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Arthur Janov


John Lennon and Primal Therapy



I first just had some notes from one of the Janov books in my pages under book notes. Then later I met someone who had been to Janov's therapy center in California. Later I found some notes about John Lennon and Janov so I decided to create this page.

S. Hein
Dec 9, 2006

Disclaimer 2011- Please note it has not been updated since 2006, so I don't know how things are at the Janov Institute these days.

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The FeelingChild, Arthur Janov, 1973

I wrote the notes below before I talked to someone who hadbeen in Janov's treatment center in California. After talking tohim I wrote this cautionary note.

I first read parts of this book just before the term emotionalintelligence became popularized. I was just beginning tounderstand the importance of feelings, and of children's feelingsin particular.

As I re-read the book I am amazed at the insight of the author. I found myself agreeing with a much higher percentage of the author's views than is normally the case when I read a book.Though his terminology never caught on, and he overuses some words, the basic message still rings stunningly true.

Janov's writings on the importance of feelings in the child'slife, and the importance of validating those feelings (though he does not use that term) are some of the best pieces of practical psychology I have seen. Of course he doesn't use the term emotional intelligence, but to me his work fits perfectly with the natural and healthy development of the child's innate emotional intelligence.

Janov is one of the only authors I have seen who feels as strongly as I do about the importance of healthy parents, whose emotional needs have been sufficiently met so as not to use their children in an attempt to fill those unmet needs.

Janov also is one of the only authors who I've read that bluntly and critically states some of the reasons people have children, such as wanting someone to feel loved by, wanting to hold a marriage together (or manipulatively keep someone in arelationship), wanting to create a family which they never had,and wanting to please their own parents by producing grandchildren.

Since the book refers frequently to a "Primal" I need to explain what Janov is talking about. He defines it as the "total reliving of early experiences in Primal Therapy." So we have to know a little about what Primal Therapy is. It is a system based on a Janov's chance discovery during a more or less routine counseling session with one of his clients. He got curious about what happened and tried it a few more times with other clients, each with similar results. To oversimplify, what he did was have the patients yell "Mommy! Daddy!" over and over as loud as they could as if they were completely lost and abandoned. This evidently invoked such terrifying and deeply buried childhood emotional pain that the clients then typically begin to scream in a primal like way, thus the name, Primal Scream and Primal Therapy.

Janov has found that for many adults, this helps free them somehow, evidently by finally unblocking their long repressed feelings of deep pain. Janov says his clients report that afterwards they are able to actually experience their feelings as they never could before in their adult lives.

I have never gone through such a therapy and frankly the sound of it frightens and intimidates me, but I could see how it could be helpful, especially for someone who was seriously abused as achild.

To me there is a bit of an over-emphasis on this technique throughout the book, but it does not significantly detract from the overall message about children, parents and feelings.

Now here are a few notes and quotes:


He says the book is a "result of observing patient srelive their childhoods." He stresses that the important thing is the feelings that come out of the therapy and what the patients learn by "becoming the feeling children they never were." Any academic or theoretical research is secondary. p.1

He says the therapy is often an "agonizing experience where patients return to feel what the dared not feel when they were too young to withstand the Pain."

Janov capitalizes pain throughout the book, but I find this distracting so from here on I will not use the capitalization.

"They feel the hate from their parents their indifference, their deadness." p.2

These are strong words that the author uses, but in some cases I have no doubt that his description is accurate. I can understand that if you have seen what he has seen while working with people who were badly emotionally, physically and sexually abused the words would not cause you to think he exaggerating. If anything, I give him credit for restraining himself.

They feel the terror of being sent away to school, being sent to surgery alone, being abandoned by one parent or another, being pulled in two by parental dispute, or being left to cry in the crib. p. 3

I suspect that most people think Janov is being "too dramatic" when he says that such things terrify a child. But I can certainly imagine these things being terrifying for a child, and the more sensitive the child is, the more traumatic the emotional pain.

He says through this therapy they feel the pain which has been"stored in their bodies for a lifetime..."

