Monday, July 15, 2013
How and Why Primal Therapy Works, by Frank Robinette (from our Staff)
A thing I find most odd in all psychology, and particularly psychotherapy, is how little attention is paid to the process of crying. Despite the fact that Homo-sapiens is the only animal that possesses this function, it is for the most part treated as though it is not all that important. I disagree. Furthermore I believe it is the crucial function that sets us apart from other animals, and is essential for truly complex rational thinking; and perhaps speech. It opens us up to resonation, affectively connecting similar feelings and is certainly responsible for our capacity for metaphor. And to speak metaphorically, crying is what keeps your computer brain from crashing, and when it does, it’s the only thing that can effectively reboot the damn thing. It is also probably responsible for our capacity to lie at will about anything.
But what does it do? What is the function of this odd, semi-convulsive behavior accompanied with runny nose and profuse tearing? It makes no sense to me that something that elaborate, complex, and temporarily disabling of normal function could not be extremely important. I know of no ongoing neurological studies of crying. Little is known (so far as I know) about what is going on in the brain when we cry. There was one little book (174 pp.) I know of that made a modest effort in that direction: Crying, The Mystery of Tears by William H Frey. But that book was written in 1985, several years before the affective neuroscience revolution, and was limited to the chemistry of tears. I’ve seen no fMRI studies of crying. When there is a tiny spark of interest, it is always focused on babies crying, not adults. Our warmonger society is militated against crying, and sees it as weakness. Today I received a notice from Amazon for a book by the preeminent neuroscientist, V. S. Ramachandran titled The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. I did a search in the book and found not one single reference to crying. I did the same for Antonio Damasio’s book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. He used the word only twice, and that was in passing. This is the epitome of repression at work.
After years of Primal Therapy along with perusal of the recent work of Dr. Arthur Janov on the relationship of methylation and the imprint (permanent reaction to trauma, stored in the brain by the process of methylation that controls aspects of a person’s behavior and even physiology. In Art’s recent paper on depression he points to a gaggle of studies that confirm this. All of the Canadian studies of Meaney and Szyf offer a plethora of info. One study not included in Art’s references that I recently read focusing on oxytocin receptors and brain derived neurotrophic factor is: Dynamic changes in DNA methylation of stress-associated genes (OXTR, BDNF) after acute psychosocial stress E Unternaehrer, et al., Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Aug 14;2:e150. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.77.) I’ve concluded that crying is the mechanism for demethylation. But even in the face of this the CBT headfreaks are still trying to hijack the science with books like, The Genie in Your Genes by Dawson Church. He implies that you can change your beliefs and change your epigenome with a little practice, and you are on your way to mental health. I think what they leave out is what I also think is the great discovery of Arthur Janov: How to cry. And subsequently, how to love. This is the foundation of Primal Therapy. As Janov has demonstrated over the past half century, it is not just any old crying that works in Primal Therapy. Insane asylums are full of people that cry constantly and never get better. Crying occurs haphazardly in many psychotherapies, and as the results come in, they don’t show any consistent, replicable effectiveness.
That’s not the case with Primal Therapy. Deep behavioral, mental, affective, and physiological changes are regularly observed. And interestingly enough the first question our clinical director asks us therapists about our sessions is: Did the patient feel? And with the exception of some expressions of anger (which is usually a defense against crying), that question is easily translatable: Did the patient cry? Once the patient starts to cry, the session is on its way. Of course, that’s just the beginning:
From there, the therapist is concerned with helping the patient maintain his/her focus on and deepening the level of feeling. And the way we tell if the feeling is deepening is to listen to and feel the quality of the crying the patient is experiencing. Ideally the patient starts out in what we call the 3rd line crying about the present and what is going on in adult life. This feeling will resonate with childhood trauma and the patient will drop into 2nd line. This for many patients is difficult and frequently they claim to have no memories of childhood accessible to them. But soon, if they persist, the resonation will eventually rule the day and those memories will bubble forth. These memories can be excruciating as they become fully manifest. As they deepen and roll back in time, the character of the crying changes to somehow match the age the patient was at the time of the trauma. Then the crying ceases and the feelings become physical. The patient’s body takes over and starts to writhe in waves of dolphin- like patterns. The feelings are usually a crushing, suffocating, grinding terror. At their apex, they can be felt only for a few seconds at a time. Only the patient’s body knows how long they will last before they have run their course for the day. At this juncture, the patient will relax and slowly come back to the present, right back up the chain of pain – into 2nd line and up to 3rd. Along this trail a flood of insights and connections will occur, and as the patient discusses them with his therapist, more will occur. The patient will usually feel as though his/her whole life is connected. And from this, the patient will be in the world in a whole new way. Attitudes, likes, dislikes, and goals will begin to change. The patient will start becoming who she/he really is without the destructive defensive (or methylation) patterns learned for survival. They, quite simply, will not be needed anymore. Of course, that is ideal, and this does not happen in all patients. But that is a subject for another occasion. Having said that, I can say, persistence, eventually, will win over the defense system with systematic, consistent therapy.
