The Biology of Love by Arthur Janov, Ph.D., 2000, Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn Dr, Amherst, New York, $25.95, pp. 364

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Reviews of Dr. Arthur Janov's books are difficult to make since they cover so very much varied and interesting material. It is like being at a sumptuous banquet and unable to decide which foods to choose. Some book reviews I have made were about books which had only one chapter or even less material which was germane to primal therapy.

I was not very interested in reading about brain neurology, physiology and the role of neurotransmitters. If you are like me and not particularly interested in those and other neuro-hyphenated subjects, then skip to the last half of the book. But, be forewarned, if you do, you will miss some interesting case studies interspersed with those subjects.

In the Introduction to The Biology of Love Dr. Janov writes that in 1971 neurologists at UCLA's Department of Neurology told him that it was impossible to relive birth experiences, because such memories were impossible to store. He writes that this incorrect information delayed and retarded his work for many years. He said that the experience proved to him that "we must not be closed-minded to new approaches." (p. 17)

Janov, the originator of primal therapy, and its chief exponent, has written an interesting book in which he broadens the commonly used definition of love to encompass not only the mother's solicitous relationship with the infant child such as meeting his needs for tenderness and concern but also includes giving love to the developing fetus. This means that love is the giving to the fetus what it needs to develop into a complete person.

If the entire book were to be synopsized in one sentence it would be: An unloved child has a different kind of physical brain than a loved child. The damage is not simply psychological. It is neurological and therefore, physical. Ultimately, it is the lack of love which does us in before our time, Janov writes. He believes that early trauma causes a reduction of functioning brain synapses (connections). Does that mean talking to your baby inutero? No, unlike some authors on regression therapy, Janov does not go that far. Instead he writes about how important it is for the pregnant mother not to smoke and to drink little or no alcohol, and in general being concerned about her own health when her child is developing.

In the section entitled, How To Love A Brain, Dr. Janov explains that lack of oxygen during birth or before is also perceived as a lack of love for the fetus, as is a lack of touch for the post-natal child. We show love to a child by touching him. Many of his patients, he writes, suffer from touch deprivation.

Heavily interspersing data from primal theory with neuro-physiology, neuro-chemistry and neuro-anatomy, the author makes his case that it is not only birth and the period immediately after birth which causes neurosis but that even very early intrauterine fetal assaults can harm the developing child for the rest of his life. He does not write about the very, very early period of pregnancy, such as, traumas of conception and implantation.

Dr. Janov has again authored a book which has wonderfully concise and pithy quotable sentences on just about every page. Some of my favorites include:

  • "The most important stage of child-rearing occurs during the nine months of pregnancy."

  • Drugs take the chemical place of denied love. Oftentimes, hypersexuality has nothing to do with the sex drive itself. The "(d)esperation of the sexual need is commensurate with the early deprivation of love. . ."

  • Discussing the drive towards suicide, Janov writes, "It is not often that the person wants to die. It is rather that the imprint is that death can end agony. It is that equation from birth that drives the person both toward and away from death."

  • "So many of my patients come in . . . and tell me that they had very good childhoods. Months later they are writhing on the padded mat, bewailing their early misery. . . . Nobody suggests this pain to the patient. It evolves from revisiting one's childhood. If we rummage around in our personal brain files there is no telling what we can find."

  • "We usually don't die of overweight. . . . We die from the lack of love that makes us overeat."

  • Saying no to drugs, Dr. Janov writes, is saying no "to a lifetime of emotional deprivation (and) is not easily done." "It's odd," he writes, "to have a pejorative label attached to us because we need to kill pain. But if we suffer from an agonizing imprint from infancy that is just as real and painful as a broken leg, we may be considered an addict." To consume illegal drugs is ". . . not a criminal act," he writes, "It is an act of survival. No one would have to put massive amounts of painkillers into his system if he did not have pain."

  • "For all my heavy smoking patients, birth trauma has been paramount. The same with the alcoholics."

  • "No great fear lies in our system for no reason. If we try to conquer it, we make it an enemy. It is a friend that tells us about a life lived, about experiences we have forgotten, and pain we have buried."

  • "Homosexuality gets started so early, it seems genetic."

  • ". . . if there were no prebirth and birth trauma, and much love after birth we would not see . . . panic and anxiety states."

  • "It isn't how many times you look at the baby, how many times you hold him, it is that intangible love you feel while doing it."

  • "It is not only a hit in the head that can cause brain damage: simple neglect can do it too."

  • "If there is anything that emotional deprivation involves it is the lack of touch and caresses very early on."

Janov's approach to an understanding of intrauterine trauma is a most conservative one, especially when one considers what others have written about experiences which they believe can be perceived by the fetus. Dr Janov writes that negative maternal emotions may result in the change of important biochemical set-points, but he does not enter into the land of speculation where others may have hastily ventured.

Those others have written that the feelings of the mother may be transmitted to the fetus through "umbilical affect," that is, that the toxic emotion itself of the mother is transmitted to the fetus, not necessarily biochemically, but through some unknown telepathic communication. Thus, if the mother-to-be is sorry she is pregnant the fetus will personally feel this specific emotion directed against it and feel that it is unwanted. Janov believes that this is rank speculation and he will have none of this.

Ironically, the thanks Janov gets for his conservatism is attack by the psychiatric establishment. I believe that this is because Janov is the most well-known in his field. No quarter is given to the discoverer of a discipline when the psychiatric/psychological establishment is so conservative that it still does not recognize the possibility that one can re-live and resolve birth trauma.

Being more conservative than others in the field of pre and peri-natal psychology is admirable, but it means that sometimes others may be discussing realities (and many speculations!) while the more conservative theoretician, as Dr. Janov, may overlook certain truths because of insufficient proof.

