An Eclectic Approach
A Primal Story
An Ancient Tradition
The History of Primal in Psychology
Swartley's Primal Integration
Sam Turton's Primal Integration Practice
Precautions & Warnings
OverviewPrimal Integration is a non-directive, full-range approach to growth and healing that integrates the natural wisdom of emotional expression with the clarity of cognitive awareness and the grounding of whole person healthcare. Modalities include:
Primal Integration is a non-directive approach that can be engaged as briefly or as deeply as one prefers. These differences can be described as Four Levels of Involvement: cognitive, expressive, integrative, and universal. back to top
Basic TheoryIn their natural state, human beings function as an integrated whole - in balanced communication and interaction within themselves and with the world at large.
When we experience painful situations (such as neglect, abuse, or injury) we, like other animals, have the capacity to survive the overwhelming stimulus by shutting down and becoming partly or wholly unconscious. Feeling "stunned," or fainting are simple examples of this. In situations of more severe or chronic abuse or neglect, this mechanism works by keeping the awareness, feeling, and memory of the trauma unconscious (apart from working consciousness). Our consciousness "splits" away, or "dissociates" from the traumatic pain. Young animals are especially vulnerable to strong stimulus and/or neglect, due to the delicacy of their developmental needs and their fragile, undeveloped systems. Humans, with their exceptionally long period of childhood, are in greater danger of traumatic injury than most species.
According to various developmental theories, to become functional adults, children need:
sufficient food, clothing, shelter, protection, and security
unconditional love, appreciation, and respect, with regular, safe affection
freedom from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
unconditional family support and acceptance
freedom to express perceptions, feelings, creativity, and desires
When these needs are not met, a child's physical and emotional development is impeded and he or she suffers and may become traumatized as a result.
Traumatic pain is blocked from consciousness (repressed) both by body/brain chemistry and by various behaviors that we develop to avoid it. These blocks and special behaviors are the defenses, shields, or coping mechanisms we use to survive and function with underlying pain. Psychology calls this condition neurosis in its manageable form, and psychosis in the extreme.
Depending on the severity of the trauma, the repressive split creates a wide range of uncomfortable feeling states, thoughts, and imagery, as well as relationship conflicts and physical pain. Almost all emotional and mental disorders are the result of this condition. Common symptoms are: anxiety, fear, panic, agitation, shame, worthlessness, emptiness, alienation, depression, suicidal thoughts, frustration, rage, paranoia, self-centeredness, unstable mood, impulsivity, mania, avoidance, phobias, obsessions, compulsions, sexual problems, eating problems, relationship problems, and addictions.
Since neurosis is the result of a system split within itself, there is a sense of incompleteness that drives a search for healing and completion through any means, especially medicine, religion, politics, and therapy. The discomfort also drives a need for relief in forms of excessive behavior, from drug use and consumerism to overeating and workaholism. These behaviors are part of our neurotic defense system. The illnesses of present society, from poverty to war, are often an indirect result of this condition.
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The WorkPrimal Integration is a natural process that allows our emotional condition to heal by creating a safe situation for honest feeling expression. Repressed trauma can then be released and we can return toward our original balanced state. Facilitators must be experienced in their own process in order to be effective guides - this is not an intellectual exercise that can be learned and practiced from books. Absolutely no manipulation or coercion is used. The natural process is simply allowed to unfold. The client is always in control and can proceed or stop when needed, so that the necessary defenses originally created for survival are not removed too early. Such a breach of defenses can cause greater illness. Primal process follows the essence of the Hippocratic Oath - "Do no harm."
Click here for more information on The Work.
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The PrimalOne of the most important elements of the work is "the primal" - an expression of stored feelings, memories, and pain from an original traumatic split. Primals often arise by allowing strong present-day feelings to be expressed and then following these feelings to their origins. The process is one of feeling, release, and integration, using the body and the intellect.
