I decided to update our look to the Twenty-Seventeen theme because our old Journalist theme was getting pretty boring. I love the colourful header with the plants. How do you like it?
I decided to update our look to the Twenty-Seventeen theme because our old Journalist theme was getting pretty boring. I love the colourful header with the plants. How do you like it?
While wandering through Chapters bookstore in Toronto, I came across a little book by Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritis professor of philosophy at Stanford University. It’s simply called “On Bullshit,” Here is a video interview with professor Frankfurt posted on the Princeton University Press website:
Apparently, Professor Frankfurt’s book has become somewhat of a cult classic; reviews praising the book are scattered throughout the web. In my mind, the praise is well deserved – how often do you see someone in academia, which is immersed in bullshit, standing up to expose it? Although he drags on in parts and does a bit too much hairsplitting as to just what constitutes bullshit (or humbug) he makes the point that our society is swimming in bullshit.
In this era of rampant political lying, Frankfurt makes the distinction between lying and bullshit:
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”
According to this definition, I would claim that most politicians bullshit artists than outright liars. But in the end, the result is the same. You’ve been deceived! Time to grow a good pair of bullshit antennae.
Frankfurst’s great little book can be found here.
by Peter Prontzos
Einstein was right (again!) when he wrote:
“…the personality…is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up…The individual…depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought.”
Indeed, the power of one’s culture is so profound – and subtle – that it can even reorganize the neural pathways in our brain. As Montreal neuroscientist Michael Meaney explains: “…the development of an individual is an active process of adaptation that occurs within a social and economic context,” e.g. poverty increases maternal distress and poor parenting, which then may lead to lower “cognitive outcomes” for children. And other studies have shown that “lower general intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology [emphasis added].
Wilhelm Reich, in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was among the first to point out that repressed, unfulfilled, and angry people are more disposed to violence and authoritarianism. Eric Fromm, who, like Reich, escaped from Nazi Germany, viewed authoritarian childhoods as likely to create adults who see obedience as the best way to win the approval of father figures in power, who, “…offered the atomized individual a new refuge and security. These systems are the culmination of alienation.”
One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to agree that, overall, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Marx is not saying that ideas do not matter, only that the primary determinants of our worldviews are the concrete conditions of our existence. Our views are different than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors because the world we live in is so dissimilar. So even though we are the most social and empathic animals, those central emotions are weakened because, neoiberal ideology promotes, free market capitalism is one of the most powerful of empathy-reducing belief systems, especially as manifested in cultures like the United States.
Social psychologists like Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo of the Stanford Prison Experiment pioneered our understanding of just how powerful our social situations can be – even stronger than one’s individual disposition. The corporate media are a major factor in the construction of both the social unconscious and political ideologies. One reason for their influence, as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman notes, is that “people tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”
Powerful and wealthy elites tend to control what is taught in schools and, more than ever, in the mass media. The corporate media give us a very biased view of reality. As Einstein noted:
“…private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions…”
A dramatic example was provided after the attacks on September 11, when the major U.S. media blindly went along with the obvious lies of the Bush regime as it carried out a vast propaganda campaign to get public support for two illegal wars. A current example of media manipulation is the lie that Iran has not lived up to its treaty obligations regarding nuclear weapons. A related problem is the fact that the corporate media almost never mention the one country in the Middle East that does have nuclear bombs – Israel.
These examples are only a few of the many ways in which our society and culture can determine our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
In my next post, I’ll provide a conclusion to this essay.
by Peter Prontzos
We are the most social of all animals, and our individual consciousness is primarily shaped by our society in general, and by our culture and family in particular. Children need to be seen to feel safe and to be soothed when they are distressed so that healthy attachment can develop. Children with unhealthy attachments are vulnerable to a wide assortment of dysfunctions. “The most important aspect of early attachment relationships”, psychologist Louis Cozolino notes, “is the establishment of a sense of safety.”
Healthy relationships create secure attachments between infants and caregivers, which also helps children to learn emotional self-regulation, reducing the tendency to overreact to negative situations.
Daniel Goleman describes the neuroplasticity of our brains in his book, Social Intelligence, as: “…repeated experiences sculpt the shape, size, and number of our neurons and their synaptic connections…. Our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry. This openness to our social environment means that the kind of person that we eventually become is, to a very significant extent, the result of the quality of our relationships in the early years.”
