The New Primal Scream by Arthur Janov
Reader’s Book Review
Reader’s Book Review:
What an amazing book this is! Janov’s theories seemed radical when he first espoused them, in the early 1970s – many people in the fields of psychological and physiological medicine scoffed at them then, and many still scoff at them today. This has historically been the reaction to new schools of thought, to anyone who dares to think `outside the box’. Here, Janov writes of his theories, lays out the research he has conducted that bears them out, and speaks of the things he has learned in the twenty years that ensued between launching his therapy and the book’s publication. The language he uses is sometimes a bit difficult for a layman to comprehend in one reading, but I found it to be more than worth the extra effort. As I read this book, Janov’s theories appealed to me first at a `gut’ level – as I progressed through it, what I was reading began to soak in, and to appeal to me on a deeper level.
Janov’s premise is that the neuroses that plague all of us to one degree or another are primarily caused by the repression of primal pain by our minds and bodies – and he logically aims to tackle the causes of our pain, instead of simply attempting to treat the symptoms. Our bodies are made up of a complex network of systems – psychological and physiological. Rather than working as entirely separate entities, Janov shows how they interact and intertwine. What he refers to as primal pain – those traumas that impact our systems at the very deepest levels – alters not only our emotional outlook, but the physical systems of our bodies as well. His research shows that traumas that have been thought for years to affect us only psychologically also affect our immune systems, hormonal balance, and other physiological systems. These traumas, which are too much for us to bear at the time they occur, are attacked by our bodies’ systems of repression – and the effect is imprinted on our lives in a way that, if not dealt with and released, will cause all sorts of mental, emotional and physical problems. Events which occur in our adult lives can trigger repressed memories of earlier traumas, causing the repression system to spring into action again – even though at this point in our lives there are healthier methods for our systems to utilize.
The repression system is a vital component of our survival mechanism – without it, the traumas we experience not only in early childhood, but also during the months in the womb, would be too much for us to bear. The problem is that as we grow older, and become more able to deal with these various traumas, the repression system continues to treat us as children, protecting us from feelings that we would be healthier accessing, processing and releasing. It is the continued repression of deep, primal feelings that makes us sick in many ways: emotional problems, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, colitis, even cancer; he also sheds light on the nature of addiction.
Primal therapy involves helping the patient to discover the traumas that are the root causes of this repression, then to access and FEEL these traumas at the deepest level. In this, Janov intends that the patient actually RE-LIVE the trauma involved – unimaginable pains, from a difficult birth process to cold, unloving parents, to unspeakably damaging experiences such as sexual abuse and incest – and react to them and thus release them from the repression system, freeing vital parts of the mind to address the needs of the patient as they exist in the present. Even the process of deep, child-like crying can not only release repressed feelings, but also trigger reversals in hormone balances and immune system dysfunction that are so vital to total health. Patients who have successfully completed the therapy have been found to not only improve on emotional levels, but to feel better physically as well – physiological ailments that have plagued them for years, apparently untreatable by more traditional methods, have lessened or disappeared completely.
If this sounds too good to be true, try to keep an open mind. Janov cites numerous examples from case histories, and years of research to back up his claims. The therapy is not for everyone – he states this in no uncertain terms at several points in the book. Think about it – how likely is it that someone who discovers that their emotional and physiological problems have their roots in sexual abuse that occurred beyond the reach of their conscious memory would want to go back to that horrible time and actually RE-LIVE what they experienced? It’s not something that sounds very appealing. Janov says that we have to hurt in order to heal – and anyone going into this therapy has to be completely aware of that aspect of it. He also warns, sternly, that there are many practitioners out there in the world who have read his works, even studied with him for a brief time, and have gone on to practice their own version of the therapy – with disastrous results. He cautions against what he terms as `the worst forms of charlatanism’ which have sprung from those who have only a partial understanding of his methods, and attempt to put them into practice too soon, either for motives of self-profit or impatient eagerness to `save the world’. Damage can be done to the patient if the therapy is dispensed by those who have not been properly trained.
The book is nothing less than a revelation. Janov’s methods might not be the path for everyone – but his theories are sound, and can be more universally applied than the therapy itself. Just reading this book can open the mind to the possibilities – understanding what makes us sick can help us find the road to wellness. All of us hurt to one degree or another – and this book can be a valuable key to unlock the door to healing.