Saturday, October 31, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 5/20)

Study after study has shown that a carrying mother’s stress can have long- lasting effects on how the genes unravel and are expressed in the offspring, which is the essence of epigenetics. Those brought up in abusive and unloving homes – under condition of famine, violence, war, divorce, etc. – had lifelong changes in their development, including chronically high levels of cortisol. Women who were abused by their husbands had children with excessive methylation of their gene. And this alteration was passed on to the baby just as if it were inherited. In this way, and in many others, the anxiety and depression of the carrying mother get translated into the baby. In short, he is born stressed. Later on, he will over-react to tense events with higher stress levels.

This is the definition of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And the point is that many of us carry around this latent high stress level for a lifetime. (We tested many of our entering patients for cortisol levels, and they were universally high to begin with, but dropped significantly after one year of therapy.) If we later add an unloving home and other stress factors, the latent levels become inordinately elevated. So then, a man enters combat and later suffers PTSD; we think that combat did it. Combat only exacerbated the reaction and made it manifest; it became an overt symptom. He was already PTSD, only latent. There is a recent study that proves the point, showing that those who had combat fatigue generally had more trauma growing up (Berntsen et al., 2012).

In that study, a team of Danish and American researchers interviewed a group of 746 Danish soldiers before, during and after their deployment to Afghanistan. The investigators, led by Dorthe Berntsen of Denmark’s Aarhus University, wanted to trace the causes of PTSD and find out why some soldiers developed the disorder while others did not. They found that the vast majority of subject soldiers handled the war experience with little or no psychological harm. Surprisingly, for those men who did develop serious stress symptoms, the cause was not found to be connected to battlefield trauma. Instead, the strongest predictor of PTSD was extreme childhood abuse, not combat experience. Researchers found that the PTSD sufferers were more likely to have been victims of severe beatings, burns and broken bones, or to have witnessed family violence as children. In addition, these soldiers had past experiences that they were unable, or unwilling, to talk about with the investigators.
However, in an unexpected twist on conventional wisdom, researchers found that some of the already stressed soldiers, about 13 percent, actually felt better after being sent to the battlefield. These were men who exhibited stress symptoms, such as major anxiety and frequent nightmares, before their deployment. But once in the war zone, their stress temporarily improved, only to reappear once they were safely back home. The question is: Why would they feel better when suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar and threatening situation? The answer, as this study suggests, is that being sent away to war allowed them to briefly escape their own private battlefield – the family.

“In other words, they showed improvement as soldiers only because they were in such poor psychological condition in civilian life,” concludes an article about the research published in Scientific American. “Army life – even combat— offered them more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than they had ever had at home. These soldiers were probably benefiting emotionally from being valued as individuals for the first time ever and from their first authentic camaraderie – mental health benefits that diminished after they once again returned to civilian life.”(11)

To cure the affliction of PTSD we need to deal with the trauma of combat and also the adversity from childhood that set the stage for it. In other words, there were antecedents for this affliction. Cure occurs when all the current and antecedent factors are addressed and relived. So a soldier can be aware of his combat trauma and unconscious of the traumas underlying it. It is what we can’t see that does so much damage. Moreover, the most deleterious traumas are those that occurred during the early critical period, when need is greatest and pain is at its asymptote. It means that the sealed-in imprint is almost irreversible in its effects (excluding Primal Therapy). War is such a powerful force that its effects can be engraved just as during a critical period in childhood, when the brain is so vulnerable. There is, therefore, a confluence of two traumas: one that is obvious and the other that we cannot see. We must not only treat what is obvious if we want to make sure that the PTSD does not linger on and on. To leave the basic primeval imprint intact and untouched means always that we must do something each day to handle the symptoms which never seem to go away.

That is why we must always include the concept of the imprint in any attempt to understand human behavior, whether it be PTSD or ADD or any number of ailments. It may seem like one abuse cannot be that bad as to cause such lasting damage; but it is one abuse among many, a series of traumas that are encapsulated and imprinted with a force that lasts a lifetime. A mother who fights with her spouse over time is setting up future behavior in the offspring. It not only upsets the mother but it also upsets the baby for life by changing his genetic inheritance. We have treated such cases and they are often punctuated by frequent trips to the emergency room for allergy and asthma attacks.

When a baby or fetus is traumatized he is more sensitive to later stress. His immune system is affected and he is more vulnerable to such things as Epstein-Barr disease or the herpes virus. In other words, when there is a virus around he will be more likely to fall ill, especially if he were unloved even in the womb (i.e. did not have his basic needs fulfilled) (Fagundes, Glaser, Malarkey & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2013). These afflictions are not considered mental illness, but they are often due to the same imprints involved in serious mental ailments. Here there is dysregulation of immune function, but it can have other effects, as well. Do we want to alleviate that immune problem or cure it? To cure it, we must find the imprints. They are there and when the patient is given access he will get there. Memories will come to greet him. Yes, we must treat the allergies, etc., but that only deals with manifestations, not cure.

