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  • Writer's picturejimpullaro3

Primal Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Joseph LeDoux is an American neuroscientist whose research is primarily focused on survival circuits, including their impacts on emotions such as fear and anxiety. He has said that “Most theorists… have assumed that clinically debilitating anxiety is the result of traumatic learning experiences that create unpleasant memories. And, “…new findings have made it seem… quite plausible that fear conditioning contributes significantly to anxiety disorders”.

Clinical neuroscientist Arne Öhman has said that “Fifty percent of the most common mental health problems reported in America are anxiety disorders, which are related to the brain’s fear system”.

“The ability to rapidly form memories of stimuli associated with danger, to hold on to them for long periods of time (perhaps eternally), and use them automatically when similar situations occur in the future [fear conditioning] is one of the brain’s most powerful and efficient learning and memory functions. But this incredible luxury is costly. We sometimes, perhaps all too often, develop fears and anxieties about things that we would as well not have.” Joseph E. LeDoux

It's been my contention that Janov’s Imprint is actually a description of a fear conditioned memory. Although fear conditioning is a well-studied science, our psychologists seem not to be interested in its main product…sensorimotor memory making and its re-expression. Instead, the field seems lost in labels, medication, and behavior modification.


Psychologists “mistake the map for the territory” when they categorize the anxiety disorders as they do. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, the five major categories of anxiety disorder are: General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder (PD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). After evaluation of symptoms, clients are placed into one or more of these categories and treated accordingly. Usually the treatment is medication and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Although the various symptoms are very stressful for the client, there is little curiosity about the nature of the stress signaling that we know emanates from defensive substructures of the brain. In cases where there is no apparent medical reason for being in distress, the assumption is that some kind of genetic defect is driving the distress signals. Medication is prescribed, which has the repressive effect of reducing the client’s perception of his distress. And/or behavioral techniques are taught to help counter the undesirable behavioral effects of the distress. The label becomes the insurance payment authorization code. Thereafter, we hear the client say that she “has” PTSD, OCD, PHOBIA, etc., as though the labels were a real “disease”. This is a logical mistake that both the therapist and client make. It is somehow forgotten that PTSD is a descriptive phrase, not a disease. The phrase describes this observation: after someone has been traumatized, the way they handle stress becomes disordered. It must be noted that this mistake is made in medicine as well, in the treatment of chronic disease. For example, a patient might be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Thereafter, the doctor and patient proceed as though she was stricken by the disease (MS). I “have” MS.

Again, it is forgotten that MS is a descriptive phrase. The phrase describes a condition in which many areas of the nervous system have experienced hardening of nerve tissue.

If we think about PTSD as a descriptive phrase, then we realize that all of the seemingly separate anxiety disorders are actually only one condition, having different (operantly conditioned) symptoms.

It would be more helpful to state that the anxiety disorders are all examples of PTSD. In other words, there is only one anxiety disorder. And it results from having been traumatized and fear conditioned.

Öhman seems to agree with this: “…when comparing the physiological responses seen in phobics exposed to their feared objects, with those seen in PTSD patients exposed to relevant traumatic scenes for the disorder, and with physiological responses during panic attacks, one is much more struck by the similarities than by the differences.” Panic, phobic fear, and PTSD [three of the five so-called anxiety disorders] reflect the “activation of one and the same underlying anxiety response”. And, “Anxiety disorders reflect the operation of the fear system of the brain.” LeDoux.

So…what is this ‘underlying anxiety response’ ? And, how is it activated, if not by defective genes? It is what Janov refered to as the Imprint. An imprint is a fear conditioned sensorimotor memory of a traumatic event. It contains the complete set of all the unconscious survival responses that occurred during that trauma.

After having become embodied, they forever exist, in their original state and intensity, and await environmental cues that re-energize them, thereby creating the distress that underlies the anxiety disorders. Primal therapy introduces the good news that these distress signals can be consciously processed and halted. And, because primal therapy addresses cause, rather than symptoms, it is a naturopathic mode of healing.

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