Social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing healthy brain and emotional development in children, according to Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development. She explains:“Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy. The United States has been on a downward trajectory on all of these care characteristics….” A nourishing environment, Narvaez adds, leads to “communal imagination,” which includes love, “sympathetic action”, and “egalitarian respect” for others.
by Peter Prontzos
The rise of authoritarian movements and leaders around the world, from the Philippines to India to the United States, is one of the most dangerous developments in modern times. Not only are they anti-democratic and often xenophobic, but they are one more significant obstacle to dealing with such other dangers as the climate crisis and war.
This danger is not trivial: a 2018 report by the democracy watchdog group Freedom House suggests that…”democracy is facing its ‘most serious crises in decades.’ Seventy-one countries experienced net declines in the guarantee of political and civil rights.” And this is not just an aberration. “For the 12th consecutive year, global freedom declined. Since 2006, 113 countries have reduced their commitments to individual and collective freedom.”
“France, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States have experienced the rise of extremist groups and rising intolerance toward ethnic minorities and immigrants. Germany and Italy have seen a resurgence of neo-fascism. Systematic measures to weaken the rule of law, attempts to eradicate judicial independence, curtail civil liberties, restrict voting rights and intimidate journalists have occurred in Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the United States.”
“The Great Recession of 2008 was the social and economic context for the emergence of contemporary autocracy in Europe and the United States. The reaction to the recession…reflects what Harvard economist Dani Rodrik calls the, “political trilemma of the global economy”: the incompatibility between democracy, national [self-]determination and economic globalization. Right-wing extremists were able to effectively link job loss, “uncontrolled” immigration and loss of national identity with globalization.
By Bruce Wilson
So you’ve started into primal therapy. Great. You are diligent with your feelings, you go to group every week and you have frequent individual sessions. When something triggers you, you are first to book a session with a therapist and “go for it” – feel the feelings, get the connections and insights. And week after week, month after month, year after year, you keep it up. Therapy, therapy and more therapy. And yet somehow the old issues don’t seem to resolve.
We are told that some feelings that take a very long time to complete, especially first-line feelings, but if you find yourself getting into the same old jams again and again, if you keep struggling with the boyfriend who erupts in anger and gives you no love, if you keep failing to do what you really want to do, or to get the job that want to get, or find a loving relationship instead of one with endless struggle, and then go back for endless therapy, you might be using the therapy as a defence.
I’ve seen this phenomenon and Arthur Janov wrote about it a long time ago. Primal therapy is about changing your life; it’s not about endless sessions after sessions for years or even decades. But many people can retreat into the “comfort” of primaling instead of changing their life because the latter is harder to do. These people can become “primal junkies,” addicted to therapy as sure as one can get addicted to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or sex. Things just don’t feel right without your weekly session, your weekly fix. You get antsy; you “need to feel” just like clockwork.
And of course, if that is happening then you are probably not primaling but abreacting. In my abreaction article, I mentioned that one of the signs of abreaction is a life without changes:
If there is a sine qua non of abreaction, it is in the lack of life changes made by the person abreacting. Abreaction keeps you “stuck” – no ventures are made, no risks are taken, no changes in jobs or career, no “going for it” in a real, healthy, meaningful way. Instead, one remains a prisoner of their pain, always reacting to circumstances, always triggered, always needing to “go down” to feel every few days, and always acting out.
This is not a fault of the therapy; it’s a fault in the way the patient is doing the therapy and a good therapist will catch this and address it, usually by telling you to do what you don’t want to do or what you are reluctant or scared to do. They will tell you to change your behavior and go for life in the way you want. If you want to play a musical instrument, play it. You want to write? Write! Don’t just think about it, and don’t try to be Shakespeare or Dickens on your first try. You will never be ready “someday when I’ve felt enough feelings.” Someday is TODAY. If the therapy is working then you’ll be thrown into a pot of feelings that you’ve been avoiding; the very feelings that have prevented you from doing what you want to do. It’s the primal dialectic. As Janov observed so many years ago, it’s far easier to “feel” another feeling rather than the feeling that is really there. That’s abreaction and it’s very sneaky.
So a little bit of behavioral therapy can help primal therapy go a long way, not by using head trips or conditioning, but by facing up to what you need and want to do and DO IT. A therapist I respect very much once said he would get his male patients who (for example) were scared to call a girl out for a date to do it right then and right there because it would immediately put them into the feelings they needed to feel. I’ve been there, not with arranging a date, but with needing to express to someone that I loved them. Pick up the telephone, get the voice message, and then WHAM! Up come the feelings. “I love you” becomes “I need you.”
