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Alternatives For Healing

An Interview with Drs. Arthur & France Janov

by Edie Weinstein-Moser

Emotional pain is part and parcel of the human condition. Left unresolved, it can inhibit healthy growth, damage relationships, contribute to addictions and leave deep wounds that may never heal. Enter Primal Therapy. Developed in the 1960’s by Dr. Arthur Janov, it came as a result of witnessing a patient allowing excruciating emotions to surface in the form of a heart-rending scream. Together with his wife, Dr. France Janov, he heads the Primal Treatment, Training and Research Center in Venice, California. His latest book, entitled Primal Therapy offers in simple terms, an explanation of brain function that contributes to ongoing pain and the recovery that can emerge from allowing the memories to safely surface.

Wisdom: Your work would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom regarding treatment of mental health issues. Can you explain why you believe cognitive therapies are not sufficient.

Arthur: If they only stay on the cortical level which is where cognitive therapy stays, with ideas and beliefs and so on, they never get to the lower regions of the brain and the unconscious where all the motivation and underpinnings lie for all kinds of symptoms from high blood pressure, to migraines and seizures. What we do is turn the whole thing upside down. Instead of pushing back feelings with ideas, we let the feelings come up little by little. That’s very liberating.

France: What cognitive therapy is doing, is addressing the latest development of the brain, which is the cortex. We were not born with the cortex. We were born with other systems of the brain which got imprinted with whatever happened to us. If a baby is not held and it’s left in the crib and it’s crying and it’s terrified and a child is growing up feeling abandoned or that his parents don’t care or that they don’t have the time; a child feels that he is not loved and it’s his fault. To avoid that incredible pain of not being loved and it is a physiological need, then repression sets in. Everything is built on those models of when a child feels unloved or rejected or abandoned. That’s the brain stem; the primitive brain when we are born that takes care of our hormones and breathing and heart-rate on which the limbic system grows. This is registering all the emotions. Then later on the cortex grows. The cognitive therapist addresses the cortex and basically ignores all the rest of the development of the child. They accept the fact that the personality is there through childhood, but they ignore that and say "We are just going to deal with the here and now." The here and now is completely attached to the past and we react to the here and now because of our past. If you sever those two and not address the past, but only the present, it’s like treating the human being like he is bereft of his history and it doesn’t work as well.

Wisdom: How did you come upon the concepts and techniques that comprise Primal Therapy?

Arthur: I saw people totally re-living early childhood pain, for decades now. I tried to figure out what it meant. I tried the technique having people call for mother which was very primitive in those days and they would get into very deep pain and they would come out of it and it boggled my mind. Now that I understand the neurology of it, it makes total sense. We’re way more advanced than we used to be. It took 25 years to figure it out.

Wisdom: What happens in the traumatized brain?

Arthur: There’s a series of chemicals that help with gating, inhibition or repression. They’re interchangeable. It has to do with endorphins and serotonin and all the inhibitory neurotransmitters. When you have a lot of pain, you have a lot of gating that rushes in and suppresses the pain and keeps it in storage. What we found a way to do is little by little get rid of the repression that is holding back the pain. What every other therapy does is push it back, either through medication or insights which work like medication and galvanizes the subtle neocortex in such a way that it holds down feelings. In that way, you feel better, but you’re not getting better.

Wisdom: So it’s masking the symptoms.

Arthur: Exactly. That’s what I think modern day therapy does.

France: When someone comes to us, we let them talk about what hurts and the minute they start to say, "I’ve been alone in my life, I feel so lonely." , we say "Tell me about it. When was the last time you felt like that?" People typically start crying and it is incredibly relieving to get all those tears and all that pain out. The same feeling that they have in the present, extends to the past. We don’t have to do it. Memories will start coming up and will be earlier and earlier until they are reaching very early childhood and a significant event and sometimes even to their birth. It’s the feeling that links that trauma through their brain and through their history. That’s how we know that just addressing the feeling in the present, is only a very small part of what is really going on in the person.

Arthur: Not only does the theory go against all conventional therapy, but also the way we do our therapy. There’s no 50 minute hour. They stay for as long as they need to stay each day. We have a whole different way of going about it. We have a darkened room and it’s sound-proof. It’s everything that leads toward letting the patient feel. There’s no sitting up in a brightly lit room, smoking cigarettes. The ordinary therapies do use a lot of medications; tranquilizers to hold back the pain. We do the opposite.

France: Because the people go back to the origin of the feeling, the memory is attached to the feeling and they understand it. They say; "Oh my God!" A patient had a memory of looking at his mother who was waiting for his father and not paying attention to him. He had this feeling of how much he loved her and how much he felt her distress because she was worried about his father not coming back. He was five years old. Going back to that feeling, he was crying and saying he wanted to tell her how much he loved her and how she did not care that he was there. That was the pain. "That’s why I didn’t even try to show her that I loved her, because I know she did not care and that’s why I’m terrified to show anyone how much I love them, because I know they don’t care." He’s not married and he hasn’t really had any relationships. It’s a hard thing for him to accept the love because he doesn’t really believe in love. It was something that shaped all of his life that goes back to that one event. You could say, "I’m going to accept love and tell people how much I love them.", but it’s not a real thing. Going back there, gives you the insights and memories, the whole beginning of behavior.