In order to suffer “mental illness” we need a “mental” component, the cognitive apparatus that allows for mental deviation. Until that evolutionary step in brain development, we will suffer physically from that same imprint. Sometimes it is not different diseases we are dealing with, but different evolutionary stages of our growing up; our ontology. It is not possible to develop an “attention deficit” until we develop the cognitive capacity to pay attention and concentrate. And then it is the impact of multiple imprints or one very strong imprint that sends constant messages to the top level brain, the neo-cortex, trying to inform it of the problems on deeper levels, and thus interrupting normal thought. Those messages are importuning and unrelenting, and keep us from any long-term focus. They are trying to inform us of priorities; what is urgently in need of being dealt with.

(11) Herbert, W. (2012). Embattled Childhood: The Real Trauma in PTSD. Scientific American Mind Sci Am Mind, 23(5), 74-75. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind1112-74

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Primal Therapy and Epilepsy: a Letter From a Former Patient


If any of your patiens ever got long-term cured, I was one of them!

Since cured has important components of time, evolution (in reverse!) and duration I will add the following to make clear what I mean when I say that I am cured:

During 35 years, since January 1980, I have had primals. If these primals, gradually, little by little, reliving a complex longlasting and horrific trauma in the birth channel had not happened (over 30 years) they had turned into grand mal and petit mal seizures. (During the 80ies you participated in at least 2 of my dramatic primals, one of which, with bruises reappearing all over my forhead, were filmed by French television).

After having decided to drop my career  in the mid 90ies I quit all medications (Tegretol/Carbamazepine). I spent 2 satanical but revolutionary years when I “entered” my epilepsy and found myself in the borderland between grandmal seizures and primals. That meant eventually less seizures and more primals. Finally primals became a habit and my few seizures had now the character of petit mal seizures. I could not only “lay back and feel the stab of anxiety” and go into a primal when I was awake, but I could also have dramatic dreams when I could decide to go into a primal. During such a primal I became awake, or rather there was, during the primal, no difference between dream and wakefulness. Over the last 4-5 years I have only in few occasions had to go into a primal. That has happened, for example, when a special, surpricing and dramatic event has brought up a repressed memory.

If my tensions and anxiety were channeled into primals there were no need for epileptic seizures. During the last 20 years my lifepattern has changed and my earlier neurotic drive faded away as I relived my imprint/pain and I stopped working myself into impossible situations. I could suddenly feel that I had limits and needed to rest and relax and allow myself to be lazy. It seems that my epilepsy was an evolutionary quick way to save my brain and life. My former employers considered me to be without inhibitions. I went on fighting (acting out) until I fell (read: got epilepsy).

Yes Art, I am cured from epilepsy. It has meant reliving pain which has lead to a modified lifepattern; less struggling, more feelings. I have less urge to do the impossible. My main motivations to put it all together over 35 years are easily identifiable: To cure myself, The Primal Principle, your charisma and your unhesitating conviction, my daughter Isabel and my childhood love Eva.

Compared to many patients I have been blessed by an identifiable problem. I come from an economically and socially priotitized part of the world. I have been able to function and develop an exciting career. Although my judgement has been neurotically driven, I’ve been able to make good and important decisions. I have had the crucial support of resource-rich, knowledeable and sympathetic people (including yourself). Last but not least, I had two parents who finally realized and admitted their wrongdoing.

Even though I have cured my variant of epilepsy, it is a difficult, seemingly hopeless task to transfer my experience to other epileptics.

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 4/20)

Neurosis is Inherited

People exude who they are from every pore of their being. I mean that literally. An uptight, tense mother radiates her repression. An angry father radiates his rage. They don't have to “do” anything; just be. But it is worse than that. When their underlying feelings show themselves, we instinctively sense we should avoid them or be very careful around them. They distort our words, detour our natural movements and disapprove of almost everything we do, not by words but by those looks. And worse, when they show no emotion, we know that feelings are what we keep to ourselves. The point is that even before we have words a child is undergoing a lifetime of experience. And the earlier that experience, the more impactful. It should be obvious; those early experiences that directly affect breathing, digestion and elimination are going to do a lot of damage and will last a lifetime.

Our genes form the matrix of later life; that much we agree on. But our epigenes, transformed by severe experiences, build a new “genetic” base that changes or distorts the evolution of our genetic code. Those new altered traits then become “inherited.” As I’ve noted, we too often confuse this with our genetic heritage, which is largely impervious to later events. The person becomes a meld of genes and epigenes, of genetics shaped by experience. Instead of saying, “she looks and acts just like her mother,” we need to say, “her mother was ‘infected’ with neurosis, which got imprinted into the system of the offspring, and now she is just as hyperactive and ADD as her distracted and hyperactive mother.” In other words, the infant who is being carried has caught what could be a fatal disease: neurosis, the same one lying inside the mother. The baby will reflect the internal life of the mother and that is what will be imprinted inside him and last a lifetime. Why? Because this is what had been learned in order to adapt and adjust. No words, no reprimands, no social neglect, just who she is, does it all.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, looked at what they call emotional synchrony, the non-verbal communication between mother and child (Waters, West & Mendes, 2014). In a phenomenon they dub “stress contagion,” the baby is learning how to manage the incoming stress of the mother. They did studies of several different mothers who gave a talk with a different audience – one approving, one neutral and one not approving. Guess what? The 14-month old babies reflected what happened. There were differences in heart rate and a greater stress response in those children of mothers who had disapproval. The children “learned” through some kind of osmosis. They were inculcated by the mother’s emotional state. As lead researcher Sara Waters stated in an article on the website of the Association for Psychological Science, which published the research: “Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion.” (6) Now imagine that the baby and mother are one, where the baby lives inside the mother. The influences are far more impactful.