So don’t be a primal junkie. Not only does it not work, but it costs a hell of a lot of money on useless therapy.
by Bruce Wilson
While reading through several newspaper obituaries on Arthur Janov, one name kept coming up over and over: John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. According to Norcross, primal therapy is little more than a trendy psychotherapy that arose in the fevered sixties, and Janov was “a classic instance of being the right charismatic therapist at the right time.” And to further demonstrate his ignorance, Dr. Norcross says in the New York Times, “There is no evidence that screaming and catharsis bring long-term emotional relief.”
This comment is repeated again and again in obit after obit, merely parroting the NYT review. But the review also states:
Much of the psychotherapeutic establishment now regards the therapy as marginal. A 2006 article by Dr. Norcross and colleagues in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice reported that their survey of more than 100 “leading mental health professionals” had found primal therapy to be “certainly discredited” — together with treatments including angel therapy, crystal healing, past-lives therapy, future-lives therapy and post-alien-abduction therapy.
“It’s both a discredited theory and treatment in mental health,” Dr. Norcross said. “Today, I look back at it as an unfortunate but understandable product of its time: believing that pure emotional release would prove therapeutic.”
Those are pretty strong words. After all, if you deem something to be “discredited” you should have extensive evidence to back it up, right?
This survey enrolled 101 so-called mental health experts to assess 59 treatments by questionnaire. “Experts” were decided by criteria such as doctorate-level education, fellows of the American Psychological Association (APA) or American Psychological Society (APS), current and former editors of scholarly journals in mental health, members of the APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice, and chairs or editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In other words, no one who had ever practiced primal therapy was included. Overall, 66% of respondents were supporters of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or “eclectic/integrative” therapy. In other words, these “experts” represented the dominant wing of the psychological establishment, which has always been critical of primal therapy and the notion of repressed memory.
The term “discredited” was based on the following criteria:
We operationally define discredited as those unable to consistently generate treatment outcomes (treatments)…beyond that obtained by the passage of time alone, expectancy, base rates, or credible placebo. Discredited subsumes ineffective and detrimental interventions but forms a broader and more inclusive characterization. We are interested in identifying disproven practices.
The criteria for making the discredited ratings were left to the respondents on the basis of “several types of evidence: peer-reviewed controlled research, clinical practice, and/or professional consensus.”
On a scale where 1 =not at all discredited, 2=unlikely discredited, 3=possibly discredited, 4=probably discredited, and 5=certainly discredited, “primal scream therapy” was rated as 4.51, i.e. “probably discredited” and halfway to “certainly discredited.” Primal was regarded as less credible than “standard prefrontal lobotomy for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.44),” “Erhard Seminar Training for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.29),” and “Psychotherapy for the treatment of penis envy (3.60).”
Therapies deemed as “unlikely discredited” included “eye movement and desensization processing (EMDR) (2.88)”, “laughter or humor therapy for treatment of depression (2.83)” (I kid you not!), “psychosocial (nonbehavioral) therapies for ADHD (2.85),” and thought-stopping procedures for ruminations/intrusive worry (2.25).” The only therapy regarded as not at all discredited, by a narrow margin, was “behavior therapy for sex offenders (1.97).”
Echoing the NYT obit, the authors concluded, “experts considered as certainly discredited 14 psychological treatments: angel therapy, use of pyramid structures, orgone therapy, crystal healing, past lives therapy, future lives therapy, treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by alien abduction, rebirthing therapies, color therapy, primal scream, chiropractic manipulation, thought field therapy, standard prefrontal lobotomy, and aroma therapy.”
Stunning ignorance, I know. But take a deep breath.
In all the therapies listed, except the cognitively based therapies, cognitive behavioral therapists were more likely to rate them as discredited. Not only that, but most of these “experts” were not even familiar with many of the treatments. And yet they felt competent to judge them. With regard to “primal scream therapy,” 6% were not familiar with the therapy. Actually, I would say zero percent were familiar with the therapy because it is not called primal scream therapy!
Nowhere is the “evidence” mentioned that substantiates these “expert’” decisions. I assume they just cherry picked whatever papers fit their therapeutic orientation, or perhaps they just gathered around their virtual water cooler and made up that “professional consensus.” As for “primal scream therapy” they had obviously done no research to find out that primal therapy has nothing to do with screaming.
