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Primal therapy

John's Primal therapy sessions with Arthur Janov in 1970 were the crucial catalyst in Lennon's most emotionally bare album, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". This page includes an interview with Janov together with Lennon's own recollections plus a revealing insight into the therapy sessions by Pauline Lennon.

"His [Arthur Janov's] thing is to feel the pain that's accumulated inside you ever since your childhood. I had to do it to really kill off all the religious myths. In the therapy you really feel every painful moment of your life - it's excruciating, you are forced to realise that your pain, the kind that makes you wake up afraid with your heart pounding, is really yours and not the result of somebody up in the sky. It's the result of your parents and your environment.
As I realised this it all started to fall into place. This therapy forced me to have done with all the God shit......  Most people channel their pain into God or masturbation or some dream of making it...... [It's] facing up to reality instead of always looking for some kind of heaven."
from the Red Mole Interview, 1971

"There’s no way of describing it, it all sounds so straight just talking about it, what actually you do is cry. Instead of penting up emotion, or pain, feel it rather than putting it away for some rainy day.....  I think everybody’s blocked, I haven’t met anybody that isn’t a complete blockage of pain from childhood, from birth on...... It’s like somewhere along the line we were switched off not to feel things, like for instance, crying, men crying and women being very girlish or whatever it is, somewhere you have to switch into a role and this therapy gives you back the switch, locate it and switch back into feeling just as a human being, not as a male or a female or as a famous person or not famous person, they switch you back to being a baby and therefore you feel as a child does, but it’s something we forget because there’s so much pressure and pain and whatever it is that is life, everyday life, that we gradually switch off over the years. All the generation gap crap is that the older people are more dead, as the years go by the pain doesn’t go away, the pain of living, you have to kill yourself to survive. This allows you to live and survive without killing yourself."
from the Howard Smith Radio Interview, 1970

In 2000 Arthur Janov talked about John’s treatment
to Mojo music magazines'  John Harris.

How did you come to treat John and Yoko?
I think, unbeknowst to me, the publisher sent him a review copy of The Primal Scream (Janov's first book on the subject). Then he or Yoko called me and asked me if I could come to England.I said there was no way, and so I hung up. But at that time, I had two kids who were fully into Beatlemania -so when I told them we weren't going to England they started screaming and yelling. They said "You've got take us". They were about 10 and 13. So I took them out of school, and it was the best time of their lives.

Can you recall your first meeting?
[Thinking back] Oh. ..we did a lot of the therapy at Tittenhurst Park. That huge white house. We did a lot of it in the recording studio, while they were building it. That was kind of difficult. But it went very, very well. John had about as much pain as I've ever seen in my life. And he was a very dedicated patient. Very serious about it. When I said to him, "You've got to come to LA now, I can't spend the rest of my life in England", he said, "Fine", and he came.

In lots of Lennon books, his treatment is written about very melodramatically: "John screamed helplessly like a child, while Janov pulled him deeper and deeper into the darkest corners of his past..."
[Pained] Oh God. That's just nonsense. We don't do anything like that.

He responded well to therapy, anyway?
Yeah. He had tremendous insights. I just found out this morning that they're re-releasing the Primal album [John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band]. And if you look at that album, it's very evident what he got out of it. I love that album. After he finished it, he sent it to us, and I played it to a group of about 50 people, and they were all in a heap. They really understood what he was doing. It sent off everybody into their Primals. It was whole new direction for him, the level of simplicity was amazing.

Were you aware that he was writing the album in LA?
He and I talked a lot about some of that stuff. He would say, 'What about religion?' and I would say something like, 'People in pain usually seek out religion'. And he would say, 'Oh, God is a concept by which we measure our pain'. So some of those songs came out of our discussions.

Did he talk to you about acid and its effects on him?
Well, I knew about it. I can't disclose specifics, but in general, I'll tell you this: LSD is the most devastating thing for mental health that ever existed. To this day, we see people who've been on LSD, and they have a different brain-wave pattern, as if their defences are totally broken down; It stays.

Timothy Leary was in favour of the idea of ego-destruction. ..
I think he destroyed so many people by touting LSD. It's a very, very dangerous drug.