So what gets transmitted? Odor, facial expression, lack of feeling, body movements and on and on. All of the parent is transmitted to the child. Even food preferences can be imprinted in the womb and passed on through generations. If you love sweets and cannot resist, it could be due to womb-life. In other words, the mother’s compulsion becomes your destiny. This can explain a good percentage of obesity in children. Bad eating habits begin in the womb, as do so many other compulsions. For the most part, people only see the visible manifestation of these hidden forces. So they ask, for example, “Why does this person eat so much?” We know that it is not current culture that is the sole cause; it could also be because the mother was indulgent and ate compulsively. While in the womb the baby is learning about his world and what to expect from it; hence lots of food is to be expected from a mother who indulges. More evidence is piling up to show how this early start can predict the early onset of disease and a shortened lifespan.(7) The fetus is not only aware of certain tastes and smells in the mother while she is carrying, but those memories can last a lifetime, and can affect so much of our interests later on. Mothers ingesting carrot juice during pregnancy, for example, had children who preferred it.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found that even the memory of a specific smell can be inherited (Dias & Ressler, 2013). The scientists trained male mice to associate the smell of cherry blossom with an electric shock, making them fearful of it. They then impregnated females with the sperm of these mice and found that the pups were also fearful of the cherry blossom aroma. Even the grand-pups inherited the fear of that specific smell. How did this olfactory trait get passed down through generations? Researchers attribute it to epigenetics, noting that DNA from the grandfather mice and their pups revealed epigenetic marks on the gene encoding the receptor for that specific smell, known as M71. In other words, this inheritance came through experience, not just genes. Like their traumatized grandfathers, the grand-pups were more sensitive to the aroma of cherry blossom because their receptors were also acutely attuned to it, more than control mice. The research “provides some of the best evidence yet that memories or developed traits can be inherited,” according to a report on the experiment published in New Scientist.”(8)

"Knowing how the experiences of parents influence their descendants helps us to understand psychiatric disorders that may have a trans-generational basis, and possibly to design therapeutic strategies," says senior author Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory School of Medicine.(9) In 2013, Ressler, who is also an investigator at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, delivered a Stockholm Psychiatry Lecture on the biology of fear at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Entitled "Neural circuits mediating fear, risk and resilience: from Pavlov to PTSD," the hour lecture can be viewed online.(10)

So are we born fearful? Could be. We can be jumpy, nervous and erratic, all due to epigenetics. It seems so early as to be genetic, but it is more likely to be epigenetic, the condition of the mother (and father) while carrying. So you say to yourself, “Did I inherit my mother’s craziness?” The answer could be, yes... but not in the usual sense of inheritance. Rather, who she was while carrying – hyperactive or depressed and down – left you with a neurotic inheritance that still shaped your life. This should teach us something about memory; for memories while being carried can last decades and drive and/or channel behavior. We do not simply “grow out of it.”

(6) For Infants, Stress May be Caught, Not Taught. (2014, February 3). Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from not-taught.html

(7) See the work of Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development, and others at the University of Southampton in England.

(8) Geddes, L. (2013). Fear of a smell can be passed down several generations. New Scientist, 220(2946), 10. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62827-4

(9) Mice can inherit learned sensitivity to a smell. (2013, December 2). Retrieved from



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 3/20)

The Urgency of Early Love

What is important is that we can begin to zoom in on a specific answer to the question that eludes so many in the study of mental illness – why? Granted, damage means heavier methylation. But what is that great damage? The answer is simple – early lack of love. It takes many forms in humans: poor nutrition, abuse, neglect, lack of touch (licking in animals). Methylation seems to be an important marker for lack of early love, both in animals and in humans. The new research is finding that so many diseases are affected by methylation, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes and heart disease. Again, these are stress-related and the great stressor seems to be a simple lack of love, meaning deprivation of basic need. Not surprising in the rat study was the fact that heavy methylation occurred in the limbic/feeling structures such as the hippocampus which has to do with feeling/memory. The upshot is that rat pups that are unloved are more susceptible to later stress, while those that do get loved (licked) do much better later in life, becoming more adventurous and curious.