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An Eclectic ApproachAlthough attention to feelings and their expression is the essence of primal work, many other techniques can be used to allow us to get in touch with our feelings. Some of the tools that are effective include meditation, bodywork, breathwork, gestalt, psychodrama, bioenergetics, EMDR, co-counselling, Jungian sandplay, inner child work, guided imagery, artwork, expressive movement, dreamwork, and journalling. Integration can also be enhanced by attending to the elements of everyday life, such as balanced diet, exercise, creative development, stress reduction, conflict resolution, career counselling, and coping skills.
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A Primal StoryI would like to illustrate primal theory and work with a fictional example. During her early childhood, Judy is ignored by her busy, workaholic father. Like any young child, her need for his attention and love is so great that its absence leaves her with a huge, sinking feeling of emptiness. She feels, without thinking it, that she must not be good enough, smart enough, interesting enough, or pretty enough. Feeling this pain every day (in addition to the lurking fear that "I will never have the father I need - I will never get his love") is too much for her young system to bear. Like fainting under too much stress, her system secretes a series of hormones and chemical messengers that block the pain and fear at the brain and cellular level, keeping it "unconscious." To assist in holding down the pain she distracts and busies herself with school, TV, and junk food. Judy's continued need twists her personality out of shape as she struggles to do anything for crumbs of attention, from getting higher grades at school, being good at sports she doesn't like, and learning to say, think and act in ways that may please her father. With the hopelessness of the situation blocked from consciousness, Judy's hope continues, driving a perpetual struggle to fulfill her childhood need - even into adulthood.
By her early thirties, Judy's life is a mess. She has an overeating problem, she watches too much TV, and she works too hard, for too little money, at a job she doesn't like, for a neglectful boss who is impossible to please. She has had a string of failed relationships with unavailable men who she is terrified to leave but who eventually leave her. Break-ups and being alone send her into panic and then almost suicidal despair.
What can Judy do? She appears to have a physical health problem, a financial problem, a career problem, a self esteem problem, a relationship problem, an anxiety problem, and a depression problem. To manage them all as individual issues would involve a lot of experts, a lot of programs, a lot of workshops, a lot of drugs, a lot of self-help books, and a lot of money. Chances are she won't get much better, because she has only one problem - blocked traumatic feelings that drive a host of neurotic symptoms and behaviours. Those learned behaviours are a hopeless attempt to get the child that Judy was the love that she needed then.
What can Primal Integration do for Judy? First, it can allow for a safe environment in which she can speak about how badly she feels without being criticized, judged, or given a ton of unwanted advice. The respectful listening and genuine interest she receives in session may supply some of the attention and appreciation she so desperately needs and never got. This may bring up pain, and she may feel safe enough to cry deeply about it. She may feel she has a right to be angry at her boss and boyfriend, and in session, let herself say the things she really feels.
I imagine that Judy will eventually feel her present loneliness, cry deeply about it, and let the feeling build until the old pain surrounding her father comes up. Hit by the full feeling memory of how awful it had been, how much she needed him, how she twisted herself out of shape, and how she never got what she needed, the wave of grief will be immense. She will be moved to say the things she never could say - "Daddy, I need you so much! Please look at me and love me! I feel bad, stupid and ugly! I'm so lonely! I'm so lonely! I'm so lonely!" Feeling this and sobbing, she may see flashes of all the times in her life her drive for his love and approval pushed her to try to please and hang onto the wrong people, and how her whole life was twisted by that inner compulsion. She will now really know, for the first time, why she feels and does the destructive things she does. In her biology, neurochemical blocks that kept the feeling memory at bay will have dissolved, leaving that particular "track" open. A portion of the split will be healed.
In a real situation, such a monumental trauma will likely take many sessions to fully feel and integrate. Unlike the movies, there is no "magic session," with a few words and tears, that will erase all the problems. And Judy's present-day dysfunction would have been caused by a web of traumas gathered over the years, all of which would need to be felt and brought into the light of consciousness. Healthy patterns would have to be built to replace the old ones. But by getting to the roots of her problems, Judy would have a chance to really have her life change for the better.
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An Ancient TraditionThe split of consciousness has a long history and the remedies for it go back to early aboriginal life and spiritual practice. All cultures have developed various methods to release blockages and regain wholeness, from the "Crying for a Vision" ceremony of the Lakota to the Katharsis of Greek drama. Tears and the recovering of painful lost memories is as human as walking erect. And practices of regaining oneness are the essence of all religious mysticism.
