Scream

Arthur Janov, the pioneer of Primal Scream therapy, recently passed away. Here are some thoughts about the context in which developed his therapy…

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Fifty years ago, in 1967, the California-based Arthur Janov was operating in a strange mental health environment.

That year Scottish therapist R.D. Laing published The Politics of Experience, which questioned orthodox therapies. Psychologist Timothy Leary’s psychedelic experiments were publicly called out in the pages The New Republic. In 1967’s The President’s Analyst, James Coburn played a psychotherapist more than willing to seduce his attractive female patients. Disenchanted, he eventually leaves Washington, D.C. to settle in a hippie commune. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was finally acting on the 1963 Community Mental Health Act. In 1966, the first Community Clinic opened. By 1967, 53 more opened across the country.

Arthur Janov, with degrees from UCLA and a PhD in Psychology from Claremont Graduate School and sporting a shock of curly hair, created Primal Therapy in 1967. Tapping into the California counterculture and appealing to celebrities with his avant-garde approach, Janov created an unconventional therapy that resonated throughout the 1970s and beyond.

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Antiestablishment undercurrents challenged the American love affair with mental health expertise at this time. Debate was rife. It took place over psychiatric nosology (a fancy way of saying the classification of mental illnesses), scientific legitimacy, and the value of evidence-based diagnosis. The debate focused on the forces of modernization, psychopharmacology, (de)institutionalization, and social psychiatry.

There was significant chatter about mind control: The Manchurian Candidate. LSD brainwashing. MK ULTRA. This latter state-sponsored and well-funded CIA project, of course, included trippy research on behavioral therapy, chemically-induced brain concussions, brain wiping, hypnosis, extrasensory perception, cutting-edge polygraph techniques, sleep research, and on and on and on.

Ex-patient groups, whose members referred to themselves as ‘survivors’ or freed ‘slaves,’ garnered more attention. All this tumult was regarded as a “child of its rebellious, anti-establishment times.” Yet intra-professional restlessness was far from new, and it carried into the 1970s.

A majority of mental health experts recognized that the system was in disarray, a jumbled mess that President Jimmy Carter had to reform. To this end, Carter, who embodied for many the limits and austerity of the era initiated a presidential commission to investigate mental health in the U.S.

The term radical fluctuates from era to era and individual to individual, but this historical moment was definitely unique. Thinking about the 1960s-1970s probably conjures up images of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton’s Black Panther Party, which was organized in October 1966 and challenged the status quo by activating and channeling African-American disenchantment – in addition to forming coalitions with domestic and foreign organizations. Yet, the 1970s also calls to mind the Weather Underground, a homegrown terrorist organization intent on fomenting revolution, and which detonated a series of bombs in 1970.

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Biopsychiatry, antipsychiatry, and a host of alternative therapies rose against this backdrop. Amid these changes, Arthur Janov pioneered and championed primal therapy with his 1970 book, The Primal Scream: The Cure for Neurosis. It was a form of therapy in which patients entered extreme emotional states to allow for the jettisoning of any deep-rooted “Primal Pain” experienced in childhood. In addition, the method was often accompanied by shouting and screaming. These “post-Primal” patients would attain a genuine normality, thereafter occupying healthy, neurosis-free bodies.

As indicated in the title of his book, he did not shy away from the curative and indeed the transformative nature of his therapy. In a series of books between 1970-1972, including The Anatomy of Mental Illness and The Primal Revolution, Janov contended that patients who concluded his therapy effectively would overcome the diseased state common to most people. He suggested, too, that his therapy offered physical cures. Repression, in Janov’s estimation, stunted physical development, and successful Primal Therapy would enable the natural growth of breasts, hair, and hands.

Janov, born and raised in California, had worked as a psychotherapist for the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and Veterans Administration, among other places, when in 1967 he developed his theory. It was an atmosphere of questing energies and transformation in California, and one that also gave rise to Transactional Analysis and other New Age ideas.

Janov’s therapy struck a chord with the countercultural set and other Americans hungry for alternative approaches to the mainstream establishment. Finding the limelight, he went on mainstream television programs, called traditional psychiatry a hoax, and told how of how the establishment scorned him. His papers could not get published, and his colleagues walked out on his presentations. The press hated him, too, he said. Undeterred, Janov pronounced “Primal therapy is THE therapy, nothing can stop it.”

He cagily played around with themes of intergenerational antagonism, repression caused by postwar society, and the ways in which physical experiences and emotions as trumped neutral reasoning; more than that, he touted altered states of consciousness and the more specific view that personal (and perhaps national) liberation depended upon the violent overthrow of corrupt systems. These altered states, however, did not include pot, LSD, or MDMA, and had to be reached without any artificial aids. Janov fully rejected the use of illegal intoxicants, uninhibited sexual activity (“free love”), and transcendental meditation.

