Book Review - The Janov Solution: Lifting Depression Through Primal Therapy, Arthur Janov, Ph.D., 2007, $18.95, pps. 174, SterlingHouse Books, Pittsburgh, PA 15218

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"Look at movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe who seem to have had everything, including adoring fans, and still felt completely unloved and miserable. They don't need more love;
after all, the love of a million people isn't lacking. Now this may surprise you, but it is key:
They need to feel unloved by the people who counted in their lives: their parents.
Re-experiencing that feeling unblocks the system and is liberating."

-- Arthur Janov, Ph.D., in The Janov Solution

Dr. Janov's latest work is a slim volume in size, but very big in ideas.

The theme of birth trauma as the foundation for the origin of depression runs through his book. The author views depression as a "state of massive repression of many feelings and imprints." The author has found that his depressive patients at the Primal Training Center in Venice, California have suffered similar birth traumas.

Most of us are parasympaths and our birth is what usually establishes us as one; the rest are dominated by the sympathetic nervous system and the author calls them, sympaths. Certain psychosomatic diseases and personality types are associated with each of the types of autonomic nervous system predominance. It's the same nervous system - we're just talking about one's tendencies or the phase of the ANS in which one usually is in.

Janov includes a chapter dealing with the ANS and how pre- and peri-natal traumas can dysregulate the operation of this system so that the characteristic symptoms of one may predominate over the other. It is important background information for the matter at hand and study is needed to acquire an understanding of the subject. Although this University of Washington article is for kids, it's a worthwhile read and while you are there check out the linked material at the bottom of the article for more detail. That plus Dr. Javov's explanatory chapter which goes into the traumatic aspects of the ANS will give you a good idea of "how" disrupted homeostasis of the autonomic nervous system can give rise to various symptoms. Birth trauma usually provides the "why."

Dr. Janov writes that present day scientific studies have proven what was, at one time, only a theory of the relationship between suicidality and birth trauma. Most scientists no longer question what the studies have shown, however, he writes that many, unfortunately, are still not convinced that reliving these very early imprinted traumas can alleviate our depressive and other neurotic sufferings.

The Janov Solution, has seventeen beautifully written studies of persons who were treated at his therapy center and they form an important and instructive role in pointing out the origins of the person's depressive symptoms. Each is quite different but nonetheless similar in demonstrating how the origins of depression were laid down very early in life. Physician researcher, J.K.S. Anand, writes that birth and pre-birth difficulties can often be a matter of life and death, and that the most severe repression takes place during fetal life. The imprint of such early near death traumas is not something we outgrow, but rather remains with us as long as we live. The unconscious memory of the imprint returns when we are stressed in the present. Just about any stress has its tentacles in birth and before.

Very early in his book, Janov suggests that early experiences are almost always causal factors in depression and that their effects can continue to resound throughout one's life. And it's not just birth, as intrauterine development gone awry can also wreak havoc with the normal parameters or set points for our physiology which influence our susceptibility to depression and other mental illnesses. See Dr. Janov's, The Biology of Love, for the details and also his new blog writings which contain much new information about intrauterine trauma.

In regards to the genetics of depression, Janov writes that, sometimes, in rare cases, inheritability can play a role. However, recent studies (NIH News) have shown that the much touted depression risk gene may not add to risk after all. The study concludes that the risk of acquiring depression is based on stressful life events.

Dr. Janov believes that,
"...(B)y and large, birth trauma and early life experience are the root cause. There are changes in physiology during our life in the womb. The set-points of so many hormones are being established. One may think that such deficiencies are genetic, but there are events that can cause them that are not always obvious. They are only obvious when the patient in therapy descends to the antipodes of the unconscious where the crucial explanation of one's depression lies....A near death trauma experienced during gestation, or at birth, dogs us for the rest of our lives as an imprint held within the brainstem and limbic/feeling centers." (Arthur Janov, Ph.D. The Janov Solution, p. 11-12.

(Also see my article, DNA Breakthroughs: Nature vs. Nurture Issues).

Other, than having endured trauma at birth, one theme is similar in the life of all depressives and Dr. Janov writes that is their growing up in families with little warmth and love. Often, their birthing mothers had been heavy anesthetized. Indeed, he believes that anesthesia given to the birthing mother is the most common trauma which a baby endures.

