Sunday, August 16, 2015

On the Difference between Abreaction and Feeling (Part 7/9)

 How Good Primal Therapy Should Work

 Now, let us look at how a Primal Therapy session is supposed to work.
 A patient comes in for his session feeling anxious and not knowing why. “What does it feel like?” we ask. He doesn’t know. It is all agitated and “jumpy” and cannot sit still. And here we do not make any effort to get him into a feeling. We spend a lot of time just on understanding the feeling: when it is worse, how it affects work and sleep, etc. What it feels like. He cries a bit and we let it happen; he is overwrought. We embed the current feelings solidly before we travel back in time and deeper in the brain. The present becomes the platform from which we work. We want to establish as much as we can in the present and embed the feeling in the present. No going back right away unless the patient leads us there. But we want to take easy steps with the feeling going back to childhood later on, and in each stage settle the feeling deeper. The patient begins to feel more deeply; this can go on for many months and then, after a year or more the feelings will take him down to first line if there is a traumatic first line, and if the feelings are very disturbing. It is not always necessary. Then the patient may alternate first- and second-line events for reliving which get deeper and more powerful over time. We keep the pace even and not too overwhelming; otherwise we get abreaction due to overload. It is an ordered process as much as that is possible. We help keep him on track when he diverts from the beginning feeling so he doesn’t get grooved into a new channel of feeling. That is our skill, knowing when and how to keep patients on track. We follow evolution in reverse at all times.

 Remember, each level of consciousness is an entity unto itself. If someone is reliving something emotional and then begins birth movements, it means to us that there is intrusion from another level; it may be that it is a defense against too strong emotions. And of course, if any words leak out we know it is not a preverbal imprint we are working with, another sign of abreaction. Similarly, if the patient doesn’t have her feet and arms in a specific position during a first-line Primal, we know it is abreaction. Defenses are tricky and we need a long training to pick them up correctly. In Primal Therapy we make it safe not to block pain. Since each higher brain level elaborates the same sensation/feeling/need differently, we can ride the top level down and it will eventually take us to the bottom—to origins. Once down there, the system on its own will move upward toward connection automatically, following the paths of evolution for connection. That is, we then move back up toward the right orbitofrontal cortex, around the orbits of the eyes, and then to the left prefrontal cortex for final connection.

 How do we go back in time? Good question and the answer is simple. We don’t deliberately decide to go back and visit our early lives; that is a recipe for abreaction. We cannot engage the higher-level cortex; we must disengage from it. Cede to feelings. And that is our scientific mission: to provide access to feelings and let the whole organism proceed in an ordered, slow descent into the deep unconscious. As odd as that seems, feelings are the vehicle that take us where we need to go. Deep feeling has little restraint and flows effortlessly. There is no such thing as trying to have a deep feeling; it flows and pours like the well-known salt.

 Again, it is not for the therapist to determine what the patient should feel. Our system has a biologic sensor that knows not only where we have to go in the past, but also how far, and above all, when. During therapy, when the body temp reaches a low of 96 degrees it often means that there is a first-line component. The patient has touched on the brainstem part of the feeling and therefore it drops inordinately. So the patient feels depressed and his vital signs indicate that he is close to the original imprint. Otherwise, we would not get such low readings early in therapy. This physiological reaction gives us a clue about the beginnings of depression. Some life-and-death threat during womb-life forced the system to a last-ditch defense to conserve energy. All systems slowed down and went into energy conservation mode. Worse, that mode gets stamped in. Then we spend a lifetime depressed and have no idea why. To end depression – notice, I did not say “to treat” depression – we must address those origins fully. It means going back a long way. In our therapy, we have patients reliving remote deep pains, those with no words nor tears, and we see it over decades.