So this is the sort of misinformation about primal therapy that is circulating around the psychological community and the mainstream press. Decades ago, Art Janov decided to distance himself from the mental health establishment for this very reason. Despite his many efforts to convince his colleagues that his therapy worked, he was met with ridicule and outright defamation. Since then, primal therapy has existed on its own, quietly advancing as the decades have passed, and some respected psychologists, physicians, and neuroscientists have come to appreciate its effectiveness: Louis Cozolino, Justin Feinstein, Jaak Panksepp, Paul Thompson, and Gabor Maté, to name a few. And although the therapy still needs to be researched, it will be done without the participation of these “expert” clowns.
by Bruce Wilson
Three days ago, the world lost one of the greatest psychologists of the past century, Dr. Arthur Janov, originator of primal therapy and Director of the Janov Primal Center in Santa Monica, California.
I first “met” Janov on the front cover of his groundbreaking book, The Primal Scream (1970). I was 21 and deeply troubled and there he was with his dark eyes, handsome face, and curly hair, looking totally relaxed, promising hope. I had heard he had treated John Lennon and Yoko, and Lennon’s primal album was one of the most gut wrenching pieces of music that I had ever heard. There was no doubt when I read Janov’s book that primal therapy was exactly the treatment I needed to get better. In 1974, I entered into therapy at the Denver Primal Center and have never regretted it. Today, I am having another round of treatment at Janov’s centre in Santa Monica, all to good effect. I will be blogging more on this in coming weeks.
In recent years, I became closer to Art (the name he preferred among his friends), offering to help him advance his therapy in the scientific community. He took up the offer wholeheartedly but he was pretty skeptical of anything coming of it. After all, he had gone through decades of ridicule and abuse in both the psychological and psychiatric communities. My best memory during this period was introducing Art to Jaak Panksepp, another giant in the field of affective neuroscience. Panksepp immediately recognized the logic of primal therapy – that early life trauma can have lifelong consequences – as he had observed himself in his animal studies. Although the two never went on to collaborate (sadly), Panksepp was profoundly affected by primal and went on to talk about it in conferences and in his books. After being ignored by almost every scientist Art reached out to, this was a real bonus for him. Art and Panksepp stayed in touch over the years, right up to the Panksepp’s untimely death earlier this year (April 18).
Several years ago, Art attended a conference in LA on the cause of trauma and its treatment. He was keen to collaborate with a neuroimaging scientist which unfortunately didn’t come to pass. But I will never forget him walking out during a presentation by a “sensorimotor therapist” who professed to have discovered a means whereby traumatized patients could relive their traumas without becoming “retraumatized.” It consisted of little more than minor body movements coupled with a few tears. Art would have nothing to do with it, as he wouldn’t with dozens other treatments offered up by professional psychotherapists. He spent a good part of his writing career criticizing these therapies (see “Grand Delusions” on his website.) His term for many of these treatments was “booga booga”, a polite name for bullshit. Art was adamant (and I believe rightly so) that these treatments were non-curative and a waste of money and time. From the beginning, he held to the tenet that in order to resolve a particular trauma or psychic insult, to get rid of troublesome symptoms such as depression, anxiety, compulsions, etc. it was necessary to feel the pain beneath and not cover it over with a new set of defense mechanisms. No amount of talking, massage, meditation, fake screaming, eye movements (which Art called ‘voodoo’), psychedelics, shock treatments, drugs, etc. could effect a cure. The dialectic of primal therapy is that one must do the opposite of what your defenses want you to do, i.e. go into the pain rather than away from it. As he wrote in Grand Delusions,
The only hope for cohesion, and lasting help for patients, is to address the generating sources of neurosis or mental illness. What and where are these sources? I believe that the conflict between the imprinted Pain of early trauma and its repression is the central contradiction that generates neurotic reactions both internally (physiologically) and externally in the form of behavior. Repression, or the loss of access to feelings and sensations, is an evolved function that allows us to survive unmitigated pain early in life. The pain, however, stays in the body, unavoidably – as unavoidable as the experiences that originally caused the pain. And the pain will perpetually fuel a dislocation of mental and physical functioning to keep itself unfelt, for as long as it remains unfelt.
