Love, argues Janov (2000) in The Biology of Love, is
a neurochemical event. Love consists of specific hormones and
is embodied in specific brain structures. Love begins in the womb,
literally shapes our brains, and determines how we think, feel
and act throughout life. Love determines the state of our health
and the length of our lives.
Womblife, for Janov, is critical to the development of personality,
mental health and illness, and sexual orientation. Love and affection
during this early critical period help the nervous system to develop
properly, and to produce serotonin and other repressive brain
hormones. The "love imprint" allows for proper development
in utero, which radiates positively throughout our lives.
While acknowledging that there are genetic and environmental
factors, Janov focuses on the negative biological factors that
are imprinted upon the fetus. The absence of love adversely affects
the nervous and hormonal systems, leaving a "toxic brain
environment" that is less able to effect repression (those
familiar with Janov's earlier writings may be surprised at this
late praise for the biology of repression). Homosexuality, schizophrenia,
and Alzheimer's are among the myriad of afflictions thought to
originate in the womb. Maternal stress, intrauterine trauma, and
exogenous hormones ("tranquilizers") are the teratogens
that alter fetal biology--due in part due to the intrauterine
levels of serotonin and dopamine--and to predispose to later mental
So what are the particular biological structures and mechanisms
of love? The right cerebral hemisphere, insists Janov, is "the
hemisphere of love." The limbic system is responsible for
processing and organizing emotion; the hippocampus contains the
history of feeling while the amygdala, the focal point of raw
emotion, allows us to process and feel feelings. And what about
the "hormones of love?" Oxytocin is the main ingredient
in maternal behavior, attachment and bonding; it calms, helps
repress pain and anxiety, and sustains long-term monogamous relationships
in men. Vasopressin, involved in arousal and aggression, promotes
paternal feelings and social bonding. Serotonin, a blocking agent,
aids in the inhibition of anxiety and the repression of pain;
it produces comfort and satisfaction, and helps keep imprinted
impulses in check. Dopamine, an excitatory "feel good"
chemical, is said to rise in response to physical affection; it
makes up alert, keeps us vigilant, and produces pleasure. Prolactin
contributes to maternal feelings.
Not surprisingly, The Biology of Love is also about
primal therapy. The goal of the therapy is "pleasure, contentment,
and a good life," all of which result from making the unconscious
conscious. Janov still uses dark and padded therapy offices. But
he refuses to describe his techniques, claiming that they take
six years to learn and that "making them public runs the
risk of abuse." He claims that he now measures all patients'
vital signs before and after every session (although he fails
to specify which vital signs). Janov continues to praise Freud's
hydraulic model and to denigrate dreams and, with less emphasis
on curing neurosis, concedes that "reliving normalizes."
One surprise, though, is the absolute omission of "brain
maps," the celebrated centerpiece of his last book (Janov,
Proper primal therapy, instructs Janov, takes time. "One
feeling at a time" is a principle that guides therapeutic
practice. Janov doesn't start with "original pain,"
and won't let patients go into feelings he deems "too strong."
He claims that he isn't looking for birth trauma, nor is he expecting
to find it. Patients usually begin by discussing something in
the present and, in sessions averaging two to three hours, may
drop into one overarching (read "generalized") feeling.
"Sinking into deep and remote past events," notes Janov,
"does not and should not happen in the first weeks of therapy."
And primal therapy has, in some ways, become increasingly humanistic.
The therapeutic relationship itself is now recognized and valued.
Therapist warmth, support, and empathy are more highly prized
than brilliance. The therapy involves very little therapist intervention,
and patients are never told to scream or what to feel. Palliative
measures, moreover, are sometimes taken with patients. Therapists
sometimes hold the patient's hand (though at other times may administer
tranquilizers!) to ease their pain, and to allow their feelings
to be integrated. Isolated or withdrawn patients are sometimes
encouraged to get animals as a first step in giving and getting
affection. Therapists talk more during "postsession,"
discussing client's insights and connections, and helping them
integrate feelings into their lives. While primal therapy is still
considered a powerful treatment for a variety of maladies, it
no longer obviates the need for counseling, child guidance, or
In these dreary times of corporate managed care and polypharmacology,
it's certainly heartening to see a new work by Janov, the bold
and innovative thinker and psychotherapist. The Biology of
Love is a showcase of earlier insights, assertions, and accomplishments.
In addition, there are some new ideas and assertions about love
and therapy, as well as thirteen original case presentations on
primal therapy. And one must acknowledge Janov's growing microhumility.
In the current volume, for example, he acknowledges that he sits
at the feet of Dr. Paul MacLean, and that he is indebted to Drs.
Leboyer and Odent for their important contributions. Moreover
(and uncharacteristically), he shares a bit more personal information--including
a cameo of his own traumatic birth anoxia and subsequent birth
feelings. But Janov's "credibility problems" (Mithers,
1994) clearly continue, and The Biology of Love reduces
sublime human love to the biology of hormones and hemispheres.
Perhaps we should ask whether Janov's biological reductions enrich,
or perhaps trivialize, our understanding of love and the mystery
Janov, A. (2000). The biology of love. Amherst, NY:
Janov, A. (1996). Why you get sick and how you get well:
The healing power of feelings. West Hollywood, CA: Dove.
Mithers, C. L. (1994). Letter to the editor. Buzz.
My Two Cents (Canadian!)
By Sam Turton
Actors need directors, musicians need conductors and writers
need editors. Why? To make sure their expression is arranged and
presented in a way that allows the idea to be clearly received
by the audience. If this is not done, you get books like The Biology
Janov covers fascinating subject matter, but isnt sure
to whom hes speaking - the novice, the scientist or the
experienced primaller. The writing jumps erratically from confusing
clusters of advanced concepts to long passages of the same basic
theory he fills every new book with. The style is
likely too technical for first time lay readers and yet too unscholarly
and pop for scientists.
Janov still has a habit of speaking in absolutes and extremes,
which traditionally come across in his warnings, miraculous testimonials
and claims of therapeutic superiority. To continue the boasting
that the scientific community love to hate, The Biology of Love
is offered as the first unified theory of psychology and
brain chemistry even though, earlier this year, another
book, A General Theory of Love by Lewis, Amini and Lannon, covered
the same basic ground.
To Janovs credit, the new material is a valuable, biology-based presentation
of what primal people intuitively know. It is intended to connect the new, measurable,
science of feeling with its human, primal application. Such a worthwhile
and daunting challenge, however, requires balanced, unprejudiced communication,
and a willingness to share, as an equal, with the community at large. To accomplish
that, Arthur Janov would need to come down from his castle and yield to the
ruthless direction of a serious editor.
This article appeared in the Fall 2000 IPA Newsletter.