Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ken Rose on "Life Before Birth". Part 2/6

Ken Rose: What does Dr. Janov mean when he talks about pain or primal pain?

Jeff Link: When he’s talking about pain, he’s talking about very deep level imprint in the brain. A good example; you very early on when you’re being born, perhaps a mother is very stressed and there’s a number of ways this can happen, but some research has shown for instance that victims of PTSD or mothers who grew up in war torn environments, or mothers who were pregnant during the time of 911, or during the holocaust, all these sort of very significant and traumatic events show a high level of cortisol and that cortisol can be passed to the child. That creates pain in the form of excessive strain on the system.  It is the child trying to deal with, and anticipate stressful life conditions. From an evolutionary standpoint it prepares the child for kind of what they’re going to expect. If they expect to be born into a war torn environment this sort of excess cortisol can help them deal with that. But the reality is that most of us don’t encounter those kinds of situations. Most of us grow up into a relatively stable environment. So then what you have is, you have the environment in conflict with what the child actually grows up in, and that creates a dissonance that continues throughout life.  That’s one form of pain, but he also talks about things like oxygen at birth. If there is birth complications where a child may be partially strangled on an umbilical cord, or if a child is exposed to tobacco or drugs, even heavy anesthetics all that can change the neurochemistry and then create what Dr. Janov refers to as an imprint or a set point that then dictates sort of how the child will release hormones and adapt to life for the rest of his course. It is in essence a hidden script that rules his life.

KR: Dr. Janov writes; “pain is commensurate with the urgency for fulfillment and a mother’s physiologic and emotional state is more or less the offspring state, not just momentarily but for a lifetime.”

JL: Yes, and that’s an interesting idea to commensurate with the need for fulfillment. One of the things he kind of strikes out in the book is how in Primal Therapy one of the things they’ll measure is one of the patient’s vital signs, and the way they’ll see that maybe something was wrong very early on that the patient, him on herself might not even be aware of is in the discrepancy between sort of a normal vital sign reading and one in which there is a problem.
He writes about, for instance; depressives often have a parasympathetic imprint or nervous system imprint. Where their body temperature would be lower than normal, they’ll have a tendency of being pragmatic and kind of passive. The opposite of that is a patient that is highly anxious and suffers panic attacks, we’ll see an elevated body temperature, and just how elevated that temperature is or how far below normal it is, is a good indication of how severe the trauma was from very early on.

KR: So for example if at the time of the child’s birth the mother is anesthetized, the child will be anesthetized, the child essentially will be paralyzed in the birth canal and to maximize the chance of survival is to surrender. This sets up a template, if that’s the right word, for a lifetime of parasympathetic nervous system dominance. It has everything to do with personality and relational capacities, and really everything. It’s so fascinating to understand the theory behind this. The understanding that Dr. Janov presents us with, and then to look at the world, to read the news paper and consider any given individual in the world and really see quite clearly that many of the most prominent manifestations of personality are really the language of neonatal and womb life, of reality in the womb, of reality in the earliest moments of life.

JL: Yes, it has really profound implications. I’ll maybe talk a little bit more about some of the work with exposure to anesthetics and drugs. For example there’s the researcher Albert Hollenbeck who Dr. Janov talks about briefly in the book and he shows that the serotonin and dopamine levels maybe change permanently by local anesthetics that were used with mothers and affect then the mechanism the child has for dealing with pain. So Janov would talk about how the child learns what works to alleviate pain, and develops an affinity for it. He says, “To cope we create what we are missing.” So you’ll see a depressive who may take Prozac or Zoloft to boost certain serotonin and repress that anxiety or pain. Or you’ll see somebody who is the more passive, lethargic, parasympathetic mode, who would be looking for cup after cup of coffee, or even worse cocaine or something like that, to sort of compensate for what’s missing.
He even talks about this with ADD. A lot of kids now are being prescribed Adderall and Ritalin, but again this is a compensatory mechanism to deal with what was missing from very early on. While Janov would say that these medications do cure the symptoms they don’t actually get to the cause of what’s wrong. He has a strong reaction against a lot of contemporary psychotherapy because he feels, and I think he’s justified and correct in saying this, “we’re going after the symptoms but we’re not really digging deeper to try to get to the source and what’s truly wrong. So we have these temporary solutions but we don’t really know all sorts of other things may be happening as a consequence, which we’re not entirely sure of.

KR: He says we’re going to the wrong brain.

JL: Yes.

KR: We’re going to the wrong address, he says.

JL: Right. So while traditional talk therapy would try to deal with some of these issues through a verbal explanation or an upper level left prefrontal explanation where language and meaning are stored. The pain exists in a much different brain, a brain that developed earlier, which Dr. Janov calls the first line brain, and exists at the brainstem, which is the brain that we shared with reptiles and earlier animals, which is more instinctive, responsible for things like coughing or gagging or are instincts but not in any way are things we can express verbally or talk about. So all the talk therapy we’re doing is not really rooting out where the pain was.

