Sunday, December 20, 2015

On Evolution and its Role in Therapy

I am reading a book by Sean Carroll on evolution (Evo-Devo).   He points out that in a survey of many countries, the U.S. came out  last in the understanding of evolution: worse it was last in the agreement with evolutionary principles.   Do we come from earlier species?  Answer, “no”.  This led me to thinking that it also applies to the field of psychotherapy; even though we are clearly the evolutionary result of those who have gone before.   So how can we understand who we humans are without any understanding of who we were? We are then ahistorical beings; and indeed we may as well have come along in full force out of what?  Zeus?  No evolution to explain it, even though key scientists all over the world consider Darwin’s discovery the most important in the history of science.   So the bias toward the present leaves us confined away from history. It may be because of the predominance of anti-evolutionary beliefs in this country.

When evolution is by-passed there is no way to do a proper psychotherapy when our origins are left behind, we cannot acknowledge or know that we are the result of who we were early on; above all, how our early months and years shaped us and changed our evolution. Should I say that again?  Our early lives shape our personalities and help determine who we become.

That is why our therapy is so heavily evolutionary.  It allows us to see personal history in the light of brain evolution; something that cannot be ignored. Yet ignored it is by the majority of therapists who never even mention evolution in their books and papers. We are now a cult of the here-and-now. And we present our findings and results within the context of the here and now.

There is a new study on migraine headaches discussed in the NY Times (Dec. 12) where the newest therapy involves monoclonal antibodies, enhancing immune cells to attack the enemy.  I will not go into its intricacies except to say again that in their work, there is no search for origins, no focus on probable causes.  No use of history to search out answers.  It is as true in research as it is in psychotherapy.  “Don’t bother me with the facts” just get on with it.

I want to go on with this aspect because over decades of doing primal therapy and observing patients about to drop into deep brain imprints I noticed something critical.  It points out the difference between statistical conclusions and observation/clinical ones.  As longer term patients arrive at brainstem memories they sometimes start with the onset of a migraine headache, quite severe.  It comes on suddenly with the patient having no idea what is happening; it often is the harbinger of something totally unexpected, although some have had migraine attacks previously for which they took new painkillers that were transiently effective.

As they get deeper into the pain, and it is often very hurtful, they begin to have breathing problems and cannot catch their breath. As this went on, the headache  pain exacerbates until they  drop into the heart of it all:   the actual memory of the depletion of oxygen when the mother was given a  powerful  anesthesia which blocked some of her pain but also shut down oxygen supplies to the baby; the newborn.

What the patient then knows is that there is not enough oxygen and she can figure it out as she goes along in therapy.   It is quite common and leads us to believe that this is primary and primal cause for the affliction. This was the template for the years to follow:  slight stress, trouble catching one’s breath, and the depletion of oxygen, leading to severe migraine headaches.   If there is no focus on very early life and its imprints, there will be no way to know what is behind the symptoms, or why one needs pain killers for life, after that.  And now begins million dollar research into causes, looking for them in biochemistry, neurology, etc. And yes, they sometimes find correlates or concomitants that help to explain processes in the blood flow or in brain dysfunction, but rarely causes. We must always beware of the difference between the two—correlated or causes.   That changes everything.

And what is often a helpful therapy for them?  A correlated: oxygen therapy.  Of course, there are many other options, the most prescribed of which are painkilling drugs which are somewhat effective for a time.   And it is no surprise that whatever helps constrict the blood vessels, like coffee, helps conserve oxygen and lessens the pain. Let us make sure we are not just treating a correlate.  It helps ease the pain, and that is a good thing but not a good substitute for the real thing.

More important, I have discovered, along with methylation and epigenetic scientists that the earliest months of our lives alter the trajectory  of our development,   it determines  who we become;  what diseases we will suffer and how long we will live.  Also the form we take, physically and mentally.  Carroll says macroevolution is microevolution writ large.  Our trajectory is made up of small changes over time, which turn into major evolutionary changes.

Among some of my patients we see bone growth after they touch on deep levels of consciousness.  I have seen it in my wife whose fingers and feet grew.  This is for now anecdotal.  I have no corroborating information, no scientific studies.  But I have seen it in patients, enough of them to impress me with its veracity.   Why is this important?   Because we seem in some respects to alter the trajectory of their personal evolution, including how they grow.  (Yes, I have seen general growth of patients). We also normalize a number of factors, including heart action, blood pressure and kidney function; to say nothing of epilepsy.  We change evolution. What this means is that we change some of the results in their evolution; one thing we do, for example, is change their susceptibility to diseases. We help increase their natural killer cells levels, which when normal, seek out and destroy early cancer developing cells.  When impaired they cannot do their job and cannot prevent serious disease from happening. We have rare appearances of cancer among our longer-term patients.

If due to primal damage very early on they are destined for serious disease later on, we may abort that fatal destiny by reducing or eliminating the trajectory of primal pain that would have led to serious disease.  We shall test this out in the month and years to come in our research on epigenetics and methylation. Above all, by liberating or cutting short those who previously had a bad developmental trajectory, they can become who they were supposed to be. That is why we see breast growth in some women after we reverse serious repression (most often in flat-chested women); the repression that does not permit normal evolution to take place. When all that pressure is removed from the system the body returns to its genetic destiny; and for some women it means breast growth.  For others, heredity has its say and no breast growth appears.  It seems that we work with evolution in some ways. By liberating its normal processes.