To what extent was John's therapy cut short by the US Immigration authorities?
One day, John came to me and said, 'We've got to get out of the country'. The immigration services-and, he thought, Nixon was after him. He said 'Could you send a therapist to Mexico with me?' I said 'We can't do that, John'. We had too many patients to take care of. They cut the therapy off just as it started, really. We were just getting going.

Inside two years of the release of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John was back in LA, in the worst possible frame of mind -doing drugs, drinking...
Well, that wouldn't be surprising to me. We had opened him up, and we didn't have time to put him back together again. I told him that he had to finish it, but...I forget what happened then... he moved to New York, so it wasn't possible.

Was that a source of regret?
"It would be with any patient. John was really a genius, but he was just another patient. We care about everybody we treat, and we try very hard not let anybody go too early.

You used the word 'genius' then. So you think there's lot of truth in that notion...
[Emphatically] Oh, I think so. He had this perception- he could see inside people in a way that I've rarely seen.

Did you find, in the wake of John Lennon/Plastic Ono band, that you became a fashionable name to drop?
Yeah. John wanted to put an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle saying "This is it: Primal Therapy." I said to him, "I don't want you to do that. This therapy's far more important than The Beatles in the long run of history, and I think it's got to stand on its own." I couldn't stop it... but we've since .. done a tremendous amount of science and research, and It holds up.
This interview was first published in Mojo's John Lennon special in 2000.
Visit the Magazine's site here

Vivian Janov
Arthur Janov's wife was also interviewed in 2000, this time for the 3 part BBC Radio special "Lennon's Legacy"

Vivian Janov: "Well, really, to be honest I think he [John] did say "THIS IS IT!" and I think he said that about everything. I am not even going to say 'This is it', now we're getting like stupidly simple, nothing is 'IT'. Primal is 'it' in a certain sense for people who have blocked off that big chunk of pain and childhood and are always pulling against that, never being free. I think he did think again, "OK, the Maharishi disappointed me, now Janov is it", and I think maybe he did go over board and I think Arthur may have represented to him the new brilliant father he never had.
What the therapy is about, is releasing the tension and the repressed pain of early childhood and that release comes about in the therapy through talking about your life, crying about the pain and sometimes people do shout or scream, but I really try to get away from the idea of screaming because that's not the usual thing, people usually cry about pain.
Through that release, people come to feel very cleansed, very free, very knowledgeable about what really happened to them when they were children. In primal therapy people actually relive the scenes, the painful scenes of their life and have the emotions, the feelings expressed that they really didn't express when they were children and that's the big difference and that's what's so therapeutic."

Yoko Ono was also interviewed for the same BBC Radio Programme: "I think that Primal Therapy in fact did a lot of good for us.....for him I think, he kept saying that a guy usually can't cry, but it's alright to cry and he was able to cry and that was a very good thing for him. So that instead of penting up emotions and expressing it as anger, [he'd be] just sort of crying and [then] forgetting about it."

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain"

"In the absence of the removal of pain, the best that can happen to a suffering adult is to try to fulfil the lacks in his childhood; to find a support group which is understanding, tolerant, with whom one can express one's feelings and problems. A family substitute, if you will. It is even more helpful if the group provides an ideational system that bolsters the defence. It really doesn't matter about the content of the ideation so long as it reassures, bolsters, supports, makes the person feel not alone, helps him to think that there is a higher power who will help him, etc. Those beliefs must run counter to the unconscious pain -'I'm all alone, I've never had any help, no one cares, there was and is no one to support and guide me'. Those are the real feelings resulting from thousands of childhood experiences. That is why so many of the support groups embrace religious tenets.
Often, the religious ideation alone is enough because one can imagine that there is someone watching over, that 'I am in his hands', that he will take care and help, etc. Needs force the imagination of fulfilment because fulfilment is the only thing that can ease a chronic malaise. That is the function of belief systems; they manufacture a fulfilment that doesn't exist to balm the unconscious need. They attempt to normalize."
Arthur Janov

"Our pain is the pain we go through all the time. You're born in pain, and pain is what we're in most of the time. And I think that the bigger the pain, the more gods we need."
John Lennon 1970

 "Daddy come home"

Pauline Lennon married John's father Freddie in 1969, Twenty-one years later she published her book in which she described one of John's therapy sessions.......

