Arthur Janov, the psychotherapist whose “primal therapy” had celebrities screaming to release their childhood traumas and spawned a bestselling book in the 1970s, has died, reports The Guardian. He was 93. Janov died on 1 October at his Malibu home from respiratory arrest following a stroke, said his wife, France Janov.
The report says Janov, a clinical psychologist, became an international celebrity with his idea that adults repressed childhood traumas, making them neurotic and leading to problems such as mood disorders, drug addiction and even epilepsy. He believed that what he termed “primal pain” could extend as far as birth. “Coming close to death at birth or feeling unloved as a child are examples of such pain,” he wrote.
“When the pain is too much, it is repressed and stored away. When enough unresolved pain has occurred, we lose access to your feelings and become neurotic,” he wrote. “The number one killer in the world today is not cancer or heart disease, it is repression.”
The report says his therapy method involved having people relive their traumatic memories by “regressing” to infancy or childhood in order to confront and exorcise their demons. His Southern California centre provided props such as cribs and stuffed animals. Patients, who might pay thousands of dollars, would scream or shout as their supposedly pent-up traumas were revealed. “Once you feel it, people just become themselves,” his wife said. “People don’t need the drugs, the smoking, the acting out … not to feel that pain.”
According to the report, Janov contended the therapy contended the therapy could cure everything from stuttering to drug addiction to epilepsy, and might even lead to an end to war. He included homosexuality as a curable condition, although the American Psychiatric Association took it off the list of psychiatric disorders in 1973.
His 1970 book The Primal Scream made him an international celebrity. His patients included John Lennon, Yoko Ono and actor James Earl Jones. In a 1975 book, Janov called his therapy “the only hope if mankind is to survive” and suggested that what he called primal consciousness “certainly means an end to war”.
The report says as with many other emotional-release therapies of its time, primal therapy is today widely rejected by mental health professionals as unscientific and ineffectual. However, Janov’s widow said it is still practised around the world. “It changed so many people’s lives,” she said.The Guardian report