Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let's Look Again at Evolution and Psychotherapy

Our lower brain and brainstem were designed originally for immediate, rapid reaction.  It is survival and supreme defense.  As the brain developed and added on higher levels of function, all the way to the top neo-cortex, we got help in sussing out danger and responding to it. Our mechanisms became more elaborate and arcane.  On the way, what happened down deep in the brain became more indecipherable so we no longer knew what was bothering us.  Thus, deep imprinted terror on the level of the brainstem sent its message up high and suddenly it became transformed into anxiety. Then we began treating anxiety as some mysterious affliction, never understanding what it is and where it came from.  We did not know because we had never taken patients down to the brainstem level, and therefore had no idea what lies down there.  So we guessed and developed fancy theories about it, which had to be wrong because it remained a mystery.  But there were and are clues. So let’s see, what is one clue?

First line dangers which awaken primitive terror mean that menace is close, danger is approaching and we must react.  The closer that danger the more our primitive terror reactions. But, but… our brain evolved we became alienated from the real danger, our deep imprints, and sent the message on high to the neocortex.  And what does the cortex do?  It gets all wound  up ready for action.  But what kind of action?  No one knows.  But it remains on the qui vive; the cortex churns away in a constant frenzy.  And how do we treat it? We give medication that works where?  On those lower levels where terror is organized; and what does that do? It stops the frenzy.  And we just thought it was a cerebral frantic state that we had to deal with.  We offer, " Don’t pay attention.  Put your mind elsewhere.  Try Mediation, etc. etc", ad nauseam.  What do we do?  We follow orders.  We “learn” how to relax, as if that were possible when the lower brain is in a flurry of activity.  We do anything to deny and divert attention from the real problem….traumatic memory that required frenzy and being battle-ready.  The system helps out because our biochemistry works on the gating system and tries to keep it closed so that we never find out what the source is.  And the devilish part is that now we must wend our way down to that source through the various levels of the brain, slowly, methodically so as not to overwhelm things.  There is no way to get down there immediately. Those who did so, using LSD paid the price too often of psychosis, as the brainstem threw up its hidden cave of primal demons and overwhelmed the neo-cortex, preventing it from functioning properly.  It manufactures bizarre ideas, delusions, to cope with the upsurge of imprints.  We treated the delusions, some therapists, tried to meet those delusions and tried to change the patient’s ideas by that method.  Always ignoring origins, the key to cure.  And those origins were and are behind so much of sleep problems and nightmares.  We cannot fall asleep cause our brains are ruminating on this or that, and we cannot get off it; we cannot stop the input from below from our primevil beginnings.  And we have nightmares because in our brains the danger is immediate and life threatening, which it is, and we need be alert to protect ourselves.  We need to be aware to watch out for the danger. We become hyper aware in order to block unconscious imprints.  Aware to defeat the unconscious. That is why those who become intellectuals have fled to their heads and never feel the danger that activates them.

Can we treat psychosis? Sometimes, but the damage is done and the patient too often needs to remain in a controlled environment.  We don’t have that.  The same is true of marijuana, although I am told the new marijuana is safe. I do not know enough about it to agree or disagree, but the long time pot-smokers  I have seen over the years behave like those who took LSD. Both drugs chip away at the gating system,  weaken it and thus prematurely allow deep imprints to mount and disrupt everything.  And what is the last line of defense against the mounting danger?  Delusions; we call upon the last developing part of the brain to whip into action to manufacture a defense.  Let’s be clear:  as the terror from down deep nudges the higher levels into action the whole system responds to danger; and what is the danger?  Feelings.  You mean feelings, our own feelings are a danger?  Let me explain.  The imprints from the first weeks of gestation are monumental. They are psychosis-producing.  Now as they mount to the thinking, ideational cortex, but back then when they militated into childhood psychosis (a mother taking drugs, smoking and drinking from the start).  The more of these gating-weakening drugs we take the more the deep levels bump into the higher ones.  The danger becomes immediate; hence an “anxiety attack.” We cannot relax in the face of danger, and we should not, as then we will be in terrible danger.  The weaker the gates the closer the danger and the higher the terror/anxiety level.  So we have two choices.  We can strengthen the gates by offering SSRI’s (Prozac), the same brain chemical that was depleted in the original combat during gestation and birth.  In short, boosting the gates again to block feelings and pain.  Or we can do what makes more sense—help open the gates in a safe way so that the primal forces finally have egress, and finally we can heal and relax.

