Thursday, December 20, 2012

Teach Me to Fish

  There is an old saying:  give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats forever.  That is what we do in our therapy.  We try to take all of the mystery out of our therapy; we explain all our techniques and theories to patients so that they can learn how to do it. Therefore they can leave therapy with sufficient tools to carry on helping themselves.  Our goal is to make the patient independent as soon as possible, rather than enhancing his dependence by keeping the techniques of therapy hidden.  It is, after all, the patient’s brain and body; we don’t want his feelings to go unnoticed, and we don’t want them to go on un-experienced.  But once he gains access to feelings he has the first technique for making himself well.  There is always a real need for dependence in therapy for a time, but that is  to be discouraged as the patient can stop  acting out being the child who needs a daddy or mommy.  Once this need for protection and guidance is felt we want her to stand on her own feet.  She should look to herself for answers and not us. She is the master of her unconscious and knows it better than we do.

  Let me give an example.  Nearly all new research finds that the earliest months and years of our lives leave a lasting impression—in my language it is called the imprint.  If we don’t know about that we cannot successfully help anyone.  For example, a new study finds that infant stress affects the teenage brain.  If we ignore infant stress we will never  understand brain problems as we grow up.  (See: Nature, Nov. 11, 2012. Also found in Nature Neuroscience, check  This study examined several hundred  children from  birth to early adulthood.  They found that four-year-olds exposed to chronic stress (arguing parents, divorce, death of a loved one), have high levels of the stress hormones (cortisol) in their systems.  We found that, as well, in our beginning patients.  These high levels correlated strongly with aggression, impulsivity and other related behavioral  problems.

  These researcher also scanned the brains of 57 eighteen year-olds who were part of the original study.  They had weaker connections to  feeling centers such as the amygdala.  There is much more to the study but what is clear is how early stress affects our feeling capacity and in our  navigating the world.  And we see how all this plays into such problems as attention deficit.  So with patients we want them to understand their feelings and how it affects their  learning ability; and  with their knowledge to  understand and control their inability to concentrate.  They learn to cure themselves and they learn to make themselves better.  They no longer rush to the doctor for answers; they have the answers they need.  Besides no one else knows more about you than you. Nothing is more informative than your own feelings; they teach us what feelings drove what act-out or act-in.  What  makes our migraines come on or what raises blood pressure.  Feelings inform us about why the heart races and breathing gets shallow.  They explain why the tantrums and crying jags.  Why the sudden terror or panic attacks  . No more mysteries.  No more feeling helpless before the onslaught of anxiety.  Ain’t that great?


  1. More excellent precise, and this is so encouraging for a recovering robot like me, thanks.

    Carl Rogers put ideas like this together way back in the 60s & 70s but he was looking into peoples' lives from the 'self help' counselling point of view (which ultimately is about adapting and adjusting to our own external world and not about how to become sensitive to our own neurological workings for 'reliving').

    I wonder if he were still alive what he would make of Primal Theory and practice in the 21st century? What would he make of 're-living'?

    Did you ever meet him Art?

    Paul G.

    1. Paul: Yes I took a class with him. He was a bit sweet and passive but that was a long time ago so I am not sure. art

  2. ..sieglinde.........emanuel..
    ..............oh i nearly forgot
    .........emma and of course art
    ....and france and morey and the
    ...other shrinks. sorry to the
    ..readers whose names
    ..have been left out,
    ..but remember:
    ..on christmas eve
    ..your bearded father in
    ....the sky will come down to
    ....give you the gift you've always
    ......wished for. or perhaps he
    ..............won't! have you

    been an obedient child? it's judgement day.

    merry christmas!

  3. From “The Complete Angler” to Fisherman’s Wharf.

    When reading your Reflections about “Teach me to Fish”, I had fresh impressions from a person who had made the Swedish translation of Izaak Walton’s famous “The Perfect Angler”. Unlike Walton, the translator thought that fishing was cruel. Walton, however, considered fishing to be approved by a higher authority = Jesus in the safe knowledge that he chose fishermen to his disciples. Your Reflections and comments about Walton highlighted my memory of how I through a complex sequence of events and a number of fortunate coincidences got my old dream of “Primal Therapy” within reach.

    A little more than 35 years ago, I managed to be part of a perfect “package tour” between Oct. 7th and Oct. 22nd, 1977. The package contained a wedding in Copenhagen, a roundtrip to the US West coast, a 2 week study in “How to Build a Franchise” and finally a visit to Santa Monica in L.A. The US journey began in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf, and the last day, before the trip home, I visited the old Primal Institute to apply for Primal Therapy.

    From 1978 and onwards PT/AJ taught me to “fish” by demystifying my repressed birth trauma and all its persistent secondary effects. In my case, it did not happen “as soon as possible”. It lasted more than 30 years because I for many years had to live with a tricky agenda in order to make ends meet in my career, my finances and the therapy treatment.

    In my “fishing”, I will neither be a complete angler, nor will I be dependent of approval of higher authorities, whether religious or profane.