 In Primal Therapy, we seek access to those deep recesses of the brain, where ultimate healing lies. First-line is always more powerful than later imprints; so the insights that flow from first-line feelings are widely encompassing because they are the basis for so much later behavior. There are fewer words in these insights to match the preverbal pains that give rise to the insights. But they have weight and importance. Reliving on the brainstem level means complete connection as the driving force of impulses are experienced at last. We connect, in short, on the level of the trauma and in that context only. Here we are dealing with the shark brain: no shouts, no words and no tears. Evolution has taken over. It means the patient has gone back in time and is living again what went on decades before. Then it was too overwhelming for a naïve and fragile brain to integrate. Now, perhaps, he is ready for it. This is the true meaning of facing yourself and accepting yourself; not in the booga-booga, new-age sense but in the biologic evolutionary meaning of it where the feeling is now integrated into the physical system. It is ego syntonic. (Excuse my use of old Dr. Freud for this contribution he made which expresses exactly what I mean to say.) As the reliving goes on, the feeling is fully integrated and there is a continued drop in vital signs, arriving below baseline. The body temperature lowers to real normal, rather than “average” normal. In this sense, “integration” is a new biologic state where the whole system can re-regulate itself. Blood pressure drops and heart rate slows.

 But a word of warning: vital signs are a symptom, not the problem. Treating the symptom alone is a mistake, one that can make matters worse. So when doctors see someone with very low vital signs, they look around for a good diagnosis. They work on his blood pressure, for example, in a medical effort to “normalize” it without understanding that the patient is already in his normal, life-saving mode. In Primal Therapy, we do nothing to address vital signs directly. We work to change the whole neurobiological system by addressing the repressed pain which vital signs only reflect. The difference is between a temporary effort, which has to be repeated into infinity, versus a basic biologic change which lasts.


  1. Actually I was wrong. The heavy breathing is not the only sensation -- I always feel some anxiety when there is heavy breathing, but not certainly doesn't feel traumatic. When I say heavy breathing I mean really deep rapid breathing for a long time.. like ten minutes - big lungfuls of hyperventilation. Pretty amazing abreaction. Surely it is coming from something real?

  2. Part II:

    I believed "more pain, more gain." I'd grown up without loving relatives around to nurture, support, and guide me. My mother was bipolar, father aloof. I was raised Catholic, too: suffering was deemed good. One of my first jobs out of college, while in mock "primal therapy," was working with hopelessly retarded people with no chance of improving.

    I felt I was one of them.

    Few asked if it was a good job for me. I needed a therapist awared of my uncomfortableness per meeting MY needs, someone to urge me to work at something creative: writing, advertising, etc. Working with crazy people to show how tough I was didn't work.

    I needed someone who'd help me feel weak, let me sense unmet needs.

    I wasn't strong enough to see that "no pain, no pain" was the Way. The focus shouldn't be on seeing how much you can suffer, but how strong love and healing is...even if it SOMETIMES involves pain.

    It's an elusive concept, pain. We often hear suffering is good instead of a sign that something is amiss. Hospitals have been known to under-subscribe pain-relieving drugs for "moral" reasons.

    I needed someone to tell me I wasn't responsible for my parents' limitations, that it was okay to meet MY needs and be happy. That Jesus wouldn't hate me if I got laid, felt good, used my talents.

    I needed a strong, wise, loving granny to hold and comfort me. I didn't have one so I made a virtue out of being "hard." I tried to meet my needs by first meeting the needs of others. Instead of making a pair of shoes for myself, I tried to cover the world in leather.

    Art's stressing the need to go slow, feel safe, etc. disarms me. I am ready to be attacked, doubted, etc. not to be shown compassion. Being guarded keeps me stuck.

    This clip from the movie FULL METAL JACKET reminds me of confrontationla therapies from EST to Scientology. It shows the actor (a former real Drill Instructor) demonstrating how men are shredded in the military to "build them up." It seems like old-style childrearing: show love by beating your kids:

    DIs don't see that they can push too far, causing others to "rat-pack" the weak:

    Interestingly, the same military knows that dogs learn better and quicker with positive reinforcement.

    Mock Primal stressed drama and quick cures. It didn't work for me and ruined a lot of others' lives. Art's talk about pain churned up old, bad therapy memories. I wish he'd talk more about how his methods RELIEVE pain.

