munchousen.

    The key advantage of this modus operandi is in being able to 're-frame' history in order to better adapt future intent to successful outcomes. This is what I observe being the "Intellectuals' Advantage".

    In this way belief is not a system so much as a way of living 'detached' in the ramparts & fortifications of our minds. Probably unaware of the Keep (where the 1st line lives).

    The disadvantages (and they aught to be obvious to any of us who can or really do want to feel) are legion.

    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.