Remember, when there is very early stress during womb-life, the genes can be up-or-down-regulated, and here starts the origins of depression and anxiety. It becomes the crucible for later disease. When we add later trauma – abuse in infancy and childhood, given away to foster parents, a mother too sick to care for the child, etc. – we can almost be sure that neurotic behavior and disease will follow. That almost surely will involve ADD, lack of concentration and learning disorders. The DNA has been chemically modified and it reroutes normal reactions for behavior and disease. These changes are not neurotic; they are often normal to the noxious intrusion of things like a mother’s smoking or drinking. The fetus is trying to adapt as best she can. Neurosis is an adaptive reaction to threat. It is in that sense, normal. So when we find a mother who is not loving we need to know that she may be driven by her epigenes; she is a victim of those changes. Her cortisol/stress hormone level militates against maternal instincts; methylation shuts down a number of “natural” behaviors, including the maternal instinct. One of the hormonal controls for love is oxytocin, which responds to our therapy; it builds as pain descends and allows the person both to give and receive love. Those new mothers who cannot give adequate breast milk for their newborns are usually the ones with little love in infancy; they are often deficient in oxytocin. It is why I call it the hormone of love.

As it turns out, love is not as ephemeral as we might have thought. Love means having a proper birth, without heavy anesthetics to shut down the oxygen supply to the newborn. Most important, it means a mother fairly free of anguish and depression; for her physiologic and emotional state is more or less the offspring’s state, not just momentarily, but for a lifetime. In fact, when we see the documentation we discover that how we’ve been nurtured in the womb and our first years is at least as important, if not more so, than heredity; when love is absent, there are enduring physical consequences. And therein lies the rub; we are dealing with errors of omission, an absence not a presence — which is why it is so hard to pin down.

Animal experiments have shown that separating a baby sporadically and unpredictably from its mother causes severe stress, and the same applies to a human baby who is not touched right after birth and in the first weeks of life, as we find in babies raised in incubators. Another study showed that early trauma produced heavy methylation in those children who grew up in orphanages (Drury et al., 2011). And that process then affected much more in terms of brain and neuronal development. The effects of this stress become heritable from the epigenome. This imprint then affects many aspects of our biology, including the memory system. That may mean that a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease may get its start from birth, and not show up for another sixty years. Research by D.K. Lahiri and B. Maloney (2010), at the Indiana University School of Medicine, for instance, indicates how this all might work— first by the imprint and then, they suggest, by the methylation that carries on the imprint. Again, the imprint changes how heredity manifests itself. Clearly, without an understanding of the imprint there is no way to solve the mystery of mental illness which derives from serious imprinted experience. And, in reality, it is never just “mental” illness. It is neurophysiologic to the core. That is why to use intellectual methods such as Cognitive Therapy to address deep-lying memories is a contradiction in terms.

So what is the imprint? It is a memory, an ensemble of all the circumstances surrounding a key adverse event; a memory of an early trauma encapsulated. But it is not just a “memory” in the usual sense of recall or actively going back to purposefully retrieve something forgotten in the past. It is an event sealed-in biochemically and which affects us forevermore. The reason it is so important is that it determines personality, illness, longevity and many other facets of our lives. It drives our behavior and the kind of sickness we will suffer from, whether Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. Once we understand the nature of the imprint we understand that no basic change in personality can take place in therapy without altering the imprint. But you cannot get there from here; you cannot willfully try to retrieve the memory because “willful” is the opposite of what is needed. One needs to let go of high-level cortical processes and descend down the levels of consciousness where the imprint exists. And there we find that we cannot reach out to it because it is encapsulated, surrounded by aspects of the methyl chemical group, which helps encase it and makes it unreachable. Thus, when an infant suffers trauma during the critical period before birth and at the very beginning of life, methylation leaves the mark of that trauma on the cells. The methyl chemicals seem to cling to the gene and control whether the genetic switch is turned on or off, and whether it is on when it should be off, such as in serious disease. In effect, it is methylation that is heavily responsible for the imprint and its enduring affects.

One example: when a patient relives a traumatic birth, we sometimes see the reappearance of the doctor’s fingerprints on the arms of the newborn. We have photographed this, as it is unmistakable to the eye. And at the same time, so difficult to understand, until we realize that memory is far more than cerebral. Hoping to cure by cerebral methods while ignoring the imprint is but a fantasy that ignores reality.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 2/20)

Heredity Turned on its Head

Let’s make sure we understand this notion of epigenetics because in the coming years it will likely be one of most important areas of scientific research. As I’ve mentioned, one reason for its preeminence is that many of the serious diseases we think are genetic are actually epigenetic and, therefore, environmentally caused, and possibly treatable. That is now an established fact in human development. However, early discoveries in the field a short decade ago were so startling that they even surprised the scientific world.