    I also wish he'd create a new moniker, like "Tri-level Connection Therapy" or something. The word "primal" conjures up too many bad, Bedlam-like Sixties' associations. Even Harvard has a Primal Scream thing:

  3. Part !:

    These words got me: "...we do not make any effort to get him into a feeling. We spend a lot of time just on understanding the feeling… We embed the current feelings solidly before we travel back in time and deeper in the brain….No going back right away...easy steps with the feeling going back to childhood later on, and in each stage settle the feeling deeper.”

    Undertanding. Patience. Small steps, Taking time to settle down. Going deeper.

    Traumatized people have a hard time trusting. We've been abondoned or betrayed so much that we suspect kindness is a con, an attempt to play us for saps in a Gotcha! game.

    One time I went really deep in mock therapy. It wasn't when I was being shouted at or hectored to "primal" (in hindsight, most of what I saw was people abreacting). It was when a silence fell upon our small group, led by my first leader. He looked at me and said, very kindly and concerned: "What's the matter?" I felt I had nowhere to "go."

    I was ready to be yelled at, not cared about. I was ready for drama, not quiet.

    His "concern" seemed based on his seeing something wrong with me. Like I had a harpoon stuck in me that I didn't see/feel. I got scared, then panicky. I felt there WAS something wrong, something horrible.

    There was nowhere to run. l felt increasingly unsafe.

    I thought I was going insane. I literally fell on my knees in terror. I slid off the chair to the floor and started to yell. Not loudly, more like a soul-deep, crushed, inchoate "cri de coeur." Like I knew I was sick and there was no cure.

    As soon as I started to cry, though, I felt better. I expeienced: "You are not insane, just scared."

    And fear just a feeling.

    I don't know how else to describe it. I felt "okay." I felt "fine" in my own skin. In a few minutes I was laughing, relieved.

    I wonder how my life would have been different if, after seeing my mother have yet another nervous breakdown, my father had just held me. He never did. So I didn't cry. I thought myself an EMT: the guy who keeps his head when insanity reigns. I didn't see it was a mask to cover fear and the pain of unmet love.

    I began to work-off my therapy sessions by renovating the leader's apartment. Not good. It was the first of many instances of Leaders not setting healthy boundaries (like having sex with patients). It got in the way of my heeling.

    I met his girlfriend. She seemed both manipulative and hypersexed (they might have been in a open relationship).

    While debris-ing a brick wall, a friend of his dropped off some tools: all were rusted. Belately I saw how symbolic that was.The buddy was the "hardass/GI/alcoholic" uber-Leader everyone talked about.

    I decided to join his confrontation-style group, leaving the kinder/gentler therapist. Who needed Mr. Rogers when Hitler was available!

    1. Hi Trevor,

      -"This clip from the movie FULL METAL JACKET reminds me of confrontationla therapies from EST to Scientology. It shows the actor (a former real Drill Instructor) demonstrating how men are shredded in the military to "build them up." It seems like old-style childrearing: show love by beating your kids"-.

      This sounds terrible and I'm reminded of a therapy in UK back in the 70s called: "EXEGISIS". Check it out on Wikipedia, it's 'Exegisis group'.

      Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame did it. . . It's all the same old, same old. . .

      Paul G.

  4. "AYAYAY There are so many fakes about that we have to take great care. The last I check there were at least 500 clinics world wide using my name or Primal, illegally and unethically. What can I do? it is sad for the damage they do. art"

    Hello Art

    Can you give me the name of these in Sweden ?

    your Frank

  5. Hello Art.

    A quick question for you.
    I am told that 36,6 C (97,88 F) body temperature is normal.
    For someone who is relieved from most of his pain, is his body temperature CONSTANTLY lower? And how much is it?

    Thank you.

    - Yannis -

    1. Yannis, I have found normal body temp to be around 97f, Most patients lose one degree permanently which translates into more years of longevity. art

  6. Again Art... this is an incredible text you share with us! It has no end to my cognitive aspirations as deficiencies in their to be"!
    The beautiful... the incredibly beautiful as I can experience in a womans face do not stop there ... it shattered against my memories for what beautiful I wished my mother to be... for what I wished throughout my life... love from my mother. I am here and now for my survival then... then long ago... without life now... now and then! I understand the human tragedy... lonely in a room we never been to... but is all the time... I flee the madness that followed me since I was little!


