Remembering Arthur Janov

Remembering Arthur

Arthur Janov, founder of a therapeutic approach known as; ‘Primal Therapy’ died on October 1st, 2017.   It is worth remembering Arthur Janov because of his proposition that neuroses are the result of repressed childhood trauma.  The basic premise of primal therapy is that these childhood traumas could be accessed and addressed in present time through expression of unexpressed emotion.  Healing would then eventuate and normal functioning would ensue for the liberated adult.

Freedom of expression, janov style

In a therapeutic setting (with a trained psychotherapist) the adult is encouraged to access memories and express

primal scream

painful and disturbing past experiences releasing repressed anger for example.  The loudness of screams and apparent hysteria gave the therapy a certain dramatic effect in 1970s America first.  Furniture could come off second best as the client expressed unresolved rage.  There was greater emphasis on physical enactments rather than intellectual understanding of underlying causes of current unresourceful behaviour in the adult who should know better.

The Primal Scream

After Janov’s first publication of the “Primal Scream’ there was considerable popularity of this somewhat spectacular if controversial approach and once adherence from celebrities such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and others gathered it received wider popularity.

The problem of pain

Janov’s ‘Primal Scream’ contained numerous example of cases where people claimed to be healed of childhood trauma and even images of scars emerging on adult bodies relating to childhood injuries which were only permitted to be presented in adult life through primal therapy.  For Janov, “pain” is a consequence of unmet needs and the child has many needs.

The scream silenced?

The abundance of criticism of Janov’s work during his career as ‘unscientific’ have been met by his assertion that the real test of validity of such therapy lies in the feeling state changes of clients.  Eminent psychiatrists and psychologists have criticised his simplicity questioning the assertion that childhood trauma necessarily leads to adult neurosis.  Others have asserted that many clients were faking their primal experiences in therapy.  Ultimately, there appears to be considerable support for the therapy’s status as; ‘discredited’.

Key factors in successful therapy

Therapies are coming and going as frequently as fashion statements.  Important considerations in terms of efficacy lie in the quality of the relationship between therapist and client as well as the expectations of both for positive lasting change.  Transactional analysis (TA), Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), neurolinguistic programming (NLP), mindfulness based stress reduction therapy (MBSRT) are all examples of a wave of approaches that produce positive outcomes, except when they don’t!

Ingredients of successful therapy

In considering the ingredients of a successful therapy it appears certain elements are critical to lasting change for the client:

  • Therapist’s competence. Of course, qualifications are just one part if the therapeutic equation. We all know people who are very well educated, but more than a little thick! Competence is born of education, aptitude, and experience.
  • Client orientation. It sometimes happens that clients say they would, ‘like’ to stop taking drugs, but in truth, they would rather not be nagged by loved ones about their taking drugs. One is not the same as the other and both effect motivation to change. Another element of client orientation to any form of therapy; ‘magical thinking’. When a client presents with some long-standing issues, such as anxiety, they may hold an expectation that such long-standing matters will be terminated in a couple of “mentalist” sessions.  A sort of, “here I am, now fix me”, attitude.  Yet another dimension of client orientation to the work can emerge if the client has been sent by someone else to be ‘fixed’. This usually requires a substantial shift of attitude if success is to be achieved.
  • The therapeutic partnership. The truth is, in any therapeutic relationship there are requirements on all concerned. The therapist must behave with complete congruence and professionalism, adapting and applying their skills to best meet the needs of the client. The client can eventually come to full participation in the process even after initial skepticism in some cases. After all, if people are trying several approaches and have been disappointed up ‘til now, some skepticism is understandable. So, whether the therapy involves wrecked furniture, wailing screams, gentle sobs, laughter, throat singing, or intellectual awareness, if it works it works.





4 comments… add one
  • How much of this commentary had to do with remembering Arthur Janov?
    Maybe the author’s perspective was colored because Dr. Janov asserted that hypnotherapy didn’t address the parts of the brain where the problems lay?

    • Thanks for reading the brief piece. No reference to hypnotherapy at all in this one. Just a recollection of his (Janov’s) works rise to prominence and later criticism as ‘unscientific’. Janov’s defence was that the personal state change as subjectively experienced was his evidence.
      Thanks again for looking over.

  • I seem to remember Janov’s work was – to coin a phrase – Big in Japan.

    And it was a wow of a moment when I would read an ex-library book of THE PRIMAL SCREAM. I wish I had asked Janov where he would be in 10 years.

    And there is a typewritten screed in my copy about KIDS.

    • Thank you for looking over the brief piece on Janov. Yes, the ‘Primal Scream’ was big worldwide for a decade or two.


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