Saturday, September 6, 2014

Happy Birthday Letter 1

We are beginning a “Happy Birthday” series of letter sent to Art by patients, former patients, friends and readers from all over the world that show how Primal Therapy have impacted their lives.

When cancer or heart patients thank their doctors for saving their lives, we all know that they mean. The patient survived and the doctor gets the credit, as well as honors and recognition from his profession. Often, we have heard Primal patients say the same thing: “Thanks, Dr. Janov, for saving my life.” But what we mean is not as obvious to everyone. After all, we weren’t dying of cancer or heart disease, at least not imminently. So why do we all feel rescued?

I cannot bear to think what would have become of me if I had not read “The Primal Scream” back in 1973. I was 24 years old and my life had come completely off the rails. As I once told you personally, I had a sudden, inexplicable breakdown five years earlier when I was a sophomore in college. Sitting at home reading a book without a care in the world, then suddenly engulfed in panic and terror that seemed to well up from deep inside, but out of nowhere. I felt like I was in a strange science fiction movie in which a comfortable existence turns into a waking nightmare and the victim is forced to spend all his energy to figure out why his life has gone haywire.

Nobody could understand what I was going through. The craziness was so excruciatingly isolating. It felt like an electrical storm of madness in my head that only I could see. How can you explain the fear of losing your mind when everything around you seems sunny and normal?

When I read your transformative book, I felt like I had finally found a person who understood my suffering and its causes. Like so many other readers, my reaction was immediate and instinctual. You offered a way out. And I was desperate to take it.

The first step in saving a life is understanding what threatens it. The next step is knowing what must be done to remove the threat and restore health. By this measure, Art, you are a true healer.

So when we say you saved our lives, we really mean that you restored a life worth living. You unlocked the mystery of neurosis by understanding that emotional pain is at the root, that repression is required to keep the pain at bay and that, in that devil’s bargain, we wind up living in a suspended state of perpetual suffering, or numbness.

So what kind of life is that?

My nerves were so frayed from the constant tension that soon after getting my first big job at the San Francisco Chronicle I trembled and shook for the entire night, curled up in a ball until dawn. What kind of a life can there be without the ability to sustain a livelihood?

When my dad pumped me full of Prolixin and Haldol to calm my nerves, I became a zombie. I was no longer trembling but I was trapped in a cold, eerie stillness that truly turned me into the walking dead.  What kind of a life can there be when you are at war with your own body?

My relationships were such a mess because as soon as I would find somebody I really valued, I became so insanely jealous that I made her life miserable and ultimately would drive her away. What kind of a life can there be without love?

We also often say that Primal Therapy gave us our lives back. But what does that mean, exactly? Sure, with less anxiety, anger, fear and insecurity, we are liberated to pursue the things that can really make us happy in life. A good job, a solid relationship, the ability to feel joy. But for me, getting my life back also meant understanding what really happened to me. For example, knowing that my jealousy began before I was two years old, when I felt rage for having been rejected by my mother and replaced by the next baby in a line of eight. How could I have grown up without realizing I was so hurt and angry at the time, and ever since. All I saw was the devastating aftermath in my wrecked relationships. Primal Therapy helped me connect the crippling effect with the unconscious cause.

That’s a huge gift, knowing the real self. That is reality restored. And your mind won’t let you rest until you put it all together, the behavior with the reason why.

In an unexpected way, you also gave me the chance to have a genuine moment of affection and reconciliation between me and my father. You know what kind of father he was. Emotionally distant, angry, critical, verbally abusive and a mean disciplinarian. Mostly, I was afraid of him. Still, he read your book and it touched something inside that hard heart of his. So much so that he decided to take out a loan to pay for my therapy, a shocking move from an inveterate penny-pincher. As a doctor, he saw my suffering too and must have realized there was no other good option.

Then one day during a visit home in the year after starting therapy, the buried emotions of our lives bubbled over. At the kitchen table, he started telling me of the nightmare he was living at home with my mother, who was having a full-blown psychotic breakdown. I was newly open to my feelings and couldn’t take it. I got up and rushed to the back bedroom where I used to sleep as a child. I collapsed on the bed and stated crying.

My father came back shortly to see what was wrong. When I saw him silhouetted in the doorway, that familiar figure I used to fear, I quickly sat up and dried my eyes. Crying was not allowed in front of him, even after he’d beat us with a belt. So I tried to recover and asked him to wait for me in the kitchen. When I went out to rejoin him, I explained I just couldn’t stand to hear anymore about the family problems. Then, he did something that totally caught me off guard. He asked for forgiveness. “If I hurt you in some way, son, I’m sorry.”

For what seems like the first time in my life, we hugged like father and son, with feeling.

So not only did I discover that I was in pain, my father did too. For all of my childhood, he had overlooked it. He had hurt me overtly, deliberately, brutally sometimes, but somehow he didn’t see the damage he was doing until it was too late. Then he tried to make up for it by getting me into the only therapy that could have saved me. So I forgave him.

Now, I pass on the benefits of my insights to the next generation. I have raised two sons based on what I learned from Primal Therapy. Respect their feelings. Listen carefully. Respond to their needs and be there for them.

Andres and I are so attuned to each other because I have always allowed him to express his feelings openly. If he needs to cry, I lie down with him and just hold him or sit with him. Sometimes just the look on his face reveals his feeling – hurt, disappointment, sadness or whatever. When I spot it, I stop what I’m doing. Maybe I was scolding him too harshly and didn’t realize. So I stop talking and turn to him. All I have to say is “You look sad” or “I see you’re angry.” Once I verbalize his feeling, or rather acknowledge it, he looks at me with his whole face brimming with emotion, and he nods yes. As soon as he knows that I know, the flood gates open. His lip starts trembling, his eyes well with tears. And he cries.

So there it is, the secret to a happy life. Try not to hurt your kids. But if they get hurt, let them have their feelings. Let them see you understand, that you can see inside their little hearts. That you care.

In this way, Art, the life you saved is paying it forward. And that will be your legacy. One by one, we can save the world, one child at a time. That is worth a Nobel Prize many times over. You may not see that in your lifetime, but we can honor you individually, by making sure that we are living life as fully as it was meant to be, and helping our children do the same.

Thanks for saving mine.



  1. I shared this important post on my wall so in Poland people will read too and I hope they will share also.

  2. Hi,

    well after reading this one (again at 22.10hrs UK time) I am crying myself to sleep. I forwarded this and the previous post of Arts to my grandson's social worker. I'm meeting her on the 19th to appeal to her humanity. . . The one thing I hope we both have in common. I hope.

    Paul G.

  3. I have to say that I was very moved reading all these letters of best wishes to Art Janov, especially the above Letter 1.It's so beautiful when people come straight from their hearts. Unfortunately that doesn't happen too often in this ghastly society full of people proud that they can act as robot-like as possible..Well,at least we isolated and alienated people can read Janov, and watch , for instance,a great TV series like "Enlightened" starring the beautiful and sensitive Laura Dern.Thanks as usual to the artists, and other sincere people for telling it like it is!



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.