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"Primal scream' is back _ without the noise

Published May 12, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

(ran PT CT NT LT CTI editions)

Just because his new book is called The New Primal Scream: Primal Therapy 20 Years On, don't think that Arthur Janov is a screamer. He can hardly talk.

Forced to conserve his voice since throat surgery 30 years ago, Janov, the man who put screaming on the cultural map, doesn't even consider screaming the major part of primal therapy. It's about feelings, repression and, he says, "open-heart surgery for the mind."

The primal scream is arguably the apotheosis of the '70s _ other candidates include happy faces, Farrah Fawcett hair, crunchy granola, Lance Loud, wide lapels and elephant bells, and KC and the Sunshine Band singing, "That's the way uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it." And like other aspects of that decade, the primal scream is ba-a-ck.

Janov's first book, The Primal Scream, was an international bestseller translated into many languages and selling more than a million copies worldwide. When he wanted to write The New Primal Scream (Enterprise, $24.95) on the 20th anniversary of Scream I, his publisher insisted they go with "scream" in the title again, although Janov is more into crying and writhing.

Janov insists he has caused people to "relive their birth trauma" without gimmicks, hypnosis or drugs.

His French wife, former patient, master's student at California Coastal University in Santa Ana and Janov-trained primal therapist France Janov, often speaks so that Arthur can conserve his voice.

Thirty years ago _ before he started feeling, before he started writing about primal therapy under the guise of writing about screaming, before he met France _ Arthur Janov was a 38-year-old Freudian analyst working "in the desert," as he calls Palm Springs. He was the son of Russian immigrants who came out of the Ukraine and into Los Angeles, where he was born, educated and eventually earned a doctorate in psychology.

"They were indifferent parents who didn't care about kids. The great favor they did me was to give me enough pain to discover the role of pain."

He first got the idea for primal therapy after a patient described seeing a "theater of the absurd" performance in New York. The year was 1967.

"This guy saw Raphael Ortiz, who walked around the stage in diapers, sucking on a bottle and yelling, "Mama!' The audience does this, too. When the patient told me about it I said, "Why don't you do as he did?' Soon he fell off his chair and started writhing and screaming and then he said, "I can feel.'


Janov treated another patient, "a cowboy from Indio," in the primal manner. "He started out saying, "Oh, mama,' and soon he was writhing and screaming. I was a highly trained therapist but I had never seen anything like this."

Since then, Janov has been on what he calls "a hegira" to discover what it meant.

"Primal therapy was born in a vaudeville show and my parents' unloving treatment of their son," he says.

Did he make peace with his parents before their deaths?

"I made peace with me before they died."

Today, the Janovs divide their time between an institute France runs in Paris and the Primal Treatment and Training Center in Venice, Calif., where Arthur is director.

In the Venice center, they have seven treatment rooms. A patient comes there for three weeks and is the only patient his therapist sees.

"The patient decides when the treatment is over," says Arthur. "You're not in tears and told your time is up."

For this initial access, the patient pays $5,000. They are advised to continue coming for two therapy sessions a week for a year after that (at $85 an hour), and the Janovs throw in a group session gratis.

Arthur, who says primal therapy is "the cure for what ails you," worries about the rebirthing movement, which "has no knowledge of brain physiology" and is "a charlatan enterprise done without scientific controls." He says there are 500 ersatz primal therapy centers wrongfully using his name.

France also cautions people to watch out for quack primalists: "A guy died in Zurich. They put a pillow over his head and told him to say a code word before he suffocated."

To combat what both Janovs say are fraudulent primal clinics, France says, they hope to open "Dr. Janov's Centers."

Arthur says, "That way they'll know they are getting real primal therapy."

Look for the Janov Center label. Don't primal writhe without it.


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