Arthur Janov dies at 93; ‘primal scream’ psychotherapist with a rock star client list
Arthur Janov, a psychotherapist whose “primal therapy” had celebrities screaming to release their childhood traumas and spawned a best-selling book in the 1970s, has died. He was 93.
Janov died at his home in Malibu on Sunday from respiratory arrest following a stroke, his wife, France Janov, said.
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.
His ideas rode the counterculture wave of the late 1960s and were embraced by celebrities from John Lennon to James Earl Jones. The 1980s rock group Tears for Fears said it — and the songs it recorded — were inspired by Janov.
Over the decades, though, many of the bedrock principles of Janov’s teaching were dismissed as unsound.
Janov 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.”
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 Santa Monica center 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.”
Janov contended that 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 Assn. took it off the list of psychiatric disorders in 1973.
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.”
As with many other emotional-release therapies of its time, primal therapy now is widely rejected by mental health professionals as unscientific and ineffectual.
However, Janov’s widow said it still is practiced around the world.
“It changed so many people’s lives,” she said.
A Times staff writer contributed to this report.
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