  7. An email comment:
    "I've just read this article - you may well be aware of this news already.

    Best wishes,"

  8. My Previous replies you may have found incoherent as I was flooded with ideas in weighing your approach in light of J. Krishnamurti’s teachings.
    It is the life force that guides material force which is an outcome of evolutionary process.
    In health balance has to strike between parasympath & sympath. When it is disordered split sets in. Integrated working is healthy feeling. Only we human beings live in such a way that balance is lost and reflected throughtout in our relationship.
    Science can help us to understand life mechanisms in fragments. Understanding fragments or integrating fragments is not totality. Totality is something per se which we fail to perceive. We can be conscious of fragments when in conflict. Physical divisions are natural & accepted but psychological fragmentations are dangerous for human by living.
    Now new science has to come in action which is understanding of “no-thingness” as vast field of undevided energy but when structures come into existence it seems to have fragmented. Evolutionary presence of human structure can come upon understanding of something which is “new” which cannot be interpreted being bonded to old patterns and to come upon that understanding quietness of old is necessary.
    Evolution can modify or restructure but cannot bring rejuvenation. Elixir of rejuvenation only lies with “no-thingness” which humanity is afraid to face & taking it as, emptiness-loneliness-anguish, which is outcome of meeting life with isolatory process which is predominated by materialistic approach, filling our daily living with things, attachment in relation & belief & conclusions. As such life is already there to meet us with love & compassion but we fail to perceive because science of matter fails to grasp it.
    This fact humanity has to realize otherwise we are going to keep up with psychological struggles ending in physical wars.
    Integrated state has no doubt in it scientific base which you are trying to explore. Physical level expressions do need some explanatory background which is present in your approach.
    I am living in Indian Territory & graduated in modern medicine in 1962, at present engaged in homoeopathic practice which deals in treating physical disorders(Psychosomatic & Psychological too) with homeopathic medicines selected on understanding mental state of patient.
    Does not your approach resemble in some way to Berne’s approach where how child is scripted is dealt with ? You are stressing feeling component which is dependent on autonomic nervous system.
    Total feeling is passion(not lust) but human being conditioned by desires / aversions fragment that state of passion.
    Your approach is helpful when we interview a patient to know in which state he is in active present. Your blog has helped me to understand my intuitive approach. Thanks.
    In homoeopathy we meet more female patients & children. Male patients usually come when modern system have failed to helped them.
    To survive we have to help body’s defence mechanism in patient & bring in natural order as far as possible & not to impose upon patient’s economy which is not natural.
    Your 7/9 blog expresses your approach logically. Whatever is in imbalance is brought to balance which may last in the light of perception-understanding.
    Your approach seems to be as if J Krishnamurti’s teachings taking up material level expressions.
    With regards

    1. Sanat, My approach resembles no other. That is why it is revolutionary. Try not to fit it into a thousand other ideas and take it for what it is. art

    2. Hi Art,

      but it's so tempting. . . When I first read about the imprints on your blog 4 years ago, despite having read the Primal Scream 30 odd years ago, I (desperately) wondered if my TM mantra could somehow 'undo' the imprint. . . as if by 'audio magic'. . .

      Then I discovered to my horror that my 'blessed' mantra had probably deepened my defenses. . . These posts of yours on abreaction almost explain how. . .

      Paul G.

    3. Hi,

      Speaking from personal experience; I discovered that 'theories' disseminated by charismatic people (usually men) are bound to be taken up by love lost followers because we are desperate in some way for new role models in the place of inadequate parenting. . .

      Of course Art Janov is no exception BUT this doesn't mean HIS theories are merely 'theories' in a sea of 'theories' broadcast by a throng of GURUS. . .

      Herein lies one of many problems of 'democracy': "The sane theory gets lost in the sea of booga booga". . . All have 'equal rights'. . . There's a clue to the limited ability of the neocortex to actually discriminate between the booga booga and the real.

      Ironically, it's the connection with feelings which actually allows people to correctly discriminate. . . Thus theories which marginalise feelings (or ignore them altogether) should be treated with extreme caution & suspicion. . .

      Aaaaand this isn't a theory, it's a warning !

      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.