Arthur: As you go back there, the clarity comes from the consciousness and when integrated, all the vital signs, which are taken before and after every session, come down to below normal. That tells us that the feeling has finally been integrated.

Wisdom: What safeguards do you have built into the system so that people are not so overwhelmed with the revelations that arise, that they can function back out in the world after the sessions?

Arthur: We make sure that they integrate little pieces at a time. What we started with was a revolution and then other people started getting into it, like with Rebirthing that was very dangerous and opened up a Pandora’s Box which could not be integrated. We have the most heavily researched private clinic in New York where we measured everything you could measure, from the neuro-chemistry to the biochemistry. We’re very careful every day to measure vital signs before and after every session and make sure that the patient doesn’t go out totally helpless.

France: At the end of the session, they have a lot of insight, because it goes from the present to the recent past, to the deep past. It doesn’t happen in one session; it goes deeper and deeper each time and they come back out naturally. Then they are in the present. We let them talk and listen to them and they tell us what has happened. We take patients that are very damaged sometimes and have tried many therapies that did not work. We also work with psychiatrists, because during the course of the therapy, at some time, they may need medication. The aim of it, is that little by little they will need less and less until they will not need it at all. Medication is not to keep the pain down.

Wisdom: Do you find that once people have experienced Primal Therapy, they are able to create a life that isn’t anchored to their painful past?

France: Yes, definitely. We keep telling our patients if you keep doing the same thing you have done all your life, it’s not working for you. It is the automatic way to get well. They have to act on the insights and the knowledge they have acquired through their feelings. There is a part of them that can not do what they used to do. For example, they may not want to be with the same person who is abusive or may not have given them anything. They may automatically want to treat themselves better. They have to make the decision to do what is going to help them take the next step.

Arthur: We’ve treated an awful lot of addicts and alcoholics and people who have been on tranquilizers. They don’t have to do it any more and their bodies won’t tolerate it.

Wisdom: You made the association between the wiring of the brain and the feeling of being connected and grounded. Are the metaphors that we use to describe a balance and grounded person actually symbolic of a physiological reality?

Arthur: I think so. What I did in Primal Healing is discuss the trajectory of healing. Biologically, the right side of the brain has a lot to do with healing, especially the limbic system. Very deep pain and we’re going back to gestation, birth and infancy, rises up on the right side of the brain through the limbic system and the right frontal cortex which is called the orbital frontal cortex located just behind the eyes. It has a complete emotional map of our lives. It is internally oriented. On the left frontal area, it is externally oriented. The whole idea is to bring up the feelings that go all the way up to the right frontal cortex and then cross over the corpus callosum so that the right and left frontal cortex are working together. That’s what I call integrated healing. As each feeling gets integrated and the brain coalesces, the vital signs start dropping and that’s one of the main indexes that we have for the patient getting better. We don’t just take their word for it. In that way, we keep very tight control of what’s going on.

Wisdom: What happens in the brain of people who dissociate?

Arthur: What dissociating means is gating, in other words certain things are happening to you and the brain begins the inhibitory process. The feelings are pushed down and the thoughts are separated from the feelings. This is what I call the "Janovian Gap". The wider the gap, the more likely they are to be disturbed emotionally.

France: It happens when people are in what we call overload.

Wisdom: How is love a healing force, not only for our emotions but for our physiology as well?

France: It is an extraordinary thing. If people are loved, they are strong. They know who they are and what they want. They don’t let themselves be abused. It is an extraordinary rock to grow on. They don’t have all this internal turmoil. A child who is not touched and cuddled against his mother, being left alone in bed and is terrified, this child is in physiological pain. The only way he can react is shutting down. If they go back to the feeling of being unwanted and when they go through the therapy, they may say "You know, I feel so unwanted." This is the same all over the world whether we come from Japan or Australia or Italy. It is like "I can’t face it alone. I’m not going to make it." They carry this through their life like that. We see a lot of depressed people. Depression can be triggered by an event in the present, but they hold all of these feelings that are imprinted with pain.

There’s something else I wanted to add. A lot of people decided they were going to make their patients scream and give them a baseball bat and have them tell their mother how they hated her. That is complete insanity that has nothing to do with Primal Therapy. We don’t have any gimmicks. We don’t tell the patients what to do or direct them to sit in front of an empty chair and say "That’s your father. Tell him how much you detested him for how badly he treated you." We let the real feelings in the present take their own course and go back into the past. Our therapists train for a minimum of five years and we still discuss our patients after every session. They help the patients go where they are going. On our website www.primaltherapy .com, we have a whole section on what Primal Therapy is and is not.

Edie Weinstein-Moser is a journalist, speaker, interfaith minister, social worker, reiki master and massage practitioner. She can be reached via her website at www.liveinjoy.com


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