Throughout his career, Art held fast to these principles, reiterated time and again in fifteen books, plus a large number of blog posts. Today, primal therapy is exact and measured, a far cry from the primal of early days. Patients are followed closely from the beginning with physiological measurements (heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature), and many of the patients at the center (including me) are taught to “regroove” their feeling style so that later, higher level feelings are fully felt and integrated before lower, earlier “first line” feelings are allowed to surge forth. Art was always adamant that primal therapy should proceed in an orderly and coherent manner, with later feelings going first and earlier feelings following. I now see the wisdom in this, as it helps one to connect and integrate feelings and prevents first line overload.
The last time I saw Art was at his second home in Palm Springs, Calif. We were gathered with several of his therapists and two scientists who were interested in his work. That was three years ago. Perhaps prophetically, Art was telling all of us that it was up to us to carry on the therapy. He never referred to “after I’m gone.” At one point, he looked me in the eye and said, “Kid, you have to do this therapy. It’s really important. Really important. This is your life, the only life you’ll have.”
And so I have done so. Dear Art, rest in peace my friend. You have done more for me than you can imagine, and continue to do so through your books and blog. Thank you.
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie le visage et l’on oublie la voix
Le coeur, quand ça bat plus, c’est pas la peine d’aller
Chercher plus loin, faut laisser faire et c’est très bien
– Léo Férré
by Peter Prontzos
There has always been a lot of misunderstandings about Primal Therapy, as developed by the late Dr. Arthur Janov.
Probably the biggest misconception is that it’s all about screaming. That likely derives from the dramatic – but misleading – title of Janov’s first book, “The Primal Scream.” It is a catchy title, but it is not what his therapy is about.
Simply, Primal Therapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy which emphasizes the need for a person to connect with, feel, and release the pain of earlier traumas. Some of these traumas can go as far back as a person’s birth.
It is client-centered, that is, the role of the therapist is NOT to analyze, offer insights, and decide what a person’s real feelings are. Only the client knows – consciously or not – their own history, and they must make their own connection to their past if they are to heal.
The other part of the problem is that many people who know nothing of the true nature of Primal Therapy think that they can judge it, and condemn it. Such is the case in the obituary of Dr. Janov that ran in the N.Y. Times. Specifically, they cite a study which charges that there is little evidence to support Janov’s claims and that the therapy has been “discredited.”
That is a false and ignorant accusation. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are just a few samples of scientists, researchers, and therapists who have a much more accurate understanding of the claims of Primal Therapy:
Dr. Janov provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories – to essential depth of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform. – Dr. Gabor Mate
Dr. Janov 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. – Dr. Paul Thompson, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Forty years of neuroscience research convince me that Janov has discovered a way to rewire neurons in your brain. – Dr. David Goodman, Newport Neuroscience Center
Dr. Janov’s works are, a valuable guide to creating healthier babies… – Paula Thompson, Professor Emeritus, York University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight – that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well-being – is no longer in doubt…His long-held belief…lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy. – Lou Cozolino, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
And finally, referring to Janov’s later work:
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. – Dr. Jaak Panksepp, author of, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions”
I will conclude with an anecdote regarding Jaak and Dr. Janov. I first met Jaak at a conference at UCLA, where I was told by Dr. Norman Doidge (“The Brain That Changes Itself”) that – in his opinion – Jaak was the most important scientist in the world. Jaak’s specialty was the similar processes found in the brains of humans and other mammals.
Bruce was already aware of Jaak’s ground-breaking research, and arranged for us to all get together for dinner and discussion at Janov’s house. Art showed Jaak a video of a Primal patient re-living an agonizing birth.
The next day, in his presentation to the Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference at UCLA, Jaak said to the audience that the evening before he had seen a video of a person re-experiencing their birth, “that could not be faked.”
So – while there is still a need for more scientific research on the process and the effectiveness of Primal Therapy – the slanders aimed at the process, and at Dr. Janov, are seriously flawed.
Hopefully, this problem will be remedied by future research; not so much to be fair to Art, but in order to more fully develop effective therapy, and especially to use this knowledge to prevent babies and children from being hurt in the first place.
After several years of dormancy, Peter and I are resurrecting The Primal Mind. As usual, we will be focusing on topics related to primal therapy, affective neuroscience, and the meaning of what it means to be mentally healthy. Also, we will be posting the occasional article on political matters as both of us are on the progressive side of the spectrum.
So, welcome back to what I hope will be a lively blog. We hope to post one or two times a week, so stay tuned!