Feel free to write in and ask questions about Primal Integration or your own developmental process. You can remain anonymous, just post your initials, or include your full name and address. I will try to answer as many as I can.
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Index of questions
1) I want to do primal-style therapy, but I can't find a therapist in my area. What do you suggest?
2) Why is primal therapy not more widely practiced?
3) Some of the modern brain research (e.g. Goleman, LeDoux) gives the impression that adverse circumstances during pregnancy, traumatic birth, or neglect and abuse in early life causes permanent damage to the brain. If so, is there any point in doing therapy?
4) I did primal therapy in the 1970s and found it invasive and destabilizing. Is primal any different today?
5) I can't remember much of my childhood past. Will this affect my ability to do primal integration?
Question 1: I want to do primal-style therapy, but I can't find a therapist in my area. What do you suggest?
Consider the following steps:
1) If you are new to primal, I would strongly suggest reading the books in the "Essential Introduction" part of the Suggested Reading section of this site, and possible a few of the "How To" books. It is important to understand the theory and practice of the primal process before diving into the work. You will be better able to direct your process and get what you need.
2) Go to the IPA site at www.primals.org and click on Therapist Referral List. There may be a therapist nearby that you are not aware of.
3) Try to develop a dialogue, on email or telephone, with someone knowledgeable in primal (possibly me, or someone else in the IPA) to assess where you are at in your developmental process, and what your therapy needs are. Use your best judgment and ask for references.
4) If you have experience, you may only need a "buddy" (another experienced primaller) to continue with your work, and may find them by searching the lists mentioned above. If you need a therapist, you may be able to work with one at a distance by traveling for an intensive series of sessions every so often, and returning home to continue on your own with their supervision. It may even be advantageous to do phone sessions, where you do primal work while on the phone with your therapist. Although these long distance solutions are not ideal, with the right care and support, they can allow for an emotional release opportunity that is better than holding the feelings in.
5) Find a therapist in a related humanistic psychotherapy modality like Bioenergetics, Core Energetics, Radix, Psychodrama, Gestalt, Regression Therapy, etc., and see if they are open to the idea of facilitating deep feeling work with you. Be aware that therapists from other modalities have not always done their own feeling work and may tend to be overly directive. Remember that it's your time, money and life.
6) Find a good massage therapist or Cranial sacral therapist who understands and appreciates emotional release, and let some feelings out on the table. Again, be aware that some facilitators will try to direct you to what they feel you need.
7) Try to find an understanding friend who will simply sit and say nothing while you talk openly and express your feelings. They must understand how important it is not to judge and give advice. You need to be heard, and all they need to do is listen. I do not suggest that you attempt full-blown primal work, just take the opportunity to really talk openly and cry or get some anger out.
8) I do not recommend self-primalling, or primalling alone unless you have a great deal of experience in the process. If you are new to primal, self-primalling may dissolve your well-developed defenses and open up a Pandora's Box of feelings. This can be extremely dangerous and lead to serious depression, anxiety, psychotic episodes ("going crazy") or even suicide.
9) Be persistent!
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Question 2: Why is primal therapy not more widely practiced?
There are many views on this, and I will attempt to give what is only my opinion.
After the publication of The Primal Scream in the early seventies, there was a huge flurry of interest in primal, since the author, Arthur Janov, stated that it was the cure for neurosis. Many psychiatrists and psychotherapists jumped on the bandwagon and began to practice without much experience in proper facilitation and often without doing any personal therapy work of their own. Both at Janov's Primal Institute and in the offices of many "new" primal therapists, some clients were having successes, but many felt unresolved or came away feeling worse. In the wild days of the seventies, many therapists were experimenting with any new techniques they could get their hands on, and as can be expected, their clients were often the casualties.
The high expectations of primal were quickly attacked by the more conservative therapy and medical establishment, leading to a rapid decline in practitioners, and a general public opinion that "scream therapy" was just another wacky fad.
Anyone seriously practicing primal quickly realized that this process was not as simple or universally effective as had been promised. Those convinced of its great potential stuck with it and gradually developed the theory and practice. Like anything fairly new, primal needed time to mature. Arthur Janov continued his grandiose claims (and still does) that his center is the only location in the world where a person can be cured. The Primal Institute trained therapists, but for various reasons, they were rarely given the certification to practice outside the center. This strange policy retarded the growth and availability of qualified therapists. "Defectors" from the center started practicing in other locations, and primal grew, like the natural thing that it is - but very slowly.
Another problem is that the skills needed to facilitate a client's primal process cannot be learned at university. To be effective, every practitioner needs to go through the arduous process of personal primal therapy - which can take years - before any training begins. And then, there are so few training facilities that a trainee virtually has to find a willing therapist/mentor and return to the ancient tradition of apprenticeship. Some jurisdictions don't necessarily recognize this. It's almost like the Zen practice of "transmission of mind" from master to disciple. Not many established psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists will want to do this. It's much easier for them to study books, get a degree, and then dispense drugs or sit in a chair, listen and nod their heads.
Although primal practice is relatively rare, it is based on a natural healing process that is pressing for resolution in every human being. Also, with new findings in brain research pointing toward positive evidence of early memory and repression, I believe that primal will gradually outgrow its early reputation, be recognized, and gain greater acceptance.
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Question 3: Some of the modern brain research (e.g. Goleman, LeDoux) gives the impression that adverse circumstances during pregnancy, traumatic birth, or neglect and abuse in early life causes permanent damage to the brain. If so, is there any point in doing therapy?
