Neuroscience has come of age and is going in some truly fascinating directions. We now have hybrid “neuro” disciplines such as neurophilosophy, neurotheology, neuroanthropology, cultural neuroscience, cultural neuropsychology, and neuropsychoanalysis.
The most exciting development is the shift away from cognitive neuroscience towards affective neuroscience. Human and animal emotions are now a rich area of scientific study and thanks to the work of pioneers like Jaak Panksepp, emotions are now regarded as bona fide experiences, and not just mechanical reactions to stimuli. A rat that squeeks joyously when tickled can now be said to be “laughing” and not “undergoing a positive response to pleasurable stimuli.”
The purpose of this blog is to explore recent findings in affective neuroscience and their relation to mental health and psychotherapy in order to create lives with more authenticity and love. The blending of neuroscience with psychotherapy is an emerging area, and although many attempts are being made to link the two disciplines, there is a serious need for the study of deep feeling psychotherapies, such as primal therapy.
Sadly, psychotherapies that explore deep feelings are often viewed as obsolete, unscientific, and unhelpful at best or dangerous at worst. This misunderstanding is exacerbated by practitioners who combine deep feeling approaches with supernatural or transpersonal approaches that take people deep into imaginary states with little or no connection to reality. (Examples are so-called past-life therapy or cellular consciousness.) The greatest tragedy is that deep feeling therapies are commonly misrepresented as “scream therapy” or “primal scream therapy” because of the title of a book by Arthur Janov, called The Primal Scream.
In this blog, we will address these misunderstandings and hopefully stimulate a lively dialog among psychologists, psychotherapists, affective neuroscientists, and others who want to see this field advance in a truly scientific way. We believe that these efforts are critical to helping people who are emotionally damaged and need something more powerful than talk therapy. More importantly, we hope to contribute to the creation a truly compassionate society that will eventually eliminate the need for psychotherapy.
Bruce and Peter
2 Replies to “About The Primal Mind”
I found your website via a comment Arthur Janov had published on his blog. The Primal Mind is indeed a very promising and encouraging new web page! It might grow into a new focal point for all those professionals and laypeople with great interest in Primal Therapy, psychodynamic therapy and the human condition in general. Gentlemen, this is really very good work and I wish you good luck and success for all your future activities!
I would like to introduce myself briefly to you. As a layperson with long-time experience in reliving my own traumatic early life (womb, birth, infancy) I am – not always but periodically – interested in all ontogenetic aspects. With my own German website I try to keep up some information about primal therapy and other aspects of the human condition here in Germany. One focal point of my web-work has been to translate and publish those books of Arthur Janov which had not been translated into German and hence are not available in book form to German readers. Presently I am translating some of his blog articles and put them into my web page.
I like your posts, especially your excellent replies to that LA Times article which is such a lousy piece of journalistic work that it is virtually not worth discussing. However, such kind of misinformation about primal therapy still seems to be widespread among professionals and laypersons. I hope one outcome of your Primal Mind page will be that many professionals in the field of mental health will get seriously interested in this deep feeling/reliving process which Arthur Janov had named ‘Primal Therapy’ some forty years ago. However, as you say, there is no substitute for undergoing this process oneself. Without access to your feeling/limbic brain and, last not least, to very, very, very early and deep brainstem imprints you cannot be an expert on the field of reliving because you have not experienced it. That’s what those mental health “experts” should think about!
One week ago I sent a letter (email) to the LA Times, too. English isn’t my first language and LA is so far away from my home town, but bullshit –wherever it happens – deserves a proper answer and having read your letters I could not resist writing my own letter. We must not tacitly accept such disinformation! Once again my best wishes for your future web-work!
Ferdinand Wagner, Rosenheim, Germany,
Here is the text of my email to the LA Times:
Yesterday I happened to find the LAT article “A look at four psychology fads” by Eric Jaffe in the web. It is certainly impolite to go like a bull at a gate but I feel a strong need to quickly put my opinion in a nutshell:
As for your statements about primal therapy, it is a piece of utterly slipshod journalistic work! It’s amazing and annoying at the same time that you dare to present such a poorly researched article in the internet! I do not know the LA Times at all, however, should this article be representative for the journalistic standard of your paper I would highly recommend it for anything else but reading.
Dear Sir, we are in 2010, and meanwhile there are litterally thousands of scientific studies that all seem to confirm Arthur Janovs theory. What happens to us in the womb, at birth, during the first years of our lives, has a great influence on our adult lives, on our psychophysical state of health. And yes, the human nervous system starts encoding and imprinting sensory input even in the womb. Those who have undergone this primal journey (I’m one of them) back to the roots of their ontogenetic history know it for sure. They are the only experts for such things because they really have experienced what lies far back in one’s personal history and deep down in one’s brain.
Don’t be to gullible towards what so-called mental health – “experts” say. Usually these people are intellectuals who are rather confined to their left frontal cortex chamber, who have poorly connected brains and are light years away from ever getting access to limbic or brainstem structures. Of course, such a person will tell you old fashioned fairy tales like that “ babies aren’t able to form memories until they’re about 8 months old and don’t develop long-term memories until roughly age 5” or that Primal Therapy is a “certainly discredited” therapy.
No, no, what a horrible nonsense. Primal Therapy is in fact the only psychotherapeutic system extant that really may be called “scientific”, that really corresponds with current neurobiology. Any psychotherapy that cannot provide access to lower levels of the brain, to limbic and brainstem structures, will fail to bring about long lasting changes in a patient. Those approaches are bound to the surface, to the “third line of consciousness,” as Arthur Janov would say, and best they can do is bolster your defenses. That’s in fact what all of these cognitive “talking therapies” do – strengthening your inner barriers against primal pain so that a person can transiently “feel” better.
Primal Therapy (which has nothing to do with “primal scream therapy”) will persist because it has a fantastically good core – the truth that is stored in all of us. It is, as Arthur Janov says, “the first science of psychotherapy.”
Thanks for your comment, Ferdinand. I don’t agree with you that primal therapy is the first science of psychotherapy. At this point, it is a protoscience. Many other therapies have been studied scientifically and have evidence of efficacy. Also, Allan Schore, Lou Cozolino, Dan Siegel and others are using findings from neurobiology to guide psychotherapy. Even the psychoanalysts have created a field called neuropsychoanalysis. As you note, the difference between them and Janov is that Janov recognizes the need to descend into the deep brain to access early feelings whereas the others remain largely on the level of the cortex, where talk, analysis and insight predominate. So in that sense, I would say that primal is not the first science of psychotherapy, but the first neurobiologically coherent psychotherapy.
With all the respect I have for Janov, his claims too often overreach the evidence. If primal is ever to become respected by scientists, those who practice it must play by the rules of evidence. Janov’s early studies are intriguing and suggestive, but the evidence to date does not stand up to the highest standards of good science. That work remains for future workers to do and I really hope that happens soon.