Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On the Use of Statistics as "Proof" of Our Ideas

Although we are accustomed to scientific references and citations in books on psychology, which wash them with a patina of legitimacy, we should not lose sight of the overarching truth—feelings are their own validation. We can quote and cite all day long but the truth ultimately lies in the experience of human beings. Their feelings explain so much that statistical evidence is irrelevant. Cognitive therapy seeks statistical truths to corroborate their hypotheses and theories; these theories are too often just intellectual constructs that do need statistical validation. Statistics help to reify non-biologic findings. In the area of mathematical abstraction we can make anything look true. Look at EMDR, a booga booga approach if there ever were one, but they have many research studies to “prove” their approach.

We are after biological truths beyond mathematical facts, a place where biology and neurology coalesce with psychology. What biopsychology studies imply is a kind of universality, a continuum, with all kinds of organic life. These studies are corollaries, not separate, inviolate realities; a kind of intellectual genuflection to the left brain, but, without contact to the right brain those realities are confined to the intellectual. Anything can be true with statistics because they ignore biologic realities; they can be manipulated any number of ways. When we take into account the neurobiological, we add the total effects of experience on all of us, everywhere. We not only see how neglect and lack of love make us behave, but also how they change our brains and body.
All this may escape those who have no access into the right brain unconscious, where history and feelings lie. Animal research is interesting, but we are not trying to understand the psyche of rats; we need to understand our own psyche by analogy or corollary. Those who suffer, who have faulty gates, have a sort of inchoate entry into the unconscious but it is not complete. We have an experimental laboratory in our clinical work, where we see the unconscious every day with patients. We do not need statistical truths. We know that if the patient is feeling this, then that is likely to happen; a replicated experiment, at its heart. When we see it over and over, hundreds of times, we have a good idea about what drives what kind of behavior, and what feelings cause which symptoms.

Yes, objective studies are helpful and necessary; they are being done by the hundreds now and supporting our work, without the primal syntax. Take for instance, the notion of the imprint; the work on methylation and acetylation are giving us a good biologic look at how the imprint is set down. They give us a precise microscopic view but neglect the macro view that would put it into context, and maybe even tells us how to change things. The imprint is now a fact, which we have seen and known about for 40 years, and it is good to have corroboration for it. But besides facts, we need truths, a frame of reference that puts it all in perspective and helps guide our future work.

Those in cognitive therapy are able to “feel better”, but confuse that with getting better because they can use language and words to suffocate pain. They use thoughts to anesthetize feelings, and imagine and think that all is well. This is reified by the doctor who also thinks that what the patient says matters—it does, but not in the way they think.

There is a world of the deep unconscious that needs to be explored, an unconscious from our animal legacy. That unconscious can never be understood in verbal language. We cannot talk to a salamander, and he therefore cannot tell us what we need to know. But wait! Yes, he can. We can communicate with it as humans through addressing the brainstem and primitive limbic system, the salamander brain in each of us. That tells us a lot. It explains so much, especially when we see rage in patients and wonder where it comes from.

If there is no place in a theory for that unconscious there is no way that one can be cured of all sorts of emotional problems; problems that may have their origin in the residue of reptilian life. To observe patients writhing in reptilian fashion when they are in the grips of an ancient brain makes all of that clear. We have measured this over and over, and filmed it to be shown in a primal documentary in process. It can never be clear so long as we remain on the cognitive level, so long as we deal with facts but no truths.  So long as we use the abstractions of statistics to support our case we are bereft of the one thing we need to truly understand what we observe: feelings.

Let us not forget that in the world of cosmology there is the discovery of dark matter that makes up the majority of what we used to call empty space. We are part of that universe; only our dark matter is called the unconscious. Heretofore, psychotherapy has dealt with only the tip of the iceberg, leaving an unexplored universe untouched. Although cosmology usually deals with the external universe, we are also part of that universe, and the laws that apply to external cosmology must also apply to us humans. After all, we are made of stardust—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, iron and other elements. Carbon, when combined with hydrogen and oxygen, form organic compounds. The laws that apply sui generis to the universe above must also apply to the universe below. There is no simple dividing line between the two.

