Arthur Janov is a contemporary psychologist and the founder of primal therapy—sometimes called primal scream therapy. 

Professional Life

Arthur Janov was born on August 21, 1924 in Los Angeles, California. He studied at the University of California, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1949 and his master's degree in psychiatric social work in 1951. He continued his studies at Claremont Graduate School and earned his PhD in psychology in 1960.

Janov has worked in private practice since 1952. He is best known for developing primal therapy, a discipline he created as a result of an experience with a patient in extreme psychological pain. He founded the first Primal Institute in Los Angeles in 1967, and he eventually established branches in New York City and Paris, France. He has served as director of the Primal Center in Venice, California, since 1989, an organization that focuses on the practice and education of primal therapy.

Janov's methods became popular in the 1970s, and he treated celebrities such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and James Earl Jones. He outlined his approach to therapy in the popular book The Primal Scream

Contribution to Psychology

Janov developed primal scream therapy based upon his belief that psychological problems are caused by repressed trauma. He argues that trauma can occur when a child's needs aren't met and that unfulfilled needs cause pain that leads to psychological dysfunction, particularly neurosis. He termed this pain primal pain. Janov believes that this pain exists in the lower, “reptilian” brain, then later affects behavior as a client forms defenses against his pain.

Primal therapy follows a specific format. First, the client has fifteen sessions with the therapist, usually several times each week. Thereafter, the client progresses to group therapy sessions with other clients and therapists a few times per week. Depending upon the client's needs, he may also continue seeing his therapist in private sessions. Clients' vital signs are taken before and after each session, and a change in vital signs is taken to mean that the client has accessed repressed emotions. Clients are encouraged to feel primal emotions deeply and to find ways to connect the past to the present and future. As clients access repressed memories from childhood, they are encouraged to scream and sob with rage for the pain they experienced, while writhing on the floor of a padded room. Therapists are heavily emotionally invested in the process and encouraged to work through and share their own feelings as well.

Criticism and Controversy

Although primal therapy gained widespread popularity during the 1970s, it has waned in public acceptance and application. The American Psychological Association has named it a discredited therapy, and most psychologists view it as a pseudoscience. However, Janov and other psychologists continue to advocate for and practice primal therapy, arguing that the only outcome that matters is the experience of the client. Janov has also pointed out that many primal therapy practitioners are not accredited or certified by the Primal Center and therefore are not correctly practicing primal therapy.


  1. Arthur Janov. (2001). Contemporary Authors Online. Biography In Context. Retrieved from
  2. Gardner, M. (2001, May). Primal scream: A persistent new age therapy. The Skeptical Inquirer, 25, 17-19. Retrieved from