If we can change, even minutely who we are destined to be, wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Changing evolution is not easily done, and in dialectic fashion, to do that we must go back in time to recapture basic genetics, and undo some harmful epigenetics.  In short, to recapture our biologic destiny.  We may then grow to where nature intended.  And be as healthy as nature intended before methylation stepped in to abort normality from setting in. It is both genetics and epigenetics that change.  For when we undo epigenetic harm, we free genetics to be their normal selves again. When we reverse repression, the breasts can be normal again and let genetics hold sway. I know this can sound booga booga but I have observed so many times as to dissuade me from any booga booga ideas.

What does this mean for the rest of us?  That we interfere with evolution in some ways. And liberate its normal processes,  and if we can change, even minutely who we are destined to be ,wouldn’t that be amazing?  Changing evolution is not easily done, and in dialectic fashion, to do that we must go back in time to recapture basic genetics, and undo some epigenetics.  In short, to recapture our biologic destiny.  

If we confine our search to only the correlates involved in the development of migraines it can be an unlimited task. We will certainly find reduce blood flow and start with circulation enhancers.   Or we will find excessive salt intake; and it will go on and on; those answers may be partially right, as associates of the key primal imprint:  they are proximate causes: but they are not and cannot be the ultimate causes. Until then, every therapy we try will be temporary, something we need to do over and over again.   It can be nothing else because the imprint has the force of survival, of a lifesaving memory and must endure until the life-endangering imprint is finally fully felt and resolved.  Clearly this applies to many problems, from high blood pressure to asthma and allergies.   That is why it is urgent that we re-focus on the real problem and avoid at all costs, those therapies that remain blindly and snuggly in the present.
Aside from the admonition not to forget about evolution in the practice of psychotherapy there is one more admonition: don’t forget the dialectic:  the interpenetration of opposites:  how one structure or process can turn into its opposite. Thus, basic feeling at a certain valence loses its identity and  becomes amorphous pain. When that pain is forceful enough it becomes repression, so that feeling becomes no feeling. And when pain is relived,  the repression diminishes and becomes a specific feeling again.  When feeling is experienced over time it is integrated and becomes a normal part of us.  Until it becomes a specific feeling, it cannot be dealt nor integrated. The dialectic has come full circle which means cure.  There is no cure with simple happy or positive thoughts.  Cure must grow out of the reality that exists in us...pain. Then negative turns into positive and can lead to positive thoughts. History and the dialectic can be our twin saviors.  Let us not denigrate them in favor of a safer present.


  1. How close to the feeling can I come by my words of asking for it... by expressing myself for what my feeling contains? I do not think I can get closer than what my physiological condition allows unless my brain leaking wildly. But if I ask of a feeling within the framework of what is possible... and I ask for it in the order "it must" so I will also experience it. I have to give the emerging feeling the attention it requires... but it is not so easy considering what resistance my confusing thoughts provides! Letting go of confusing thoughts are not so easy considering their task of saving my life! So... to being humble in my asking about what lies ahead of me is a must of a sentence to save my life.


  2. For us all in these dark times:

    -Into the shadow, of the night, into the realm of dark & fright, into the well of Saturnalia, into the source of depression and mania. Into the depths where soul lurks hiding, into the station down below, into the tunnel where we grow. . . Don't slow, don't slow ! Hurry not but linger not, for when we descend we know our pace by the way we face those terrible strains. . . Those terrifying pains, those that have lain for so long, those that when felt make us strong. . . Into the night, into the dark, into where no friends will hark; for friends and foe are all the same when descending down, beneath that game. . . That game. . . up there. . . in the light where all is seen, so say, all has 'been' so say. . . All is well for those who live up there in the light, they do not descend, they remain above their pain. . . Mock not he who descends to meet Saturns gains. . .

    P. G.

  3. Some comments on this sentence by Dr Janov's in the above article : "We are now a cult of the here-and-now". While the bulk of Dr. Janov's work concentrates on the past, I have not read enough observations about how the here-and now functioning of a neurotic would improve with Primal, at least to satisfy me personally.Perhaps it is understood that someone would generally feel better in all aspects of their functioning.Certainly it is enough that Dr Janov has made these apparently amazing contributions about the past, so no negative criticism is implied here.

    I would say that for most people,unable to have access to deep-feeling therapy, the only improvement anyone could reasonably aspire to is improvement in their here-and- now experience.Personally I feel a lot better when I can connect meaningfully with people, especially women, as I am sure is true for most people.No therapy about the past is needed here. Unfortunately these deeper rewarding expansive connections are rare for me. I have never figured out if I am the main problem, or the alienated culture in which we live in is the main problem. I am always eager to open up to others.It's so liberating. Lately, for instance, I spontaneously started to talk to a female librarian about an excellent and moving British TV series, "Call the Midwife" and a bond was formed. I then asked myself: she's been there for a couple of years and yet I never got through to her despite repeated attempts, and now I did. Why is that? A here-and-now problem I think, mainly!?


    1. spontaneity could have major role in discovery of primal pain too. and in our most important relationships... wonder about the science of it.
      it can even happen at the first encounter, right? does it mean that the cortex is more relaxed? system more open for new stuff? primal spirit of adventure and survival activated?
      to be careful or not to be? that is the question. ))

  4. A new study on "Microchimerism" in Scientific American:

    -Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains

    The connection between mother and child is ever deeper than thought

    By Robert Martone on December 4, 2012 83

    I found this on Facebook.

    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.