The history of the universe abides in each of us. Nothing is lost in our evolution; we simply add on. We still have part of that ancient brain encased in our skulls. We are the history of the universe incarnate; walking archives—a fact that is largely ignored in the field of insight psychotherapy. The more we discover about the laws of the universe the more we shall learn about ourselves. The key here is that the more we travel back in personal time the more present we can be; for it is fact that the past is imprinted in our systems, and until we relive and connect it to consciousness we will be enslaved to our history. The deeper we travel into the antipodes of our unconscious, the clearer we see our ancient history. Chronic high body temperature speaks about our history; it shouts its meaning but too often remains incomprehensible to the sophisticated intellectual. Abstracted from oneself and one’s feelings usually means fixated on abstractions in psychology and medicine.
We need to consider Primal psychology a branch of cosmology—a study of the inner universe. How can we learn about the laws of human intercourse if we never delve into the dark mass of the unconscious? Otherwise, we are pushed by forces we do not understand and over which we have no control. We develop symptoms for unknown reasons, and fall ill for reasons quite mysterious. It does not have to be this way. The unconscious speaks to us all of the time in its own language; too often we do not know it for what it is, nor can we speak it, for it has nothing to do with words. Proper therapy must use non-verbal language. Migraine may speak loudly about anoxia at birth. Our salamander brain speaks to us every minute of every day. We need to listen and learn what it says, and too often it says: you are in danger.


  1. Art,

    1. what is the average reduction in cortisol in your high-cortisol patients after two years of therapy?

    2. what is the average increase in cortisol in your low-cortisol patients after two years of therapy?

    3. what is the average reduction in heart rate in your sympaths after two years?

    4. what is the average increase in oxytocin after two years?

    5. how many of your suicidal patients kill themselves after two years?

    6. what is the average reduction in blood pressure after two years?

    7. how many of your child molesters refrain from molestation after two years of therapy?

    8. how many of your alcoholics refrain from drinking after two years of therapy?



    just give me some facts. i want to chat with some politicians. politicians are surprisingly stupid. they love real facts, and they love stupidly fabricated facts. in fact, they will love any fact that seems to support their cause. if they like what they read, they will investigate.

    politicians are always exposing their weaknesses, their secret desires, even their sexual preferences. they are unwittingly transparent. art, i am good at manipulating transparent people. as a child, i had many years to practice the skill of manipulating my parents, with great success. this is my skill and i wish to offer it. just give me some facts please. let me do the rest.

    1. Richard, Please see my books for some of these answers. art

  2. With profound repression an individual can easily live up to the demands of what their society wants. If your therapy achieves that end then it is a success. But successful at what, exactly? Do we want this success? Do we want well-functioning automations that don't know what to do with themselves other than live up to other people's expectations? Or do we want living, maybe behaviourally imperfect, human beings who understand that life is more than about f.u.n.c.t.i.o.n.i.n.g? Being able to act-out being normal is not the same as being normal.

    It's a bit like education. Before you praise your Johnny for getting straight A's, you might like to look closer at what those tests test, and what those scores do and don't actually mean. There is in fact a universe of controversy and subjectivity inside our world of education. The same can be said for much of the world of psychology, I believe.

  3. An email comment:
    "Art, luminous as usual. I just wish it didn't have to hurt so. I've been with you now almost 40 years and have felt and grown a lot but lately, at age 65 and in a relatively new marriage, I am amazed at how much pain is left to relive. The dark matter of very early stuff!! Anyway, keep it coming. "

  4. An email comment:
    Indeed, statistics can be used to "prove" anything which is why we have the phrase, "lies, damn lies, and statistics." There's a great book written in the 1950s called, How to Lie With Statistics.

    But in primal research, you can't just brush them aside and say that statistics aren't necessary. Statistics do one thing and one thing only -- they show whether or not there's a relationship between two phenomena, for example, therapy and feeling better. With a controlled trial, you can go beyond that and demonstrate whether or not therapy is the cause of people feeling better.

    Most therapies have an active research program. CBT, EMDR, psychodynamic talk therapy -- all have statistical studies to show their techniques "work." That's what Art is raging at. What does it mean for a therapy to "work?" But don't blame statistics, blame the underlying assumptions of the study! That's what the entire body of Art's work does.

    Without statistical studies, primal will forever languish on the fringe. You can't just say that "feelings are their own validation" and have the scientific community accept that. Ironically, it's true, but only for the people having those feelings. Those who don't feel need some form of proof and the gold standard in medicine is the controlled clinical trial. Anecdotes, even dozens of anecdotes, are worthless.