The power of epigenetics was demonstrated early on in an experiment at Duke University. That study showed that when female mice were fed a diet rich in methyl it completely altered the fur pigment of the offspring; in other words, it acted like a genetic inheritance when it was not. It was the result of experience, something totally unexpected in the field of genetics until then. As a result of this study, two leading scientists from Canada, Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf, thought: if that is true why shouldn’t it be true of other experiences such as bad mothering or negligent parenting? (3) Well,it was,and epigenetic research exploded. Think of that: traumatic events in very early childhood leave a mark or tag on a gene that affects us just about forever. That is what I refer to as the imprint, the psychological stamp engraved by harmful events during gestation and early infancy, and burned into the system for life. We now understand that the imprint is aided and abetted by the process of methylation, in which the chemical methyl group is added to the genome to restrict its expression. In other words, the imprint is laid down, in part, by a change in the cell, as certain chemical reactions are taking place — hydrogen removal, methyl infusion, and so on. Methylation leaves a heritable imprint, one that can be passed down even from grandparents to their grandchildren, as research has shown. So what we always thought was genetic may well be the result of very early experience diverting the genetic legacy. In short, the experiences of our forbearers can endure and be passed down the epigenetic chain – the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This is something science thought impossible not long ago.

In another key experiment, the McGill genetics researchers compared two groups of rats: one group consisted of the offspring of normal mothers who frequently licked their babies but had subjected the offspring to stress during pregnancy, with a second group of pups who were also under stress but experienced no licking (Meaney, Aitken, Bodnoff, Iny, & Sapolsky, 1985). Not surprisingly, those babies who were heavily licked turned out to be the most normal and well adjusted. What is a surprise, however, is how much womb-life counts; what the scientists found is that the right amount of licking and grooming early on, left offspring less responsive to stress hormones as adults. It is what we all know: that early love makes us stronger and less anxious. But it turns out that if the mothers were licked and groomed early on in their lives, that experience could be passed on too; the stress hormone genes of their offspring could be modified by the methyl group (and also other chemicals) in a beneficial way. Good history in the mother, good childhood for the children. The more loving by the mother, the less methylation in the child. As we will see shortly, loving in the womb means receiving proper nutrients, being calm and not furiously running here and there, avoiding dangerous or unhealthy situations. I know of someone who did extreme heat/massage therapy while pregnant, never realizing the possible harm to the baby.

Almost every animal form that is loved and licked has grown up pretty healthy with no serious disease; and in my therapeutic experience, those children who had bad and traumatic births with unhealthy gestations are the ones who suffer the most as adults. Too often, catastrophic early life equals catastrophic disease later in life.

To make sure that these changes in the rat pups resulted from experience and not heredity, the researchers let normally stable rat pups raised by attentive mothers be raised by neurotic negligent mothers. And the result was still the same – unstressed babies. These babies had birth mothers who had normal amounts of methylation in their genomes. Thus rats raised by loving mothers could pass it onto offspring even when the adopted mother was not loving. The genes for stress hormone output had minimal methylation; in other words love was passed down the genetic chain. So normal babies raised by negligent and inattentive mothers still had low methyl levels in their hippocampus. The babies started life one leg up; a good start in life despite a bad childhood.

For animal mothers, licking is tantamount to hugging and caressing in humans. And, just as we see in the rats, a woman who is unhappy or depressed while carrying can influence that child for a lifetime, even if she later normalizes and feels better. I believe that changes in the genes, methylation and acetylation, must occur very early as the whole neuronal system is evolving. So before we can state what causes depression or anxiety, we need to observe the early epigenetics at work. Again, pups born to bad mothers but reared by loving mothers still seemed to be normal and relatively un-methylated.

Here is one more reason this research is important: the scientists found that unloving mothers of rodents caused methylation of the estrogen receptors in female offspring. Then, when they had offspring of their own, the offspring were deficient in estrogen, which made them less attentive and loving to their own babies. We as yet do not know how many key chemical processes can be affected by lack of early love, and more, we have no idea how many hormones are changed in neurotic (heavily methylated) mothers, and how that affects myriad adult behaviors.

Nowadays, there seem to be constant breakthroughs in epigenetics research. As I stated at the start, researchers have established that epigenetics is at work not just in animals but among humans as well. In the aforementioned study of Holocaust survivors, published in August in Biological Psychiatry, an international team of researchers led by Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, examined the genes of 32 Jewish subjects who had suffered some level of trauma during World War II. They were either held in concentration camps, tortured or forced into hiding. Researchers also examined the genes of 22 adult children of these traumatized survivors. The results were then compared with a control group of Jewish families (eight parents and nine offspring) who were living outside of Europe during the war.

Investigators focused on a specific gene, FKBP5, which is known to
regulate the stress hormone system and determines how well a person handles
stress, according to Elisabeth Binder, director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, who directed the molecular analyses. The study found that the war trauma had altered the methylation levels of a specific site within that gene (bin 3/site 6) in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring. The methylation levels at that site were higher in Holocaust survivors compared to the control subjects. In the survivors’ adult offspring, paradoxically, the methylation levels at that same site were lower, compared to controls. Still, researchers determined that “methylation levels for exposed parents and their offspring were significantly correlated.”