Janov says "the only real protection a child has is for his parents to be healthy mentally." And for this they need to be free of their own childhood pain.

And next he says, twenty two years before Goleman said the same thing in his book on what he called emotional intelligence:

"We know from our research that there is a 'feeling brain' and a 'thinking brain' and the thinking part has very little control over the feeling part, especially when that feeling brain is overloaded with pain." p. 12

One of the implications of this is that intellectual lectures and education for emotionally unhealthy parents "usually cannot make a profound difference in how they treat their children, but it may help some."

What Janov is saying, and I agree with, is that parents must get in touch with their own feelings, especially their own emotional pain before the cognitive education can really sink in. I will add that this kind of emotional work requires very personal, experiential exercises. It requires much more of a desire for change than the typical visits to the typical therapist and certainly more than visits to the psychiatrist.

The problem of course is that this kind of work is painful, it does intimidate people, and it does take time, not just money. Thus very few will enter into it willingly. Most will never acknowledge their need for it through out their entire lives.

"The general view in decades past was that it is a cold, hard world and that children should not be pampered lest they become unprepared for it."

The result of this belief system Janov basically says was that the child's needs were not met. Janov uses the term "neurotic" to describe the kind of children and parents this belief and behavioral system produces. He says, "A child is predestined to become neurotic if his parents are." Instead of neurotic you could substitute "unhappy" or "emotionally unhealthy" -- the idea still holds true.

Janov basically says that parents need to go through some kind of intense emotional experience such as his primal therapy in order to make a dramatic improvement in how they parent. He says, "We have treated child experts, authors of books on children, and nothing they knew helped them be decent parents until they could get some of their own needs and tensions out of the way." p 13,14

He says that after getting in touch with their feelings, parents

...do not need lectures. They have felt what their parents did to them and know what they must not do to their children. Those who have never felt the subtleties of the pain inflicted by their parents can never know how they keep their own children sick. Feelings are the answer both for the parent and the child. Feeling parents do right by their children, and a feeling child does right by himself." p. 14

Chapter 1 -Reasons for Having Children

"How a child is going to be treated may already be predestined in the planning stage. If a mother wants to have the family she never had in her lifetime, then the child is going to have to make her feel that she has a warm, loving family. Later, when the child wants to do things on his own ...it will be perceived as an unconscious threat to the mother." p. 17

Janov says the mother won't allow the children to be angry with her and neither can she be honest with the children because she is "using them in the service of her need."


December 2006 note - Unfortunately this book is now in Australia and I am in Argentina so I can't add the notes. It still interests me though, despite the negative things I heard from the person who actually went to Janov's center. And I need to add that now there are two centers. One that his ex-wife runs and one he and his new wife run. So I can't say anything about either one.

Cautionary note about Arthur Janov and the Janov Institute

(These notes were written in 2002)

Arthur Janov is the author of a book from which I took extensive notes: TheFeeling Child

In July of 2002 I met someone who had spent two years in California in the late 1990's going through Janov's Primal Therapy treatments. He told me some things which affirmed a few of my concerns about Janov, and which raised many new concerns. Before I met this person, who I will call Antonio, I thought highly of Janov, but I still thought he overestimated the influence of the birth process. Antonio confirmed that Janov does not talk much about the affect of parents on teenagers, for example. He said Janov believes that a child is basically set for life by age 10 or 12. I disagree with this since I have meet people who said everything was basically fine in their live suntil around age 10 or 12. This is when they started to think for themselves and really question their parents.

I have also heard several people tell me that they were "Daddy's little princess" till about age 10 or 12. Then all the arguments started and the negative feelings grew. The emotional needs for caring, understanding, acceptance, self-control, respect and freedom were not met, leading to depression and suicidal feelings and thoughts.

Below is a summary of Antonio's concerns. He asked me not to use his real name because he had signed some kind of legal agreement and disclaimer and even though he lives in Europe now, he was still a afraid of their reaction if they should read this.