Since the anesthesia is administered to the mother in relation to her weight, the dose is more than the fetus can safely handle and can cause massive shutdowns of a multiplicity of the birthing baby's body systems. The anesthesia can traumatize the birthing fetus by slowing down its birth and thus can interfere with the primal reliving of one's birthing experiences. Anesthesia administered for the sake of the mother's physical pain can, therefore, deal a triple whammy to the birthing baby!

A person has a tendency to react to life's problems in the same way it reacted to difficulty in the birth canal. If the fetus gave up after futile attempts to get born, so will the now grown-up person give up efforts to seek rescue from his financial, love, health or other life crises. He gives up and goes along with whatever life brings because this was how he had originally acted during birth. That early imprint remains as a life script. His personality becomes directly molded by his birth experiences as he becomes one bereft of free will. He believes he has choices but in reality he is only a puppet whose strings are being pulled by his primal pain.

Later in life, adversity provokes hopelessness and despair, a desire to give up, the direct run-off of the birth sequence. "Run-off" is a key concept here, because once something in the present resonates with an old memory, we are forced to act out the entire sequence until its logical conclusion. That is why, once into the feeling, there can be obsessive rumination about death or suicide. The difference is that the newborn can only sense death in a vague way because it has no behavioral options, whereas the suicide uses death as the behavioral option to end the agony....namely, "There's nothing I can do, I see no alternatives. It's no use fighting. Death is the only way out."
ibid., pps. 125-6

Depression does not necessarily point to a large amount of birth trauma. Other early traumas such as living in a cold and unloving environment can also cause depression. However, such depressions are not as severe and can more easily be remedied by medication. Other, more severe depressions, "...involves those whose birth was essentially a struggle and failure, ending in blackness, despair and defeat." p. 135

Present day hurts, in and of themselves, are not of sufficient severity to prompt one to suicide. Janov believes that only when inutero near death was a pre-birth reality will its effects be added to one's present day hurt so that suicide becomes a possibility. In reality, the present day trauma acts as a triggering device to the repressed much earlier trauma.

The suicidal person feels a need or compulsion to use the same method of killing themselves as they would have been killed had their birth traumas ended in death. Battering of the head during birth may give rise to suicide by shooting oneself in the head or driving into a highway embankment. Almost drowning in birth fluid, may prompt suicide by drowning in a river. Birth influences many aspects of behavior and even influences one's sexuality. [Published in France, earlier, as Sexualité et la Subconscient , Dr. Janov's forthcoming book, Sex and the Subconscious will include a detailed discussion of the subject.]

Melancholic depression is the deepest and severest form of depression. Such depressives hardly have the energy to get out of bed each morning. However, they are not the most likely to suicide as they do not have the energy to kill themselves, and their acting on impulses towards suicide is rare. However, the agitated depressives, Janov writes, "...involves a level of excitation that triggers an equally high level of excitation from the birth trauma." Hopelessness pervades awareness and the person develops the energy to act-out the suicide.

In his brainwave research, Dr. Janov found that "...when depression and agitation coincide, both brain wave amplitude and frequency are extremely high...
(I)f the pain is on the rise and the repression becomes faulty, suicide becomes the danger." One must, via the primalling route, unlink "...current feelings of loss and sadness from old feelings of despair." Upon feeling the original hopelessness in the birth canal as many times as needed, depressive symptoms will begin to recede.

It can happen that an anti-depressive drug, in shifting the melancholic's mind towards an agitated state can trigger suicidal or acts and thoughts of violence. The effects of the drug in alleviating the symptoms can change a melancholic's depression to an agitated depression. There is more energy in the latter and the suicidal tendencies are not as well defended against, so suicide becomes more probable.

The author writes that if therapists would

"...let patients slip into their past, they would see what lies in the unconscious. What they would find is nothing more than our history, laid out in order from the present to the most remote, including birth and womb-life. And it would not be approximate; it would be precise, with memories lying in storage waiting their turn to be connected to conscious awareness."
ibid., p. 169

Dr. Janov believes that if Freud were alive today, he would not be a Freudian.

Afterword: The biggest breakthrough of all relate to the discovery of epigenetics. See two articles on epigenetics and trauma by A. Janov: epigenetics I - epigenetics II