Seeking out altered states was not a pathway to fulfilment in his view but rather an unconscious compulsion of an unwell mind. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who of course experimented with many substances, underwent Primal Therapy in 1970 after The Beatles disbanded —and, along with a “primal concept album” John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970), helped popularize the therapy.

In assessing the mental health landscape and Primal Therapy of the 1970s, Alfred Yassky, the Executive Director of the American Psychotherapy Seminar Center, based in Manhattan, held that the tectonic plates of mental health shifted. Americans were different. The therapeutic geography had perceptibly altered. As he put it, Americans are becoming alienated and are hungering for a sense of meaning, identity, happiness, and even salvation, we are wanting more from therapies and therapists. One way of putting it is that in many ways psychotherapy has taken over the function of religion. Therefore, the therapist is supposed to take over the function and roles of shaman, guru, wiseman, minister, rabbi, or priest. We are expected to help with spiritual matters on the one hand and scientific on the other…

Primal Therapy, which shone brightly until the 1980s, helped to fill that gap.

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The mental health arena in the 1970s witnessed several new entrants, with the rise of patient groups, new therapies tailored for mass consumption, and the continuance of psychedelic psychiatry. Patient-consumers could dip toes into New Age medicine, and draw from the fountain of naturopathy and homeopathy, as well as Eastern-influenced medicine or teachings from sources like the Esalen Institute in California.

They might sample alternative mental health therapies, including Primal Scream Therapy or Transactional Analysis, or find psychic solace in the form of new religious movements. Primal Scream, in short, filled a void for many Americans. It let them shriek and wail to their heart’s content.

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For more short pieces on strange therapies and radical mental health, see below.

This piece is about radical psychiatry and pacification in the 1960s

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/hiddenpersuaders/blog/agents-of-pacification/ 

This article is about Transactional Analysis and its founding in the 1960s

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-30/september-2017/harnessing-fierce-energy-counterculture

Slightly different, this piece is about heroin and end-of-life discussions in the 1980s.

http://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/39/E1231.full.pdf+html

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LSD: Insight or Insanity?, 1968

From the NIH. A post by Professor Erika Dyck on the history of LSD.

Circulating Now from NLM

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger Erika Dyck, PhD, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Today, Dr. Dyck shares some insights on a recently digitized film in the Library’s collection highlighted in our Medical Movies on the Web project.

For Rebels, it’s a Kick…

It’s the late 1960s. Teenagers, a hip voice clues us in, are always looking for kicks, and today’s teens express themselves with cool fashions, groovy hairstyles, and kooky pranks. Not so long ago, our narrator played the character of “Plato,” a troubled teenager, in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause. In that film, Plato idolizes the reckless machismo of young Jim Stark (played by James Dean). In an epic display of bravado, Jim and another boy play a game of “chickie run” in which they drive their cars in parallel directly toward a cliff. Jim leaps…

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Mad To Be Normal

Mad To Be Normal at the glorious Glasgow Film Theatre. The film stars David Tennant in the lead role and is directed by Robert Mullan.

I was lucky to sit on a panel afterward to offer some historical gems. It was a great conversation with Matthew Smith, Luke Fowler, Richard Warden, and the other attendees…

…oh yeah, and the film was really strong. Here’s a review in the Guardian.

 

 

Drug History in CBMH-BCHM

The Drug Policy Alliance, an organization dedicated to the promotion of drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights, recently published an article entitled the “The Real History of Drugs.”

The author, Tony Newman, asks “why are some drugs legal and some prohibited? Why do we arrest approximately 600,000 Americans each year for marijuana possession, but sell tobacco and alcohol on most corners? Why do we lock up people who use meth for years, and dole out the similar drug Ritalin to our children?”

He then answers these questions with a single statement: a mixture of racism, stigma, and the individuals perceived to be using the illegal drugs.

At the same time, the article points toward short, slick videos that address the “real” history of substances, including cocaine, cannabis, and

MDMA

as well as LSD

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The video are well-produced and easily digestible.

Here’s the thing, though. Any “real” history of drugs will require a close reading of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine.

In the realm of pharmaceuticals, you have Jackie Duffin’s In View of the Body of Job Broom: A Glimpse of the Medical Knowledge and Practice of John Rolph, Stephen Francom’s Pharmacy Records at the Archives of Ontario: Their Form, Content, and Value for Research, Laura Hirshbein’s Masculinity, Work, and the Fountain of Youth: Irving Fisher and the Life Extension Institute, 1914-31, and Peters’s and Snelders’s From King Kong Pills to Mother’s Little Helpers—Career Cycles of Two Families of Psychotropic Drugs: The Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines.