The latest research shows compelling evidence of what many of us in the field have experienced ourselves - that early neglect causes damage to the system and alters the original potential of the organism. This is physical damage - the death of cell structures - and it causes real physical suffering and pain, rather than just the so-called "emotional pain" we usually think it is. When a baby is left to cry too long and too often, that wail may be about the actual occurrence of brain damage - just as real, just as painful as cutting off a piece of their finger.
One type of suspected damage is the withering of dendrites, the branchlike extensions at the end of a neuron (brain cell). These dendrites receive the signals of sensate information, and the more dense they are, the more complete the signal. Some damage of this type is likely permanent, some able to be healed.
I believe, however, that most of our emotional problems are not caused by this damage, but by the repression of traumatic information. When a trauma hits the system, it may not only cause brain damage, it also triggers the system to protect itself by "blowing a fuse" - interrupting the charge so that it doesn't "burn the house down." In the brain there are millions of gaps (synapses) between neurons, and billions of molecular receptor sites on every body cell. The pain message can be interrupted when neurotransmitter hormones (which assist the signal to cross the gap) are adjusted or replaced by other hormones that inhibit the signal. It can also be interrupted at the body cell level when cell receptors shut down or are blocked by other informational neurochemicals. When this happens, the signal is blocked and never reaches the thinking brain, and we are mercifully saved from consciously feeling the pain. The pain signal, however, still exists behind the blockage, in the lower brain centers and body cells.
When the system is blocked in this way, there is a sense of split, or a lack of awareness and full sensation - as well as the powerful pressure of all the "unconscious" pain that is built up. It is this "not being fully ourselves" that causes our behavioral problems and our emotional dysfunction - brain damage or no brain damage.
A successful course of primal integration allows those blockages to be released so that the organism is in much fuller contact with itself, and able to live life in all its richness. Although an organism, having been altered or damaged in its developmental stages, will not reach its original potential, it is still capable of being fully alive.
In my early life, I was like an acorn planted in a small pot, and for years did not receive enough water and sunshine. As a result I became a stunted, twisted little tree. But then I did primal integration - I was taken out of the pot and replanted in good soil, in a climate with an excellent balance of rain and sunshine. With that freedom to be myself, I have since grown tremendously, though I will never reach the full height and stature of an oak that has lived its whole life in a good environment. That, however, does not stop me from fully feeling the sun and rain on my leaves, and enjoying being the tree I am.
In short, damage caused by early neglect and abuse does not inhibit the potential for regaining a life of greater health and wellness through therapy or other means.
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Question 4: I did primal therapy in the 1970s and found it invasive and destabilizing. Is primal any different today?
My practice and the practice of other therapists I know is very different than what you describe. This is partly due to the fact that primal has had about 35 years to develop since it was introduced. In the 70s, Janov seemed to indicate that defenses would not dissipate without being challenged, and developed a method that consisted of strong confrontation by the therapist. He also did not believe in developing a close, continuing therapist-client bond over time. When this approach was used at his clinic or elsewhere, people with strong boundaries tended to do well, while others who are more sensitive or carry shock-level trauma often became shut down, retraumatized, or less functional.
I believe that an organism will not let down its defenses if it still perceives a threat. As adults, most of us still live in situations where we are judged, criticized, neglected, abused, and generally not allowed to be who we are or express what we are truly feeling. We are still not safe, and will not let our defenses down and be vulnerable to further hurt.
If, however, an organism finds itself in a safe and protected environment, it will follow its natural wisdom and eventually lower its defensive shields to begin releasing the toxic material it has been holding. In other words, defense-busting is not necessary, and in fact, can be as damaging as any earlier traumatic violation.
In my opinion, the most important elements in healing are safety and trust, which require a nurturing environment and a non-directive, non-judgmental therapist who respects your boundaries and pace. If there is no outside pressure, and whatever you think and feel is accepted, shields will drop when they are ready and the emotions will flow.
Another important aspect of safety is being able to trust that the therapist will be there for the whole process. Few people will open up if they think they will be quickly abandoned. At Janov's center, the therapist-client relationship lasts only three weeks, after which there is weekly group with no guarantee that a client's original therapist will be there. This does not create safety that many people require, and may in fact retard or pervert the natural process. Primal healing is profound, takes time, and requires a committment on both sides.
It is my understanding that the Primal Institute and Janov's Primal Center no longer use the "hard bust" of defenses. They still, however, insist on initial isolation and the three week intensive, and discourage the therapist-client bond. All therapists practicing primal will have developed their own approach, and some may still use invasive techniques. It is always wise to interview any prospective therapist to discover whether their method is right for you.
Primal integration, as practiced by therapists I know, is one of the most gentle, non-directive methods I know. We have realized that the healing drive comes from inside the client, and the first and most important step is to create a safe place for it to happen.
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Question 5: I can't remember much of my childhood past. Will this affect my ability to do primal integration?
No, it won't. Primal Integration isn't dependent upon your memories of the past, it's about having feelings, which are always in the present. Even when we remember something, we are in the present, accessing imprints in our system that were laid down in the past.
If you are troubled by emotional issues, this is a problem you are having now. The primal integration process allows you to be what you are and feel what you feel, instead of trying to suppress or hide it, as we are often taught in our restricted culture. With the safety and support necessary to express yourself, the feelings may reveal memories laid down in your childhood.
So feeling comes first, and since we usually come to this work with feeling issues, there is more than enough to work with. Memory will follow. Access to early memories, both traumatic and joyful, is the natural outcome of an organism connected in feeling and sensation.
Total memory recall is also not a requirement for mind-body wellness. If supported, your system will heal itself and access only what it needs to in order to find balance. Then you will be able to fully engage life in the present, free of unresolved issues from your past that still linger in your system.
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