The research has quickly led to a practical, real-world application. In August, around the same time the study was released, London’s Guardian newspaper reported that Jewish activists in Scotland had launched an effort to help the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors suffering from depression, anxiety, addiction and eating disorders. The article makes note of epigenetics studies that document “the intergenerational effects of the Holocaust” by showing that “the atrocities altered the DNA of victims’ descendants.” Armed with that knowledge, activists called for “a mental health provision to treat inherited trauma.” (4)

Although critics say the number of subjects in this study is too small – reflecting the small number of Holocaust survivors still alive – the connection is clear. "The gene changes in the children did not appear to be mediated by adversity experienced during their own childhood but could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents," said Yehuda, in a statement from the Max Planck Institute (5). "Environmental influences such as stress, smoking or diet can affect the genes of our children.”
In other words, even before a baby is conceived, his genetic destiny is being determined, at least in part, by the life experiences of his parents, not just their existing genetic code. That is epigenetics in action.

(3) Hoag, H. (2011, Summer). Are your genes your destiny? (Not if your mom has anything to say about it). Retrieved from your-mom-has-anything-to-say-about-it/

(4) West, J. (2015, August 3). Holocaust survivors' grandchildren call for action over inherited trauma. The Guardian.

(5) Holocaust survivors pass on trauma to their children’s genes. (2015, August 25). Retrieved from


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Looking Back on Five Decades of Primal Therapy

I have been thinking about my discovery almost 50 years ago of primal therapy.  And now I am 91,  Sooooo?  Well, I realize that it has taken me up to ninety years to really understand it and help lead to a cure.  I have stayed on course not because of science which came along decades later, but because of clinical work that kept me on track, as I watched who got well and who didn’t and why?  So I refined and honed and did research, and the results kept me on tract; so long as i did not deviate and listen to dozens of experts tell me what to do.  Such as add hypnosis, rebirthing, body therapy and on and on.  Worse, to rely on drugs to help the brain produce feelings.  I have tried to keep it as biologic and natural as possible.  And now, along comes science and seems to support just about every move and belief we have had.  It did not prove our therapy but confirmed our work.  We did nothing artificial to produce feelings, knowing that it could cause overload, as we then  could not control the upsurge of feelings done with drugs; worse with rebirthing and its ilk.  And even worse those who went to mock primal therapists who claimed to be associated with me, showing my books, sometimes autographed, resulting even with someone like with Steve Job’s brilliance getting taken in, with disastrous results.

We have also done a good deal of research over the years, in England, France and America, with impressive results.  I noticed over the years that we had shrinking cases of cancer among our patients.  We then did a double blind study in  England and France on natural kill cells (part of the immune system that surveys the body for newly developing cancer cells and sets out to kill them).  Newly entering patients were very low in NK cells.  After one year we did a follow-up study and the number of NK cells almost doubled.

The only people impressed were us, since  the cognitive shrinks managed to ignore all of it. The Analysts too and Behaviorists, as well.  They formed an impenetrable  phalanx of indifference; but we soldiered on until today where I have written a definitely crucial article on the cure for neurosis in a scientific peer reviewed journal (coming up soon in "Activitas Nervosa Superior" journal of the World Psychiatric Association).  This has meant that there is a way to do scientific therapy based on scientific principles and achieve astounding results.  That means less  suffering, less addiction, the end of depression and anxiety; the end of suffering for so many.  We have measured this in many labs including the Pulmonary Laboratory at UCLA. None of this is off-the cuff.  We have always insisted on doing the research.  We had a neurologist with us where we studied the brains,  not only of our patients, but also those who took LSD—Acid in the sixties.  There were specific brain changes; and yes there were marked changes in their brains. We knew why they could not sleep nor concentrate.  We have done long-term body temp and blood pressure studies with dramatic changes….leading to my belief that we extend longevity.  For example, we lower body temperature over years by one degree, which means to me a body working less hard and living longer.

And now we know how the pain which I always called The Imprint, gets embedded, endures and leads to serious symptoms.  We have found a way to take patients to their imprints in their brainstems and limbic areas.  The deep pain can be measured and extirpated, not a small thing. So future diseases can be avoided and so a healthy and longer life can be achieved.

We know now that there are traces on the genes called epigenes that tell us of early trauma and how much.  It is measurable.  Above all, we have found a way to undo the damage and reverse history.  We know the route to be traveled.  Not a simple one, but it is do-able.      

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 1/20)

This is the first part of a series I wrote on Epigenetics and Primal Therapy. The whole article will publish soon in the "Activitas Nervosa Superior" Journal of the World Psychiatry Association (

Sometimes I realize I am getting science-heavy but what is happening today is so exciting, especially since it supports what I have been writing about for almost 50 years. Almost every week, it seems, scientists announce new research confirming much of the primal position. This is especially true in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, the study of how experience changes an individual’s genetic code, previously considered inalterable. An article recapping the groundbreaking work by pioneering researchers from McGill University in Montreal proclaimed that “the emerging field of epigenetics is revolutionizing the study of mental health – and challenging the belief that DNA is destiny”(1). 