"In the early summer of 1970 John Lennon was undergoing intensive treatment at the Janov Institute for Primal Therapy in Los Angeles. It was a hot day in June, but for some weeks now John had been isolated from the outside world, spending most of his time exclusively with his therapist, a highly trained, sympathetic man who had himself undergone primal therapy and with whom John had built up a high level of trust.

The session was being conducted in a small, sound-proof room without windows, the walls of which were padded on two sides to allow the patient readily to express the powerful emotions which would inevitably demand release. Audio and video recorders were in operation to provide a record of the session from which both patient and therapist could later gain useful insights.

But John was only minimally aware of his surroundings at the Institute. As he lay flat on his back on the floor, as was customary during primal sessions, his consciousness had returned to a day in June 1946, a day which had been so painful that he had attempted to blot it from his memory . But now, at the gentle insistence of the therapist, he began to recall every detail of the Saturday afternoon in Blackpool when, at the age of five and a half, he had been asked to choose between his parents but had finally ended up by losing both of them.

Slowly he began to tune into the atmosphere of the Hall's house in Ivy Avenue where he had been staying for some weeks with his father awaiting emigration to New Zealand. It was here that Julia had unexpectedly appeared on that afternoon to ask that John be returned to her.

The pungent odour of Freddie's Woodbine cigarettes suddenly filled his nostrils -he was once again sitting on his father's knee in the modestly furnished front room and his beautiful red-haired mother was standing opposite him, smiling at him with that irresistible smile of hers which always melted his heart. As he became aware of the haunting perfume she always wore, he recalled how much he loved her. But suddenly his father's voice interrupted the lovely warm feeling he was experiencing and the words he heard him speaking seemed strange and frightening.

'And what is your Daddy saying to you, John?' urged the therapist, noting John's distress but realizing the need to carry on. John's reply was barely audible. 'He's saying "Mummy's going away and she won't be coming back again. Do you want to go with her or stay with me and go to New Zealand?".' He spoke these words in a whispered voice, drawing up his knees and clenching his fists with anxiety . 'I'm staying with my Daddy, I don't want to leave my Daddy,' John continued, but then he came to an abrupt halt and his features contorted as if he was now beset by some new unbearable fear.

 'My Mummy's walking away down the road,' he recalled, speaking in increasingly shorter breaths. 'I'm running after her, I've reached her and I'm holding her hand. Daddy's still standing in the doorway and I'm shouting to him to join us. "Come on Daddy, come on Daddy ," I'm shouting, but he won't come.'

The atmosphere in the session room reflected an electrifying degree of tension, and it was clear that John was experiencing a deep level of pain.
'Tell your father what you need of him,' instructed the therapist, encouraging John to follow through his pain and to discharge the strong emotions which were now nearing the surface.

John found it almost impossible to give voice to the words he wanted to say, but they eventually came out in a choked sob. 'Daddy, I want you to come and join me and Mummy. I don't want you to leave me.' As he spoke it was as if he had suddenly released a floodgate of sorrow, and for the first time in many years his tears began to flow freely. But there was still more pain to be unleashed and it was the role of the therapist to push John a little further until he reached the core of his anguish.

 'Your Daddy can't hear you, John,' he pressed him. 'Tell your Daddy what you need of him.'
'I need you to come after me. I need you to hold me, Daddy,' pleaded John, his voice now raised to screaming pitch as all the hurt and rage of nearly twenty-five years came pouring out. He was now on his knees, pounding the wall as he screamed the words 'Daddy, Daddy' over and over again. And as he punched away the pain, his feeling of anguish was compounded by a new and totally overwhelming terror.

His consciousness now shifted to the day he fell into a deep gully of sand on Blackpool beach, from which he was unable to free himself until his father found him. He felt himself to be surrounded by dark walls on all four sides and he was gripped by a sensation of blind panic as the sand appeared to be closing over him, shutting out the light of the sky.

'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,' he screamed, his whole body now shaking with fear. But there was no way that John could make his Daddy hear him, and once again he felt isolated and deserted. He was overcome by a sense of dread that he would never see his father again. It seemed that the trauma of the beach incident and the ordeal of his parents' parting a few days later had become inextricably intertwined in John's subconscious, resulting in an emotional burden which had remained with him since childhood but which had been too terrible for him ever to recall.

But now, as John curled himself into the foetal position, the therapist knew that the worst of the tension had been released, and at John's request he enacted the role of his father and bent down to stroke his head gently."