It was that way when Janov, as described above, echoed the opinions of neurologists, whose counsel he sought, stated that birth primals were physiologically impossible. Other regression theoreticians had been accepting that truth for many years. It was his reluctance to accept the validity of birth primals which resulted in a rupture at the Primal Institute when a number of therapists and patients left to form the Denver Primal Center during the 1970's.

Another example: In The Biology of Love, Janov does concede that it is possible for a fetus to cry in the womb. For many years he did not believe that this was possible and said that re-living fetal trauma was not accompanied by crying because fetuses don't cry. Others had been observing this "crying in the womb" phenomena both clinically and experientially since the late 1970's.

What respect does Dr Janov get for not going out on a limb, but instead building primal theory on a more scientifically-sound base? Little respect, or none at all. In spite of his cautious conservatism he is still derided by the establishment as being too extreme in his beliefs. It's like believing in integration while your colleagues still believe in slavery!

So after all has been said and explained, does a fetus have a memory of the negative and positive emotions of its mother as some regressive theorists have been claiming for decades? Janov says yes, but the yes is qualified by the restrictions of neurochemistry. In The Biology of Love, he writes, "Does fetal memory exist? Yes, in terms of neurochemistry. Do we have a memory of all that? Yes, but in terms of neurochemical alterations, not in terms of scenes, words, or feelings." (pp. 340-341)

He will have none of those theories of "umbilical affect," which are claimed to be a direct feeling pipeline to the emotions of the mother, and from which the fetus may learn, for example, that his mother and father fought continuously during his gestation or that he is unwanted and will not be welcomed at birth.

Regression therapists around the world have been observing for decades that the fetus sometimes recognizes that it has an inutero twin. If the twin dies and is absorbed (remarkably common) or is lost through abortion, many believe that the surviving twin knows this and may suffer depression in the womb, in infancy and in adulthood as a result. Many therapists claim that the surviving twin may spend a lifetime in a symbolic search for the dead twin. As far as I know, Dr. Janov has not acknowledged that psychological reactions to inutero twin-loss is possible. The "lost-twin" syndrome arises frequently in the practices of other primal-oriented therapists.

Another area of contention is whether reliving a "past life" is real. Janov writes that they are not. He believes that such experiences are symbols because of "overload." Other therapists, regardless of their personal beliefs usually help their clients integrate the traumas of "past lives." Perhaps, those at Janov's center also help clients integrate such traumas which they feel are symbolic. I do not know.

Such an overload of primal "pain", which may manifest as a past life, Dr Janov writes, can also cause a person to become more spiritual. Janov sees the existence of spirituality as per se proof of the existence of unintegrated "pain." Other regressive psychiatrists, including, Stanislav Grof, Graham Farrant and others feel that issues of spirituality become more and more important to patients as the depths of their pain are felt and resolved. They believe that spirituality is a natural consequence of the therapy itself.

In discussing the problem of accepting as real such ideas as were discussed above, Ashley Montagu in the Foreword of Elizabeth Noble's Primal Connections: (which contained many speculations about conception and implantation traumas) rather kindly and generously wrote that

. . . speculation is the lifeblood of the scientist. . . .The scientist believes in proof without certainty, while others believe in certainty without proof. But before one can get to proof one must speculate, even fantasize. The trick, of course, is not to fall into the error of mistaking one's speculations or fantasies for facts or certainties (p. 14).

Many of the speculations in this field of pre- and peri-natal psychology, by their very nature, will be impossible to prove.

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I believe that The Biology of Love is eminently readable and interesting, although, I was quite taken aback when the author wrote,

Today there are schools of deep breathing, such as holotropic breathing, which claims to solve any number of problems through deep-breathing exercises. It is nothing more than magical thinking. Deep breathing avoids the question 'why'? It can temporarily ease the tension and a symptom, but it has nothing to do with memory ( my emphasis ). The minute 'why?' is neglected, we are forced into spurious and specious procedures (p. 191).

During a Stan Grof holotropic breathwork sessions I have experienced some of the deepest primals - yes, primals! - I have ever had. I have had only three series of breathwork sessions, but two of those encompassed some of the clearest and deepest early memories I have ever experienced; e.g., a tonsillectomy, with detailed visual components from age five. After that reliving in holotropic breathwork, the feeling-need to relive that trauma has never returned!

In many of his books Dr. Janov has written that the transpersonal realms only comprise the symbolization of one's early trauma. But then, if that is what he believes, why does he write that holotropic breathwork has nothing to do with memory? Symbolized or not, it is still memory.

Perhaps, Janov is misinformed and believes that holotropic breathwork does not include biographical material, but only transpersonal material . Or maybe Janov wants to consider only one aspect of Grof's work - the part with which he disagrees.

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I was happy to read Dr. Janov's opinions on the False Memory Syndrome, though it is not acknowledged as such (p. 326). Many regression theorists handle this syndrome as though it were a hot potato - very gingerly. Janov believes that memories accessed during primal therapy can be verified. He writes that these memories should not be criticized by other therapists unless they themselves have the ability to have deep access within themselves. Simple recall, he reminds his readers, is not the same as reliving.

Dr Janov rightfully points out that some traumas may not be the mother's fault and writes that sometimes the newborn has to be separated from its mother because of illness. This can make the child feel that he has been deserted and is unloved. Again, the perceived lack of love may be erroneous as there may be too many siblings, or other chronically ill siblings with whom the parents have to spend a disproportionate time away from a child who may then feel that he is unloved. Unfortunately, this important viewpoint is very seldom mentioned by therapists.

Buy and read The Biology of Love. It is another fascinating book by Dr. Arthur Janov, the discoverer of primal therapy. The inside jacket leaf says that this book is his twelfth; I count 10.

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