 Moreover, in terms of the history of science, the new developments augur the convergence of previously distinct fields, psychology and biology. In one report regarding research that shows a link between early-life adversity and changes in a person’s genetic make-up, the Canadian researchers come to this sweeping conclusion: “Epigenetics could serve as a bridge between the social sciences and the biological sciences, allowing a truly integrated understanding of human health and behavior.” (McGowan & Szyf, 2010, p. 71) In short, there is a growing understanding that mental illness has a crucial physical component, which has been a basic tenet of Primal Theory from the start. We have always maintained that neurosis is a disturbance of mind and body. And in our treatment, both mind and body must be involved for a cure. Now, science is showing us how that is possible at a cellular level. Unlike genetic mutations, the researchers state, “epigenetic alterations are potentially reversible” (McGowan & Szyf, 2010, p. 66). And that is the most promising finding of all. 

 I have discussed epigenetics in my blog and my books, about how adversity early on changes the switches for key genes that then serves to compound repression or inhibition. These switches turn the gene on or off, and thus help set in what seem like genetic changes. In Primal terms, it is the mechanism of closing the gates of feeling or opening them. And there are different chemicals that accompany the epigenetic events, methyl and acetyl groups, for example. The critical work in this field shows how imprints can be passed down through generations – from parent to child and grandchild – primarily through the biochemical processes known as methylation and acetylation. We need to differentiate, however, between healthy and unhealthy methylation. Under normal conditions, methylation is a necessary and naturally occurring process that helps regulate the expression of an individual’s genetic make-up. But excess methylation becomes pathological and leads to disease. The process goes awry when the individual suffers physical or psychological trauma, especially in the womb and in infancy. It seems that for each and every pain we endure during gestation and at birth there is a change in the chemicals that enhance the repression of pain. When the pain or adversity is prolonged, the system is overtaxed and we now have the mechanism of leaky gates; that is, repression begins to falter due to an overload of chronic pain. 

 It is the consistency of the pain that causes the overload. There is a limit that the brain can handle. Beyond that, the gates become vulnerable and do not do well. It takes very little trauma after that to produce a symptom such as ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. The chemical methyl group is recruited when there is a traumatic event, and helps embed that memory. It seems that when there is a surge of methylation part of it attaches to cytosine, one of the four nucleobases of DNA. The imprint of the pain is now part of the DNA and blocks the expression of various genes. Concurrently, methyl and acetyl groups attached to the histones (protein structures which allow the DNA to coil up) may interfere with the timely coiling or uncoiling of the DNA. This disrupts the proper expression of certain hormones and other neurochemical processes. That is part of the reason it is so easy to confuse genetics with epigenetics: our moods and personalities are shaped early on, so we believe psychological disorders are passed down through the bloodlines. After all, if both the parents have blue eyes, it is not a mystery that their child also has blue eyes. 

 But when it comes to behavior and feelings, it is another matter. Controlled by the epigenome, genetic expression can be restricted through experiences the fetus undergoes while in the womb. And it is here that some of the mystery of cancer may be uncovered; for it may be that cancerous cells would evolve as normal cells if not for the physiologic force of repression provoked by maternal stress. This creates lifelong chronic stress in the offspring. It may be that as benign cells surge forward along preordained pathways, they are blocked from their destinations. They are then “crushed” or deviated and can no longer be themselves; they lose their identity and become lethal. As they are changed, we are changed. (More on cancer in a moment.) What all this means is that by examining our womb-life in detail we can often predict our future: our sexual problems, the possibility of later cancer, psychosis, heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease, and a whole host of afflictions (Johnstone & Baylin, 2010). 

 One study suggests that the biological underpinnings of bipolar affective disorder are not primarily genetic, but are epigenetic (Rutten & Mill, 2009). Even an individual’s tendency toward violence, once thought to be a brain disorder, is being shown to have epigenetic roots. In research with rats, investigators at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne found that animals subjected to trauma in childhood showed changes in two parts of the brain – the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala (Márquez et al., 2013). Those changes taken together combined to lower the threshold of aggressive impulses and weaken the ability to control them. (A report summarizing the findings was also released by the Swiss research university under the title, “Childhood Trauma Leaves its Mark on the Brain.”(2) The results were surprisingly similar to changes found in the human brains of traumatized children who grew up to be violent adults. In addition, the scientists also measured changes in genes known to be associated with aggressive behavior. Here, they found that the psychological stress experienced by the rats caused an alteration in the way these genes were expressed, specifically an increase in the level of MAOA gene expression in the prefrontal cortex, according to Prof. Carmen Sandi, head of the Swiss school’s Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics and director of the Brain-Mind Institute. Researchers were able to reduce the levels of aggression with antidepressants, specifically an MAOA gene inhibitor. In short, childhood stress produced epigenetic changes that heightened violent tendencies. Drug treatment later tamped down the violence, reversing the long-term impact of early trauma. In our own work, we have found that the deeper patients descend down the levels of consciousness the more likely there can be rage and violence. 