But, again, what is the mechanism that causes this change in patients? It is not will power or awareness. It is biological. The patient’s whole physiology is affected and that is what drives the changes experienced. And when I say that crying is the demethylation process that begs some questions:
1. Why don’t all who cry in any therapy get well?
2. Why do so many babies that cry a lot end up even more neurotic?
3. What about that part of the Primal session (the 1st line) where no crying occurs?
4. Why don’t those people in asylums continually crying get well?
It is partly these questions and my attempts at answering them that led me to my hypothesis of how crying works as the body’s natural demethylation process.
First, I think all crying is demethylating. But if that’s all that occurs, it is not permanent. As we come into the world, if our gestation and birth were not damaging, crying is a natural process that can keep permanent imprinting from occurring and usually undo any pathological methylation imprints that have occurred. If the child is raised in a loving minimally traumatizing environment, and his/her cry function is not interfered with, the child’s natural demethylation process (crying) will undo the effects of most trauma, preventing imprinting and subsequently neurosis.
But, unfortunately, in virtually all societies now extant, the cry function is drastically interfered with to the point that many totally lose their capacity to cry, and, those that don’t, live with a perverted cry function inappropriate to the actual needs of the person. In other words, repression rules the day, preventing trauma from being properly integrated, in a large part because the cry function has been repressed or damaged. For men, in many societies, crying is anathema and every effort is used to prevent or stop crying. I still shudder when I remember John F. Kennedy’s funeral where all there were so impressed at how his widow remained so strong, and didn’t shed a tear as the funeral procession went by.
Later on in some people’s lives, they may enter a psychotherapy (or somehow else – even a personal tragedy) and regain their capacity to cry. But again, unfortunately, these patients have no idea how to use the function. Over the years they have accumulated so much trauma, and their systems are so overloaded that crying is haphazard and without focus. The pain is of such intensity, going all the way back to the womb in more directions than any person can easily count, that the defense system goes all out to interrupt the natural function of tears with renewed repression – the only way the body knows to protect itself from such assault – reacting as if it is undergoing a new or perhaps the original trauma. So, obviously, any demethylation that might occur during the crying episode is counteracted and/or aborted. I might add that this is also a natural process. When in crises, our defenses kick in and suspend feeling. (For example: have you ever been in a near car crash and notice how you react as though on automatic. Then when the crisis has passed you might pull over to the side of the road and shudder, cry, or laugh until you settle down? The pathology occurs when you don’t pull off to the side of the road, and just stay defended.)
So, how does Primal Therapy address this problem? Of course, our first job is to help our patients gain access to their feelings. We let them select a particular feeling or thing they are having a lot of feeling (both repressed and expressed) about, and help them focus on specifically that. It is usually the first thing that comes up in a session, and almost always has shown itself within the first 10 minutes. This becomes the leitmotif of the session. In other words, we are initiating an organized, process so that demethylation can occur in an orderly way along the same natural route that the methylation occurred. This is because certain types of trauma likely initiate a specific pattern of methylation. The body aids us in this through resonation. This takes us down what Art calls the chain of pain. With precise therapy, the current trauma will be traced back to its prototypic origin. And, as we have found, it has usually occurred before the being’s capacity to cry. I think that when it hits that point another process occurs. I don’t know exactly because I don’t possess even meager training in biochemistry or affective neuroscience. But I do have a pretty good idea that it has something to do with methlytransferase, which is involved in maintenance methylation. That’s what allows the DNA to replicate without losing its methylation pattern. In other words, I think it is the birth primal that fixes or holds in place the demethylation that has occurred. And this can only occur if that chain of pain has been followed precisely so that a particular pattern can be eliminated.
This, I think, is a natural process that people are always moved toward, but in our present psychologically chaotic society, we can only move towards it symbolically. You see it on the news all the time with reference to our system of justice. It is usually called closure, and is usually a euphemism for revenge. But the need is real. We have a need to resolve the trauma we suffer so we can get on with our lives out from under its destructive effects.
Now, thanks to Janov, we are learning what separates us from other animals. He has taught us how to cry. However, I also think that is where the focus of research should be. I would like to see some truly profound investigation of crying to determine exactly what is going on in our brains and the rest of our bodies during this process. I think the focus there offers the most comprehensive approach to the investigation of Primal Therapy because it naturally extends into and affects any study connected to it. As I mentioned above, most of the research done now is vulnerable to misinterpretation and hijack by headfreaks. Even the cortisol studies that Art did in England are routinely attacked and dismissed by the headfreaks. I also think the biggest defense against real psychotherapy is our ingrained fear and prejudice about crying. So long as that is in place psychotherapists will continually turn to therapies that they can do without it.
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.