Book Review - Primal Healing: Access the Incredible Power of Feelings to Improve Your Health by Dr. Arthur Janov, 2007, New Page Books, NJ, $24.99, pps. 288.

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer
One of the reasons I enjoy Dr. Janov's writings on primal therapy is because he does not equivocate in his choice of words when he writes about his discovery. He continues to use words which are not very popular with the psychoanalytic and attachment theory crowd. A word like "love" is not found in their clinical writings, even though they do hint that it is a need. Even other theoreticians who write in the clinical psychology and psychiatry field seem to be hesitant in using that particular four letter word.

Thus, instead of a loved child, we have a "bonded" child. They don't even want to use the word, "mother" or "father" and prefer the neutral and politically correct term of "object relations" instead. No one to implicitly blame, huh? Is the word "mother" the proper subject to whom we make reference in clinical psychology or is the word "object" simply a ruse to distance ourselves even further from an embarrassing and perhaps awkward truth that too many infants were not wanted and therefore not loved?

Those of us interested in the regression therapies know that Arthur Janov remains on the cutting edge of theoretical and practical knowledge of the subject. But it is not only primal theory about which he writes but attachment theory and bonding within his particular and direct purview. While attachment theorists have described how one gets emotionally ill, Dr. Janov, in his eighties, continues to add to our fund of useful knowledge and information about both clinical psychology and developmental neuroscience, each field enriching the other.

Quite early after discovering primal therapy, Janov analyzed primal theory from a neuroscience approach to further primal's theoretical and clinical foundations. Above all, he wanted the efficacy of his therapy to be proven to skeptics by using neuroscience brain imaging (See The Anatomy of Mental Illness: The Scientific Basis Primal Therapy, 1977) . His latest book, Primal Healing, 2006, continues in equal measure this approach.

He believes that feeling one's repressed early traumas can allow our brain to physically change - to recalibrate itself. The issue of whether severe early and ongoing trauma can permanently alter brain's neurological setpoints has never been firmly established, but perhaps may be an unfortunate fact.

The problem with most contemporary psychotherapy, Dr. Janov writes, is that this necessary change in brain functioning rarely happen. Instead, with time and age the neurotic split gets more deeply engraved. One price we pay for this split and its reinforcement, he believes, is using psychiatric drugs which results both in disease and in a shorter life.

The love we receive from our parents or from those who were in their stead, allows our brains to perform at optimum levels. This presupposes that our initial inutero gestation was normal as the foundations of mental illness can be laid down many months before birth. Even during the foundation of development, Janov believes that love in the womb equates to a meeting of the needs of the growing fetus. On page 102, of Primal Healing, he writes: "It is not enough to feel pain in therapy, for one must understand that inside the pain lies the need, the need that was first converted to pain when it was not fulfilled." That reads like and is, traditional Janovian primal theory. Repressed trauma, such as terror, for example, is to be felt in bits over time, otherwise there is no integration. Too much pain to process, he believes, becomes felt in symbolic ways, like past lives, UFO abduction scenarios and mystical experiences.

In those instances, when one may try to feel it "all" at once, the repressed material may become symbolized. Other results can be religious or spiritual obsession. Like Alice Miller, Janov believes that forgiveness is a religious act better left to the church.

In a chapter devoted to cognitive therapy, the author writes that their theoreticians simplifies the work of the therapist. By stressing only the present time where the spooks of the past make their presence known, cognitivists guarantee their clients the continued ability to avoid the very feelings where cure may lie.

Janov points out that animals deprived of love (touch) soon after birth will willingly consume alcohol, but that "loved" animals are not interested in the alcoholic fix. Both animal studies and human studies show that exposure to drugs in the womb changes the individual's propensity for drugs later on. He believes that "the original set-points for activation or repression (that) have been altered during womb-life (can) persist for a lifetime." "Severe activation by imprinted pain resists any attempts to quell the system." (p. 157)

Over a decade and a half ago, in The New Primal Scream, Janov had written about how the childhood aspects of the act-out, although felt, "cannot be fully resolved until the basis for it all, lying deep and remote in the unconscious is resolved. One can reduce the force of the act-out by feeling things that occurred in childhood but the act-out persists, he insisted. It will just take a greater stimulus to set it off. When the deepest level traumas are relived and resolved, we can say that neurosis is over." (p. 171)

In Primal Healing, Janov, once again, addresses the issue of avoiding the resolution of one's prototypic birth pain. These are often issues involving death during the birth process.

He writes:

It is sometimes possible to get relief by delving only into later childhood traumas, leaving the prototype in place. If the threshhold for symptoms is raised by this approach, all the better. There will be no overt symptoms but the tendency is still there. Thus, an alcoholic may not be forced to drink when some of the pain is relived, but he will always be in danger thereafter. If we are looking for total personality change, it will not be possible without addressing the imprint. If one is happy with having no symptoms, then so be it. It is the patient's life, not ours. ( p. 184)

His attitude seems almost like one of resignation. It can be appreciated if one understands that some with severe birth trauma can continue to feel their birth trauma material for decades. There is also the problem of a natural procession into birth material after less significant material has been felt. This can happen with no intention of so doing. The regressions seem to go on forever - punctuated with periods when, because of severe symptoms the patient can become so incapacitated that he can no longer have gainful employment. Obviously, this does not happen to the typical client, but it can and does occur.

Janov continues to be adamant that primal therapy is the most efficient method of psychotherapy extant and without proper training its practice is dangerous. Having an occasional regression is not how the therapy should be done, he writes. There is a proper methodology and insists that without proper training, he has "never seen it done systematically and in proper sequence, and almost never with deep connections." (ibid., p. 272)

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