KR: Right, the traumas are imprinted in the brains in which at that developmental stage the traumas are laid out, if I said that right. So we have a lizard brain, we have a chimp brain and we have a human brain, and we are traumatized on all three brains. God bless us, lucky us.

JL: I think one of the things about the book is, it is a difficult message to hear. It’s not comforting to know that from such a young age we can be damaged in this way, or we can have these things we carry with us. I mean, when I was editing the book I’d find myself sort of going back mentally to what happened to me at a very early age, or imagining what was my mother going through when she gave birth to me and maybe that’s for many people not a pleasant thought, and I think Dr. Janov would be the first to admit that, that’s right, it can be a very harrowing experience to go back there, but that is really for many people where the pain lies, and it’s not to say he discounts the role of genes, or he discounts the role of events that happened early in life, experiences with parents at a young age, but he does say that a lot of what we’re sort of missing is this whole period of gestation where profound things are taking place, but the therapy isn’t really accounting for.

KR: Right, and it would serve us well to just contemplate just how vulnerable we are in the womb.

JL: Right.

KR: With your permission Jeff; we are talking with Jeff Link, the editor of the book “Life Before Birth.” Would you please indulge me, I have in my notes, I circle things and I underline things, I circled kind of a bit of a long paragraph and I really want to read it, so would you please allow me.

JL: Yes.



  1. Hi,

    I am reminded of the 'chair exercise' from old counseling days. It's three handed and the benefits are to the third person. We, listening to this conversation benefit as observers of the dialectic in discussion. . .
    If you think about it, this is what we needed to 'observe' as little ones. . . Our TWO parents in constructive discourse. . . Helping to tell US how it is, by default through THEIR cooperative and collaborative activity. . .

    Paul G.

  2. Art: Gosh, you just couldn´t wish for a more eloquent & informed advocate!
    Any idea of audience numbers or catchment área?
    This all makes me feel so sad too, because humanity just goes on blindly perpetuating the same mistakes year after year, decade after decade, when the evidence surrounds them in the form of depression, lethargy, impatience, high blood pressure and a thousand other things of what womb and birth trauma actually do.
    Who amongst those nurses presnt at delivery would ever suspect that the Doctor´s lateness in arriving is due to his own birth, and that he is probably about to inflict lifelong trauma on that baby? Gary

  3. May I stray off topic on this one? Though what I am about to say relates to proper child rearing and primal therapy.
    Last night I watched the 1965 film The Sound of Music. For those unfamiliar with this film, it is based loosely - very loosely - on the true story of the Von Trapp family singers, seven Austrian children in 1920s/30s Salzberg whose mother died during their childhhoods and whose stern miltary father treats them as no more than naval ratings. Enter Maria, a wayward, eccentric nun who instantly bonds with the children and they with her, who, much to the outrage of the father, allows them to play, sing and enjoy themselves freely. She is portrayed as a very warm, kind, caring, understanding governess/mother substitute with an uncanny sense of what the children are feeling and of how to relate to them as friend and protector. Despite being panned by critics as historically inaccurate (Rogers and Hammerstein/Hollywood - enough said), it is an intensely moving film and a brilliant demonstration of how to be a truly loving parent, and it is a crying shame that it has never been given credit for this. I cried my eyes out whilst watching it, and I never intended to. As a child I watched it many times (it is something of a joke in the UK that it is a convenient Xmas TV space filler) yet have no recollection of ever crying or feeling moved, perhaps because I was too young and too "out of it" then to be able to concentrate.
    If you can leave investigating the remarkable true story of the Von Trapps - who, after Maria and the father marrying, fled Austria in 1938 to escape the NAZIS, and emigrated in America where they pursued a successful singing career - until after watching this film, I can guarantee that this will move you deeply if you are even slightly in touch with your feelings and recommend it highly as a primal film. Gary

  4. In light of Gary's contribution I would like to add one. In looking for a movie to watch it's surprising how reviews vary. Some will say: 'there's no point to it', or it's a waste of time. But others will see the jewel of creation and understand what the movie-maker intended.
    Such was a movie I saw called "The Brownian Movement."
    In it a female doctor who has a loving husband at home persists in secretive sex with dubious, sometimes physically repulsive characters, risking all. There are hints of feelings of being unworthy and of degradation. It is a compartmentalized section of her life, to her a false reality. When she by chance meets one of her partners outside the love nest she freaks and attacks him. She is mandated to therapy where the psychologist asks what she wants from these men. She answers that she does not want to get into it, it will only make things worse. And you can see in her a well of pain that peers out in a tear; but she chooses to not go there. So she remains disconnected and unresolved and hence, thereafter restless. The betrayed husband feels all the distance between them and states that he doesn't really know her. She responds that she is the same person and that she is there with him; to which he replies that that may not be enough.
    One reviewer of the movie said he didn't like it because there was no growth in the character, no learning--but that is the point; if there is no connected feeling there cannot be growth.


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.