    The single most important study that would put primal on the map is the primal therapy outcomes study. Simply enroll a hundred or more people who come into therapy and follow them for 1, 2, 5, 10 years or more. Measure everything: psychological symptoms, quality of life, physical signs, cortisol, aging markers, disease markers. It is not that hard to do but it is expensive. Despite being expensive, it is eminently doable.

    Note: an observational study would still not show causality - that would take a controlled trial where a case-matched group of people who were taking some other form of therapy were compared with those taking primal therapy. The intent is to show that it is primal itself and not some other factor, such as an understanding therapist, transference, or a changed life situation, that's making people feel and function better.

    That's how the game is played in science. Those of us familiar with primal know there's no way to show it works to someone who can't feel. There will always be skeptics. They will always come up with bizarre explanations, like it's the therapist-patient relationship that heals. But if you play the game right and show good data, the skeptics will have less ground on which to attack. That's how every scientific advance is made. When Darwin presented his theory of natural selection, the skeptics howled and shrieked and showered ridicule on him. But his findings were irrefutable and were later confirmed...with statistical studies.


    1. And my answer: I am sure you are right, but I don't care much. Recently I had a talk with the head of stem cell therapy in Texas. His colleagues were calling for statistical studies and he did not care much. They treated a lot of people included himself and see the amazing result. The governor did not need statistics. Yes, the shrinks and science will need all those studies but I clearly cannot do it. We have not made a profit in years, not even breaking even, and so cannot afford to do any studies, except we do studies every day with our patients, and I am happy with that. Yes, we need studies but others will have to do it as I won't spend my life trying to find funds to do it. Besides there is a syndrome, "I won't believe it even if you prove it," which is daunting. We did three major double blind studies in Europe and no one seemed to care. I published in peer-reviewed journals and no one seemed to care. If we lay out the foundation for an amazing therapy and no one seems to care I doubt that any studies will change anyone. I provide science within our therapy and keep up with all that is new as best as I can; that is my role. If others want to do science, statistical science I am all for it. Meanwhile we go on treating patients from 26 countries and do very well. Their wellness is what I am after. Yes, I know we have to document it but it is too hard to do it. We have no money and no personnel. So be it. art Don't you think that after 15 books in my therapy and 250 blogs someone from the scientific community would take notice? Not one. art

  5. Art,
    I saw the reptilian-like movements in a video of a primal at your center in 1996. The movements were up-down, lasting very long. Reptiles (salamanders, crocodiles) move left-right. Mammals prefer to move up-down. Those mammals who developed to "fish" again during evolution (whales, dolphins) have a horizontal tail fin. So I was clueless about the reptilian origin of the movements I saw in the video. What is the connection, in your opinion, apart from brain structures?
    Best wishes,

    1. Wolfram: you are right. How did you see what very few have ever seen? but the movements are involuntary and go on for quite a while. The scientists at UCLA were amazed. What I am sure of as that we evolved we held onto some ancient animal form but i will have to consult some specialists. art We will show this film and a lecture by the man who underwent it soon art

  6. Art... a difficult issue with just a few words.
    If we... within the Swedish Society could obtain the money to an center... with all the research necessary to develop primal therapy... are you then prepared to move the center to Sweden?


    1. Frank: Not sure and I am not sure what you mean? You would need a training and research center, and then yes we would help. At my age I am not going to live in Sweden. But we may have volunteers. Art

    2. To hell with Sweden. If you're going to do another center then do it in the best place in globe. A place where resources are cheap, the weather is awesome, and the rules are loose so trainee primal therapists don't have waste incredible amounts of time and money getting their masters in psychology.

    3. Andrew: And that is where? art

    4. Art: I don't know - it should be researched (get Richard to research to do it - he's very patient and thorough with tedious stuff like that).

      I would guess a place which is a bit 3rd world world-ish but with nice safe pockets. A place like China or India, where people can speak English as a second language at least. Or maybe some place in southern Asia or south America.

      But if a move were to be made then you want to pick the best possible place. Sweden will almost certainly not be it. It's one of those hyper-regulated places like most of the long-been industrialised world.