Let me be clear.  There is new research that indicates that the key repressive painkilling chemical mechanism in most SSRI’s is serotonin.  This was recruited to help in the battle early on in the womb and now when we run out we get more from outside; those precious pills.  The research states the defective serotonin interacts with stress during the fetal stages which increases basic long term risk.(see  They reported that a certain receptor for serotonin was examined to see what it did in the formation of brain circuits, and in particular, those cells that regulate excitement.  It helps dampen too much input and neuronal action.  In other words, it helps reduce potential cerebral hyperactivity.  This keeps serotonin on track, helping to find its place in the developing cortex where it can function best.  It seems to have a role in the correct assembly of neuron tracks. When serotonin receptors are impaired the whole gating system is affected.  Trauma certainly damages the serotonin system. Pregnant women who take drugs can damage or modify serotonin neurons.  All to say that very early on we begin to weaken that most crucial gating system.  And there is no going back.  The damage remains and later on we find those with ADD and severe anxiety states.  We never know why.

Wait a  minute!:  Yes we do.

We need to get it right about evolution because visceral reactions, come from the viscera which are organized at the beginnings of our lives, down deep in the brain.  So clearly, we are anxious long before we are aware of it or can give it a name; and when we do we give it the wrong name—anxiety—instead of deeply embedded terror.  Worse, then we try to treat this anxiety without knowing where it comes from or what it really is.  Still worse,  the ideas about it, our name for it, came along millions of years after it started its life.

To reiterate:  The same traumas that severely damage the fetus and his brain are the very same that mount with the use of pot and LSD to again produce severe reactions; most often psychosis and delusions.  They are not different causes just because they are produced at different times; they are the same with disastrous reactions at different stages of our evolution.  They are crazy making.


  1. Hi Art,

    over the years I have met a few people who profess to have taken many hundreds of LSD Trips and they also profess to be and appear to be completely unaffected. . . the few I have met are middle aged geeks; often into code writing and computers.
    There's a certain kind of "bullet proof" intellectual personality. . . Timothy Leary comes to mind. . .
    Though he was fully into weird ideas and died young. . . I nearly fell for Timothy Leary but his theory made me terribly weary. . . .

    Paul G.

  2. This weekend my wife and I visited some friends. Both have had depression and even come close to breakdowns though they would never think that. Both have taken SSRI's. I thought they had stopped but this weekend was informed that the husband is on a low dose. The lack of love and critical domineering Parents have resulted in this need for a chemical cosh. The husband thinks he is fine. However how does all that deep seated Brain activity come out now that it is not allowed out into the concious mind? Hyperactivity physically. A Garden dug and dug and dug, walls built, shrubs pruned and long long speedy walks every day. Food eaten at a fast rate. Everything done at a furious rate while the SSRI helps the person think they are fine. The poor guy is probably heading for a heart attack or heart bypass and his wife worries about him while at the same time doing her own Neurotic control dance by controlling him, encouraging him to cook and then mocking his attempts to do so because cooking is one of her few areas of self confidence but not enough to allow someone else to flower in that area. I love them to bits in many ways but after two days I am stressed out by it all. Stressed by seeing what is going on and feeling powerless to help. I tried to get the husband to read "Drama of being a Child" a few years ago but his intellectual defence (he went to Cambridge) is still too strong and he poo poo'd it.