- The therapy is a bit simplistic in the sense that it emphasizes emotional work while neglecting intellectual reflection on feelings.

- They were not as sharp intellectually as Antonio would have liked. He said sometimes they were not able to deal with complex issues.

- He spent over $20,000 in two years of therapy there.

- He felt he was a bit exploited. He said it helped a little but you have to keep going back again and again. He said some people were going to several hours of individual therapy each week and several hours of group therapy.

- At that time the individual therapy cost $110 US per hour. The group therapy cost $70 US per hour.

- He saw people there who were desperate and working low paying jobs at 10 dollars an hour so they could pay for the therapy. Some even had to sell their houses to pay for the therapy.

- He said they would not negotiate with low income people. They were very strict. If someone did not have the money they would have to stop therapy immediately.

- The first few weeks cost $6,000 for everyone.

- If you started therapy and paid the $6,000 for the three weeks of intensive therapy, then you dropped out of therapy you had to pay another $2,000 to go to a required two week intensive program.

- Some of the staff members seemed to have a lot of problems themselves even though they may have been in therapy for up to 10 years. One staff member was particularly rude to the clients which caused Antonio to wonder about the management of the institute.

- A lot of claims were made about the therapy, almost like it is faith healing or a miracle cure. Antonio did not believe the therapy lived up to the claims.

- He said many people looked at the therapy like a religion when they first started therapy. They came with very high and often unrealistic expectations. Because of the claims made in the Janov's books and the personal stories which are reported in his books, combined with the Janov's theories on the connections between the emotional state and the body, Antonio was surprised when he saw people there who were overweight and wearing glasses. He expected that everyone would be in near perfect physical shape.

- Antonio was also surprised when he saw people who had been there for four or more years. He was given the impression that for Primal Therapy a person needs a maximum of two years to work.

- He said it was a bit like a cult, but he wouldn't go that far to call it that because you could leave. Still, listening toAntonio reminded me of the Scientologists.

- From reading the marketing brochures you get the impression that you will receive very scientific electronic brain scans and other objective measurements. But when Antonio asked about where these things were, he got very evasive answers. There was also supposed to be an important member of the Janov Institute, a professor from Denmark who was said to be working with the brain mapping, according to the brochures, but over the two years that Antonio was there he never saw this professor and never was offered the chance for a brain scan. One of Antonio's roommates told him that when someone had questioned Ms. Janov, she got defensive and said something like, "If you don't like it here you can leave."

- He thought the therapists were a bit naive and gullible, but generally had good intentions. He said they almost worshipped the Janovs. One of the therapists said once that "Arthur Janov is totally without defenses."

- The therapists also seemed to be a little too closely controlled by the Janovs. Therapists were not encouraged to use much of their own judgment or styles in treating individual patients.

- He heard many things which caused him to feel skeptical about the success stories which are highly publicized in Janov's books.

- He told me there was a book written around 1975 by R. D.Rosen which I believe was Psychobabble: Fast talk and quick cure in the age of feeling,

- He also said some people took Janov's ideas and started something called "Feeling Therapy" and these people were really exploiting people. There was a book written about them called Therapy Gone Mad.

- Once he told one of his therapists that she seemed to be feeling angry and defensive and she angrily denied it! This reminds me of how important it is that the person who is tryingto help another is honest and authentic with his or her feelings. It also reminds me that one thing people want and need is to know that someone really cares for them. They don't just want techniques.

- He said that if you questioned things you would be told standard defensive replies, rather than real answers.

- He said the therapists would say things a bit arrogantly like "you can't hurt me." Yet he didn't think thetherapists were showing their real feelings.

- When he talked to others clients there about his concerns, they would often defend the Janovs. They might excuse a therapist's behavior by saying, "She is only doing that to trigger you." This reminded me of the teacher whose students would catch him in a mistake and say "I just wanted to see if you were paying attention"!

One of the positive things he said about his time there was that you could say anything, or almost anything. Once though, he heard that one of the directors said certain words were not allowed when they were directed towards the therapists.