(In fact, the entire volume in which Peters and Snelders published their work contains wonderful, wide-ranging drugs-related articles.)

Then, in the realm of intoxicants and addiction, there’s Krasnick’s Because there is Pain: Alcoholism, Temperance and the Victorian Physician, Dan Malleck’s “Its Baneful Influences Are Too Well Known”: Debates over Drug Use in Canada, 1867-1908, Catherine Carstairs’s Deporting “Ah Sin” to Save the White Race: Moral Panic, Racialization, and the Extension of Canadian Drug Laws in the 1920s, and Dan Malleck’s (yes, Malleck again) “A State Bordering on Insanity”?:Identifying Drug Addiction in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Asylums.

Look, this is not a comprehensive list of all the articles that tackle drugs in CBHM-BCHM. Instead, this is just to provide a flavour…

So, when you’re looking for the “real” history of drugs, go further, dig deeper, and read happily. When you’re looking for answers to questions like those posed by Tony Newman, hit up the CBHM-BCHM.

Enjoy.

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For more on what I’m doing with the CBMH/BCMH, please see the announcement here and be sure to visit https://cshm-schm.ca/

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Podcast Announcement – Radical Mental Health Therapy

I recently had the pleasure of joining Chris Hoff on The Radical Therapist Podcast. You can listen to our lively discussion about the 1960s, long-haired hippies, and mental health services during a period of big-time change. You can download the Pod here or through iTunes. Thanks for listening and sharing! #mentalhealthawareness #healthpolicy

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The Rise of Big Cannabis on Shaw TV

The Rise of Big Cannabis Symposium that I recently aired on Shaw TV in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Swift Current stations.

The first airing was this weekend on March 19th @ 9:30pm

Other dates to follow:
March 21st – 11pm
March 23rd – 9:30pm
March 24th – 10pm
Bonus airing in Saskatoon on March 27th – 11pm

Adolf Meyer and American Psychiatry

In Susan Lamb’s excellent new book, Pathologist of the Mind, we are exposed to the history of American psychiatry and Adolf Meyer.

Her express goal, as I write in the new issue of History of Psychiatry, is to rediscover Meyerian psychiatry and establish a foundation on which future scholars of psychiatry might build. The book is both a hospital history and biography of Adolf Meyer, the “most recognizable, authoritative, and influential psychiatrist in the U.S.” during the first half of the twentieth century. (3) A Swiss neurologist and psychiatrist, Meyer created the convoluted theory of psychobiology, presided over the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, and helped establish psychiatry as a clinical science.

For Lamb, there is a consensus within the history of psychiatry field that Meyer is “the definitive influence on the development of American psychiatry.” (8) Yet, she makes the case – which is certainly convincing – that Meyer is underrepresented in the historiography, that neither the substance nor the reception of his ideas and practices have been analyzed systematically, and, worse still, that certain prominent historians of psychiatry have marginalized his significance. Her book thus acts as a corrective.

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However, Lamb’s book is not a comprehensive history of Meyerian psychiatry. She makes this abundantly clear. In covering the years 1908-1917, Pathologist of the Mind is limited to the decade in which the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore was planned, built, and run in its earliest days. It would, under Meyers’s pioneering stewardship, employ novel investigational and diagnostic practices as well a regime of bed rest, recreation, good nutrition, and social interaction – what Lamb calls an innovative “therapeutic experiment.” (23)

The basis of Lamb’s argument is nearly 2,000 patient records and Meyer’s notes, lectures, and correspondence. And, she asserts, there is so much more to be written on Adolf Meyer. In her view, scholars have “an embarrassment of archival riches and raw data” at their disposal and it could “yield stacks of diverse monographs” from a dozen different disciplinary perspectives.” (9) Her monograph was conceived as merely a starting point for a larger conversation.

A Great Beard

To the author’s credit, Meyer is not venerated. Lamb is respectful, but unintimidated. She is balanced, but not boring. On occasion, she rightfully demolishes him.

For example, Lamb’s criticism of Meyer’s impenetrable, meandering style of writing is a constant in the monograph. At the same time, with anecdotes about his mother’s troubles with mental illness and references to his unfortunate “ominous crow” nickname, Lamb successfully revives and humanizes Meyer as a meaningful character in the unfolding drama of American psychiatry. The result, I suggest, is that the reader begins to detect the shimmering outlines of a whole being, in all its uniqueness and quiddity.

As scholars, physicians, and other critics question the rise of the pharmaceutical industry and its influence on modern society (what Healy calls Pharmageddon), Lamb’s book provides valuable historical context. Her book is worth a read! The full review is here: http://hpy.sagepub.com/content/current

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