 Until recently, the role of epigenetic mechanisms in transmitting trauma across generations has been demonstrated in animals but not in humans. A new study, involving Holocaust survivors and their children, shows for the first time how the epigenetic impact of stress, the cellular changes, can also be passed down among humans, from one generation to the next (Yehuda et al., 2015). Researchers found that children of Holocaust survivors frequently gave birth to anxious children. At first, they thought it was because the parents told horrible stories to the children, but later they discovered that the anxiety came down through the genetic chain, as we shall see in more detail shortly. The point is that the genetic effect of wartime stress had descended from the mother’s physiology through epigenetics. (More on this study in a moment.) 

 I will discuss the clinical implications of the research in the second half of this article. Suffice to say for now that pharmacological treatment may not be the only way to reverse epigenetic changes. We propose that the effects of methylation – as an agent of repression – can be reversed during Primal Therapy, which revisits and resolves the traumatic events that triggered the repressive chemical process to begin with. The real revolution lies in the possibility that people no longer have to live with their genetic inheritance but can actually take charge and change it through Primal Therapy. We believe we may have the method for reversing the long-term deleterious effects of epigenetics, and we are undertaking new research to study that point. If it is life experience that caused changes in the biochemistry and neuronal circuitry, then it is not a fixed entity. It can be altered; the way this is done is by retrieving and reliving key imprints, as I will explain. Heredity is irreversible, but epigenetics is not. It is reversible, which is something I propose we have been doing for almost 50 years. 

 (1) McDevitt, N. (2006, Fall). The nurture of things. Headway. Retrieved from 
 (2) Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain. (2013, January 15). Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Retrieved from

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Abreaction

I have been thinking a lot lately about abreaction.  I think it is the scourge of primal therapy. It is what is happening in almost every mock primal therapy I know, which is why we have such a hard time helping patients once they have abreacted over time.  Patients get grooved into false pistes and we cannot get them out of it.  And they sicker and sicker and never know it.  Why? Because they get some kind of relief with the discharge  of the energy of feeling but never ever resolve anything.  The feelings remains suspended in time, unchanged and unresolved.  And then what happens?  The feelings on every line triggered en masse, become impacted, first, second and third lines as a block. They then become impenetrable and cannot be felt and liberated. The result is overload.  That means that the energy of all levels of consciousness surge forward; due their incredible load they become too weighted to feel and experience.  The excess, now stays in the system ceasing spillways for the energy; that means it goes where there is least resistance; the result is the system does its best to integrate overload but it fails.  Specific symptoms result: depression, anxiety,  hopelessness, migraines, high blood pressure, 
epilepsy, and a multitude of other afflictions  (how high reflects the power and energy of the overload).   The symptoms are most difficult to control because all levels are involved; not any specific feeling.  Hence no resolution.  Why not a feeling that could liberate?  In bad therapy no single feeling is addressed and relived at a time with resolution.  The therapist takes charge and directs the whole process out of his own unconscious and his deep unfulfilled need.  So, instead of going all the way with hopelessness,  for example, the therapists offers hope and destroys the resolution of the feeling.  Or does not know how deep the feeling is and cuts it off prematurely, when it has deep roots that need reliving, too. 

I have been trying to figure how what to do about the treatment of this overload.  Old patients from other therapies come in and try to feel but nothing changes.  All the  three lines of therapy are consolidated and untouchable.  The groove remains.  It is much worse than a single neurosis.  It is like three at once.  I have come up on a solution which we shall try with no proof at all if it will work:  try a week or more of Primal therapy but add a first-line blocker to the mix before therapy thus reducing part of the consolidation/overload, and permitting a  single lighter feeling at a time.  That should be more "feelable" and allows one separate out the levels of consciousness and take away its heavy load.  We shall try it but no certainty of the result until  much time and therapy has gone on.  Which is why we need to have therapy on the right track right away. That means therapists who know what they are doing;  therapists with proper training of how the brain works, as well as how the therapy needs to go. And we need to avoid those who love the drama of reliving birth; usually done far too early with no preparation.  It is often a result of helter-skelter therapy with no proper organization.

 I think this leads up to the same problem with many other therapies that do not touch a feeling but partially dredge it up unresolved.  The great problem is that as feelings are elicited but not resolved, they create a reservoir of feeling that produces more depression and anxiety and the patients never know why.  Those feelings adhere to other feelings and almost glue them together.  It gets more and more difficult to penetrate them.  As feelings continue on their journey with  the effects on the heart, blood system and organs continues on unabated.  Disaster lurks.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

To My Colleagues and Shrinks Everywhere

Forget what you learned in school: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about diagnosis: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about therapy: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about theory: it is wrong

Forget about your office setup: it is wrong

Forget about the fifty-minute hour: it is really wrong

Forget about what you learned about insights: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about therapeutic progress: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about relating to your patients: it is wrong

Forget what you learned about how to treat patient: wrong again

Forget about what you learned about the unconscious: it is wrong

So what’s right?

Everything else

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.