Epilepsy and Primal Pain

by John A. Speyrer

Portion of Transfiguration
Raphael (1483-1520)

"And as he was yet coming near, the devil cast him down and threw him into convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and restored him to his father."
- Luke 9:28
A recent request was made by the Food and Drug Administration asking drug makers to place warning labels on that class of drugs which treat epilepsy. Almost 200 studies had been made and which concluded that those patients taking the drugs had about two times the risk of suicidal behavior compared with patients taking a placebo. There were 44,000 who were in the studies and four people had committed suicide while none of the placebo controls did so.

Besides epilepsy, the anti-convulsants are also used to treat bipolar condition, migraine headaches, nerve pain and other "off label" maladies.

The question which presents itself is: why should an anti-epileptic drug have such an untoward side effect as suicide?

Dr. Gholam Motamdei of the Epilepsy Service at Georgetown University Hospital was surprised that the drugs would have this effect because "...a good number of these drugs are used in psychiatry for their positive effects on mood and depression."

"Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it.
We will one day understand what causes it,
and then cease to call it divine."

-- Hippocrates (b.c. 460-377 b.c.)

Dr. Arthur Janov has written more about psychogenic origins of epilepsy than any author in the regressive therapy fold. His, Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, has one chapter dealing with epilepsy entitled, The Long Reach of Birth: One Road to Cancer and Epilepsy, which represents Janovian material and case studies at their finest.

Janov first presents a caveat. Not all such illnesses are the result of trauma, he insists, even though the "pressure" contained in psychosis is readily apparent in psychogenic epilepsy. And not all those suffering from epilepsy are psychotics. There is another form of epilepsy - the result of a physical lesion on the brain. Wilbur Penfield (1891-1976), Canadian neuro-surgeon, specialized in removing that type. He cured physical epilepsy by cutting out the offending lesion and in so doing, made discoveries which laid the theoretical foundation for our understanding of that part of the brain which unlocks the storage of memory, repressed and otherwise.

Janov mentions that seizures often defend against life and death issues, especially from the birth canal. Supposedly, the Russian novelist, F. Dostoevsky, had an epileptic seizure when at the last moment of his pending execution for treason, as he was standing in his underwear in freezing temperatures, his execution was commuted by the tzar.

"Similarly, some faint in shock after they witness a catastrophic event. Seizures happen when repression has been too effective for too long. Instead of a single impulsive act, there is an amorphous general release." Janov, Why You Get Sick, How You Get Well, (p. 100).

Some primal therapy clients who suffered from epilepsy felt that the storehouse of trauma added to the overwhelming nature of the seizures and that later post-birth pains, during the early phases of therapy, were an important part of their origins. However, later in therapy there was a tendency for the seizures to diminish both in scale and number. As therapy progressed, the seizures went from grand mal to petit mal types (less severe seizures). In Janov,'s Primal Healing (2007) "Sonny" describes how he was began to "invite" primal feelings by not using his anti-convulsant medication. As therapy proceeds in time, the subject matter of the regressions more often comprise birth material, particularly, anoxia.

Although Dostoevsky was an acknowledged epileptic, under extreme stress, many of us are capable of having seizures. Some primal clients, who were epileptics, described how the tension would build until released in a seizure or, felt as a feeling. However, the conscious awareness which accompanies a primal feeling distinguishes it from a seizure. Others, seemingly, didn't consider their seizures a "big deal." That they were anything but normal became evident when in primal therapy they began having pre- and peri-natal regressions in the place of seizures.

"Bill", in Epilepsy from Beginning to End, Journal of Primal Therapy, Fall, 1978, laments:

For the most part, my sufferings caused my seizures, not the other way around. I wonder how many epileptics under medication are being done a service. Of course, there are social advantages to not convulsing. Social attitudes are pretty negative. And I'd be terrified of passing out now. But I have no idea where all that Pain would have gone had I not seized. It's a shame that most of the medical profession can only help someone who has seizures act well, instead of helping him feel and integrate the Pain that causes the seizures (p. 122).

It would seem that the pain which gives rise to epilespy becomes shifted when the epileptic takes one of the anti-seizure drugs recently placed on the cautionary list as described in the paragraphs which opens this article. The epilepsy becomes controlled and the pain shifts from being seizure symptoms to becoming depressive symptoms. The epileptic medication interferes with having the seizure thereby dissipating the energy of overwhelming repressed birth pain dealing with feelings of death and dying. Perhaps, the anticonvulsant medication is responded to in the same manner as an anti-depressive and thereby may increase suicidal ideation.

The effects of the anti-seizure medication in alleviating the symptoms of epilepsy, as mentioned, may change one who seizes to one who instead suffers from depression. It would seem that suicidal tendencies become more conscious because those feelings may become less well defended against.

The medicated patient whose seizures are controlled becomes more open to the unconscious memories of his birth traumas. The anti-epileptics might have kept him away from the overwhelming trauma and thoughts of suicide which had occurred during his birth process [See The Origins of the Fear of Death and Dying in the Birth Canal: The Thoughts of Frank Lake, M.D.]. The anti-seizure medication would not have originated this ideation. Its origin rather is in his early trauma.

Such anti-seizures drugs would only allow one's birth trauma effects to become more central. The thoughts of suicide which were originally better defended against would now become more accessible. One cannot interfere willy nilly with such a massive symptom as it serves an important purpose. The epileptic seizure releases huge amounts of tension which otherwise would have to be processed in ideation or in other body symptoms.

Psychogenic epilepsy is one way to discharge the energy of our pre- and peri-natal traumas. It's not the most common way; sex is. If it were not for sexual orgasm, having a seizure would be more commonplace as a form of global tension relief. One's ability to have a seizure depends on our brain physiology as not everyone's temporal lobes can be used in that fashion. Such an ability, like having a God experience, is difficult to acquire. One either has or does not have the neurology and physiology to allow the experience to occur.

Neither can one personally decide to become a religious mystic capable of processing a God experience. The proclivity of having an epileptic seizure falls in this same category. Having much early trauma adds to one's ability to have either type experience. Perhaps, in some cases, this ability can be kindled. Yet, some despite all efforts, will never be successful. This refers to those without a physical temporal lobe lesion.

In Mark Salzman's literary novel, Lying Awake, the protagonist nun had a difficult decision to make. She was reluctant to relinquish her exciting spiritual experiences due to temporal lobe pathology. Life had become much less exciting after giving up the immediacy of God following surgical repair of her temporal lobe. [See The Psychology of Mysticism ]

Janov mentions that seizures often cover up life and death issues, especially those derived from the birth canal and in particular, suffocation at birth. Some epileptics in primal therapy consider grand mal convulsions as just another term for a birth primal. Others describe how the tension would build until released in a seizure or felt as a feeling. The awareness and the frequent insights which accompany primal feelings, however, is one of the characteristics which distinguishes them from seizures. Like many clients in the therapy, epileptics often declared their birth to have been normal. That they were anything but normal became evident as their therapy progressed.

Dr. Janov ends the chapter in Imprints: "What we must understand is that the pressure that erupts so suddenly and convulsively in the grand mal seizure is always there. The seizure simply occurs at the point when the brain can no longer contain the buildup. It is a very graphic sign that repression has failed." (p. 212).

Also see, Reflections From Within -- A Comparison of Some Recent Neurological Findings With Observations of (Primal) Patients Who have Reexperienced Convulsions

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