    Jan Johnsson

  4. I concur with your comments about not needing to go to the doctor. I used to believe that I suffered from IBS. After three years of Primal, I now believe that I suffer from neurotic fear expressed in my tummy. I now understand that when I feel bloated and have pains in my stomach that I just need to give myself some private space to process my fear. I used to try all sorts of potions and try and work out what I might be allergic to... now I just check in with my fear and my 'IBS' melts away...

  5. To all:
    “Early Stress May Sensitize Girls’ Brains for Later Anxiety”
    Isn’t this amazing that it takes a fcMRI finally to prove what childhood victims knew all along – and what was dismissed by the cognitive-psych-professionals? We were told to change to a more positive thinking – it didn’t work for me!

  6. Happy Holidays to all.
    May all your wishes become reality in 2013.

  7. Happy Christmas to you too Richard and everyone else! :-)

  8. I’d like to send seasonal greetings to Arthur Janov, to all his blog readers and contributors, and to everyone who goes to the Primal Center, and to use the opportunity to make two recommendations, a book and a CD:

    Book: Biocentrism by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman

    CD: Terra Naomi Live & Unplugged (available to listen on youtube)

    I wasn’t sure which to put first, but if you have to pick one, the CD may be less taxing on the “grey matter”!

    All the best
    Graham Bridger

  9. A good analogy for the latest "teach me to fish" blog is when I broke my knee, I was supposed to stay off of it for a few weeks. Six weeks after surgery the doctor told me to raise my leg. I couldn't. I thought it in my head but my leg did nothing. His assistant came in and explained that after a time of not using the neural pathways to move a limb or group of muscles, those pathways disappear. I worked with a physical therapist who moved my leg until my neural pathways regained the connection and could send the message to my leg.
    When pain is too much early in life, we block the memory and the neurons eventually lose the connection. But the pain is still there just as my leg is still there, we just can't connect to it. At the Primal Center the therapists help us connect the memories to the pain until the neural path is reestablished and we can connect on our own. I move my leg very well now just like I can connect my pain to my early experiences, no one needs to do it for me. When my anxiety sky rockets now and I can hardly stand it, I know that's how extreme the fear was I felt as a child, I remember it now. I couldn't have survived it then. If I didn't have those connections to explain that fear and understand the reality, I couldn't survive it now.
    Merry Christmas and my very best wishes for the new year to all of you going through the hell to reconnect to your pain and to all of the therapists helping you make that possible and especially to Art and France who work so hard to make this therapy available for those of you who somehow, despite all of our sabotage, understand enough to make it happen.

  10. I love this article! Healing abilities impress me much since I plunged into my primal pain and my life improved spontaneously for 21 months now. I already wrote a comment about my conviction that Primal Therapy is much more than a therapy, in that it doesn't fit any "modern" definition of therapy. This time, I'd like to share an insight that goes in the same direction.

    Recently, I was woken up by a deep terror. I guess it was related to the surgical operation of an inguinal hernia I had when I was 2 months old. What was clear, however, is that the feeling was too painful to be felt at once. As I thought about it the next morning, I saw the link between all these little feelings I already relived like "Mummy please don't leave me alone with them" or "will I be back soon?", etc. and the deep terror that woke me up the other night. These are just parts of the same big feeling. As a sandwich must not be swallowed all at once, it's safer to eat one bite at a time (look at the boa constrictor digesting an elephant in "The Little Prince" from Antoine de Saint Exupéry).

    That being said, isn't it the purpose of neurosis to cut unbearable reality into pieces so that it can be integrated later? Thinking further, isn't that the way Primal Therapy also works (in reverse)? Could Primal Process BE a neurotic process, pushed to its climax and in the right direction? Then why don't we all heal spontaneously thanks to our neurosis as a part of our immune system? For me, it was a matter of luck. A sexologist told me: "You've got to feel the need". Two weeks of panic later, I felt it (of course, this need had nothing to do with sex). I still must thank her for the best advice I've ever been given. Before that, I was stuck in a symbolic world. I had read the Primal Scream and memorized the Theory, but it wasn't enough. I guess that's why Primal Therapists are so important at the beginning of the process. We need a place to be real neurotics instead of unreal thinkers.

    These places should be free or at least available to most of us. I know this last sentence looks like an utopia, but when I see how accurate my neurosis takes me to recovery, I rather believe that it shouldn't be a problem. Since I'm not compelled to please everyone, to earn my place as I did before, I provoke some awareness among my relatives. Their symbols don't blind me anymore, but I'm open to their feelings. Some flee. Others stay. With these ones, there's something happening and it smells good!

    1. Laurent: I also believe that all medicine should be free. To that end, even though we are a profit organization we are very much non-profit. art

  11. Richard Atkin: nice work :) Unknown: I can only imagine the dedication it takes to be a primal therapist. And how hard it must be. Hats off to Art and France and all the therapists. What you do is so important but so few people know about it.


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.