  3. Love can not be given through any promises... only through a thriving experience of feelings!

    What if need of mom and dad expressed in words is the question to give us back our memories from our childhood marked by pain... what is there to lose?

    A room that will never change is my room where the hell pervaded my life... a room in my therapeutic process as I return to again and again and again just to allow all the pain to end up on the spot possible to visualize in conscious awareness! A room that was cemented as well as all other rooms were during our development! What if I could have been loved in the rooms I return to ... what a difference would it not been if I could returning to my childhood memories with feelings of love?

    Our experience of lovelessness continues its journey when we seek help for anxiety and depression in our clinics... prepared in the sense of helping us... clinics that since long ago denies science as a basis for the method.

    I want to live... but can not because they do not understand what is the cause of my suffering! Can something be more like hell?


  4. An email comment:
    Interesting that you mentioned anxiety states, as it triggered a recent insight I had after a "primal"? I usually cry when I try to feel for any real length of time say an hour or two. The last time I felt a much greater calm, my legs which have always been tense, relaxed some. I felt a kind of quiet relaxation, and as I noticed myself not turning on the tv, turning off the radio, and not keeping dialog going in my head, or talking to myself, and it came to me: I have been drowning out the anxiety of my life... I have a LOT farther to go, and I am far from having the amazing experiences I have read about in your books, but oddly I am changing, inside, and inside is becoming a much quieter and less anxious space.

    Thanks Art

  5. Off topic:

    I work with a girl who was pregnant. I wanted to introduce her to some advice on having a good birth. But virtually before I could as much as open my mouth, her response was basically: "I'm not into that hippie bullshit...and so I don't want to hear it". I said "ok" and left it at that.

    But it's pathetic. Even if it was "hippie bullshit", why not listen to it anyway? What harm could words do? Why the blunt out-of-my-face response?

    The truth is she didn't want to over-complicate anything. She couldn't be bothered testing for the possibility of truth in what I had to say, and discovering maybe something important. Her response was basically just convenient and easy. But why should she react like this?

    Bluntly, and as I believe, she didn't really give a shit about the ultimate wellbeing of her baby - because she wanted her baby for abstract reasons that have nothing to do with the desire to bring a new, young human being into her life.

    You can tell by her nature that she's not a mother and doesn't want to be one, on a real level. This pregnancy is just another project - another thing to do, another thing to 'achieve'.

    I don't judge her for that. There's nothing morally wrong with not wanting to be a mother, for whatever reason. But there is something wrong with bringing a child into the world that you don't truly want to have. And one of the effects of this is that we fill the world up children who are deprived...with serious long-term costs to our societies.

    Maybe we, as a society, need to encourage mothers who don't really want to be mothers to not have kids. 'Unwanted children' is probably the root of all evil - it's what makes "evil" people.

    Sorry for the rant - just wanted to say all that.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Many people agree the biologic urge to breed is stronger than the 'fear' of the consequences, stronger even than the alleged disinterest in parenting. . . The fear is in the (usually correct) assumption that becoming a parent constrains your personal freedom; inside that is the potential intuition that YOU will be challenged to face your own UNMET needs. Having to put a little bairns needs first is challenging even for a 'normal' person.

      Say it's true, that biology really does drive procreation, then what people 'say & do' is largely a false layer, a defense against their fears. Some say they 'planned' for their pregnancy, some have to incorporate their future child into a version of their false self image to justify it, some belittle it. . . and on and on.

      Few people, mothers or fathers have much inkling of what they're really letting themselves in for. . . Many fathers hardly, if ever find out and find themselves quickly on the 'outside' of a domestic / gender divide. . .

      But people continue to procreate whatever they 'believe' or say or do and it's a shame we are so defended against this so common yet so massive and important 'phase' of Life & Existence.

      Why the denial?

      Neurosis. Why neurosis?

      Primal Pain.

      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.