I asked him how satisfied he was with the therapy overall. He said while he was there it was okay, but the moment he left it didn't help him anymore. In fact he felt worse at a certain point. He said they break down your defenses but they don't really help you solve your problem or go to the real core of your problem. He said they neglect the connections between your intellect and your emotions.

There was a lot of time spent on emotional release. But not enough time was spent on understanding where the emotions came from or how to make lasting changes.

He said the therapy did help some people, but in general it was not as helpful for highly intellectual and cognitive people.

He said some people were going there for years, even in one case a man was going there for over 10 years and was still releasing his anger and was still feeling resentment from his childhood.

I asked him if he felt more compassion for children after his time there. He said no. He felt less. This was because he felt resentful that he had spent so much time there and gotten nothing out of it. He didn't want to even think about how children felt. Instead if he was around a child and he started to feel annoyed and impatient with the child, he was tempted to hit the child, just as he had been hit by his father.

I asked him if the therapy gave him any lasting skills which he has used since he left. He said that it did not. He said that in fact, some of the people seemed to be more irresponsible than when they began therapy. He said too much was attributed to early childhood experiences. Some people used what they learned to get stuck in a trap of blaming their parents.

He said they were not taught how to take responsibility for managing their feelings. They were only told how to release their negative feelings. He said they were taught that nearly everything that happened to them in the present triggered childhood reactions, unless they went through the birth process enough times. He said this might take 100 times, but then they would be cured. He said they were led to believe that once they had released all of their early child hood pain they would be cured for life. But he did not find this to be happening in reality.

Antonio and some of the others there were concerned about Janov's values. It bothered him, for instance, that Janov always flew first class and lived in a multi-million dollar home in Malibu, an expensive suburb of Los Angeles. Some people actually left when they found out how Janov lived. Antonio told me about something Janov had written in his book, "Prisoners of Pain." Janov wrote that cars are really only needed for basic transportation and yet people buy expensive, gas-guzzling cars. In this way they are used to try to fill other needs, such as the need to express their individuality and level of status, power and importance. Then as I was leaving, Antonio asked me what kind of car I thought Janov's wife drove. I guessed a Mercedes or a BMW. He said, "Close. A Jaguar convertible."


Personal Note

I feel a little disillusioned to hear these reports. It reminds me that all of us who are involved in the field of emotional health are always vulnerable to exploiting emotionally needy people. I am no exception. Hearing what Antonio had to say simply reminded me of the importance of my integrity and of staying true to my mission of helping people and to my values of simplicity and freedom from material things. In fact I feel more committed to helping people in my own way. I realize how many people are desperate for help in releasing, understanding and recovering from their emotional pain.

S. Hein

Update... recently I found this claim on one page of the Primal Therapy site about Janov's book The Biology of Love:


It is a good example of the kind of exaggerated claims being made. The book does look interesting though, I would just recommend having a box of salt handy while reading it!

From Janov site 2011 || Source of claim - back up copy from archive.org

December 2006 note

When I cheked google for the quote "ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS EVER WRITTEN INPSYCHOLOGY," I found it in just a few places. One was on a page that was supposed to be reviews of the book, but it was actually a direct copy from the Janov site. You can check this yourself to see what you find....

John Lennon

Page about John and Primal Therapy http://homepage.ntlworld.com/carousel/pob11.html

My main page on John Lennon

back up copy of Lennon file

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Other EQI.org Topics:

Emotional Intelligence | Empathy
Emotional Abuse | Understanding
Emotional Literacy | Feeling Words
Respect | Parenting | Caring
Listening | Invalidation | Hugs
Depression |Education
Personal Growth

Search EQI.org | Support EQI.org

EQI.org Library and Bookstore

Online Consulting, Counseling Coaching from EQI.org

Deep feeling therapy - someone told me that primal therapy was a forerunner to this. i havent checked it out at all yet. - SH - Dec 2011

Interesting video Paul Hanning