2500 years ago, the Chinese sage Lao Tzu wrote the following verses in Chapter 10 of the Tao Te Ching:
Carrying body and embracing the One
Can you avoid separation?
Concentrating fully upon your breath
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal vision
Does it appear without stain?
Loving all the people and ruling the land
Can you remain unknown?
Opening and closing the gates of heaven
Can you always play the female part?
Penetrating all things with your mind
can you refrain from doing anything?
Give birth, then nourish them
Rear them, but do not possess them
Give to them without expecting return
Guide them without domination
This is the Primal Virtue.
More recently, in 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, the story of a man who reexperiences his traumatic past, his dismal present, and his possible future and as a result has a physical, emotional, and spiritual catharsis and reintegration. Dickens knew the essence of Primal Integration thirteen years before Sigmund Freud was born!
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The History of Primal in PsychologyIn the late 1800s, Sigmund Freud pursued a therapeutic approach that encouraged patients to experience an emotional catharsis, which he called an "abreaction." He eventually developed the more intellectual psychoanalytic method because of the challenges that such deep primal releases presented to him in this new field. In the 1920s, Freudian analyst Wilhelm Reich returned to the cathartic model by encouraging emotional release and directly challenging neurotic blockages in the client's muscular tension and "body armor."
While Reich's followers expanded on his controversial methods, Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt therapy, was allowing clients to express feelings in their attempts to become more attuned to the present. By the 1960s, avant-garde theatre communities were encouraging emotional expression that resulted in primal experiences. With the advent of humanistic psychology and the "human potential movement," therapists were experimenting with many similar avenues to growth and healing. William Swartley, the originator of Primal Integration, was one of those pioneers.
In 1970, Arthur Janov wrote The Primal Scream. He was a psychoanalyst who accidentally stumbled upon the profound effects of trauma release and called these events "primals." The term "primal" came from Freud's use of the word in describing the primary causes of neurosis. Janov developed a structured approach to the work with a defense-busting, therapist-centered initial three-week "intensive" and called it Primal Therapy. He even claimed that it was a relatively quick cure for neurosis and that his clinic was the only place on earth that could deliver that cure! Even though Janov's writings on primal theory are still definitive, he seems to have chosen to isolate himself from his professional peers. Since the 1970s many therapists, authors, and theorists have expanded and developed primal process into the eclectic, deep-feeling, and deeply humanistic approach we practice today.
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Swartley's Primal IntegrationAfter the appearance of the Primal Scream, William Swartley called his approach Primal Integration, as it also relied on the "primal" experience, but unlike Janov, was more accepting of the use of other modalities, whole person development, and a non-directive approach. Swartley trained many facilitators, including William Smukler, the creator of the "Ark" training program, and Barbara Bryan, the director of the Primal Integration Center of Michigan.
Dr. William SwartleyDr. Swartley was the founder of the Centers for the Whole Person in Philadelphia, Mays Landing, NJ, New York, and Toronto. He was also a founder, in 1973, of the International Primal Association and was its first Executive Secretary. His education was broad and experiential, obtained at Haverford College, The University of Tuebingen, the Jung Institute of Zurich, the Alan Watts Institute of Asian Studies, the University of the Pacific, and during significant time spent in India. Swartley shared ideas with Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli, R.D. Laing, Frederick LeBoyer, Fritz Perls, Alexander Lowen, Stanislav Grof, Alan Watts, Thomas Verny, and many others. He was active in the American Psychological Association and promoted international cooperation in psychology in his workshops throughout North America and Europe. Until his death in 1979, Bill devoted the last ten years of his life promoting Primal Integration through workshops, training, lectures, and writings.
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Sam Turton's Primal Integration PracticeWilliam Swartley named an approach that assists and allows people to be who they are. In that sense it is as varied as there are people who experience themselves and facilitators who assist. Sam Turton's practice expands the tradition of Primal Integration by combining Taoist views, Zen meditation, Rogerian client-centered counselling, and whole-person healthcare to Swartley's original primal roots.
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Precautions & Warnings