    5. Andrew,

      I agree with you about one thing and that is that Sweden does not really deserve a presence of Janovs primal therapy ... but that is far from what you think is possibilities for success here... if we get a fast foothold in Sweden… that is of the dignity far more important than what is imaginable in the rest world.

      You are talking about the weather as something of importance… Andrew where is the people located? I think the Swedish people are more suitable as religion and dictatorships is not as enforced as in many other places in the world… a real big question.


    6. Frank as you may not know. I went to Sweden years ago at my own expense to offer primal therapy free to the swedish people. I gave a presentation to your health service and within minutes they read a paper already prepared before I got there, that my therapy was not acceptable. You know I don't think mental illness should have a price but unfortunately, I don't have a choice. I also offered it to the English and got the same response. Art

    7. Art,

      The undertone of what I write... I know what you did to get primal therapy to Sweden and I regret deep your failure. But as you know, the question is just as right or wrong to ask as there are people here in Sweden... the answer may be yes or no as many times ... it all depends on how the issue is addressed... how to get a brain to "listen" ... a brain that is in defense against it self. We can addresera the issue to the public!


  7. Hi Wolfram, Art & all,

    My grandson used to fishtail from side to side in my hands as a baby looking up at a light in the ceiling, really fixed on it for four or five minutes. . . it seemed like it could have gone on longer. He's done this involuntarily several times as a baby and it really impressed me. But it was side to side.

    Do primal patients ever do side to side? Could it be there are various different 'strokes' for different people/ stages of development? Maybe my grandson was just fidgeting (?) didn't seem like it though. Please forgive the pun but I am totally out of my depth here aren't I?

    Paul G.

    1. Paul: Usually it is the "s" motion like the water moccasin or the dolphin. I am sure there are many other animals with the basic motion. Art i have seen it hundreds of times, never is it suggested. Art

    2. when you poke a simple animal it will squirm in it's most natural motion...a bit like poking an earthworm (don't do's cruel) or poking a salamander (it swims frantically and blindly crashing into things) or electrocuting a human patient (convulsions). an old african punishment involved rectally impaling a person on a large vertical pole. the person would involuntarily squirm in the 's' motion until he/she was dead. perhaps the 's' motion is the last line of defense - a final attempt to escape.

      art, my brother showed me a downloaded video in which you and france were being interviewed. you were all speaking in french. i can't find it now. the interviewer presented some footage of people primalling? i'm not sure if it was real, but it looked real to me. every time a woman pounded her fists against something, her back moved in an exaggerated 's' motion. she was kind of screaming/scolding at someone: "i hate you! i hate you!" maybe she was reliving on the first AND second line? do you remember that video?

    3. Richard: Sort of. What were you doing watching french TV? art

    4. Richard & Art: It's a clip on YouTube, you can find it by just entering "Arthur Janov interview" (without the quotes) in YouTube's search bar, it's the second result. Or you can just copy & paste this into your browser address bar: It's only 5 min 59 sec. long.

      I came across the clip before, but as soon as I saw it was in French, I didn't bother watching further, as I don't know enough French to understand it (would like to, though. There are many languages I'd like to learn). Anyway, now that Richard mentioned it I watched it, just to see the people primalling. I have to say that I didn't notice any "exaggerated" s-motion when the woman was on her knees and pounding the padded wall and screaming "I hate you!". It looked to me like how the back would normally move in that position.

      Then she was lying on her back and screaming "I need you!" instead of "I hate you!". Which is, if I understand correctly, as it should be. Moving from anger to what the therapy is really about - need, and reliving unmeet needs.

  8. thanks antti. it's always better to give the direct link because search results differ from one region to the next. the video you have presented is different to the video i saw, but it is taken from the same group session. the video i saw showed the woman hitting the wall, but her back was more loose and snake-like. the part that i found the most disturbing is not actually shown in your video. it is a man in the background, moaning. his moans resonated with me....i felt like i knew exactly what he was feeling; he was very close to something dark and awful, but not quite in it. he was deep in the first line. well that's what it felt like to me. i moan like that in my night terrors, which i haven't experienced for a while.

  9. Hi AnttiJ,

    -"Then she was lying on her back and screaming "I need you!" instead of "I hate you!". Which is, if I understand correctly, as it should be. Moving from anger to what the therapy is really about - need, and reliving unmeet needs".

    Yes and the bitterness of betrayal turns into the sweetness of need.

    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.