Archive for the ‘primal therapy’ Category
by Peter Prontzos
This a modified review that first appeared in the Vancouver Sun:
“A paradigm shift is happening” in the way that we understand the importance of our life in the womb. That was the assessment of Dr. Marti Glenn at a recent Congress of The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health (APPPAH).
She pointed out that, “researchers are beginning to discover…that the events and environment surrounding pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, and early infancy set the template out of which we live our lives.”
While this paradigm shift is new to most people, it is a view that was put forth decades ago by Dr. Arthur Janov, whose new book, Life Before Birth, explains just how fragile we are while in our first home. He believes that many – perhaps most – children have been damaged at a much earlier age than has been traditionally acknowledged.
by Bruce Wilson
In my last post, I described the history of abreaction and why it was abandoned in mainstream psychotherapy. But modern therapists who model their treatment on primal therapy often facilitate abreaction without even knowing it. They may encourage an anything-goes approach to feeling, allowing the client to go wherever they will without intervention.
The result can be an undetected slide into abreaction because it’s often easier to feel something out of context rather than face the original feeling that was triggered in the session. I asked France Janov of The Arthur Janov Primal Center to describe abreaction and how it differs from a connected feeling. She explains it as follows:
Abreaction is an emotional release that looks like a feeling, sometime sounds like a feeling, but isn’t a feeling. It is the discharge of a feeling, disconnected from its source, making it in fact a defense or reinforcing a defense. It can be the release of a feeling from one level of consciousness into another level of consciousness – for example, first line into third line, or first line disconnected from any other level, taking on a life of its own to the exclusion of any other levels.
by Bruce Wilson
Looking at the state of psychotherapy today, one might be forgiven for thinking that it’s always been about talking, analysis, and cognition. Psychoanalysis is focused on…well…analysis—examination, interpretation, and explanation with words upon words upon words, but it wasn’t always that way.
Before there was psychoanalysis, there was “cathartic therapy.” Freud and Breuer experimented with catharsis after being influenced by German philosopher, Jakob Bernays, who advocated Aristotelian catharsis in medical treatment. They called it abreaction — “to react away or to react off…. the act of giving vent in speech and action to repressed experiences, and thereby disburdening one’s self of their unconscious influences.”
If you follow Art Janov’s blog, you may have read his scathing essay on mindfulness therapy. While I agree with his basic argument—that mindfulness therapy is too often a form of mindLESSness therapy—I’d like to provide a broader perspective. In short, mindfulness is not all that bad if you use it to be mindful of feelings, rather than detach from them.
Mindfulness meditation is the current zeitgeist in psychotherapy. Not surprisingly, it fits hand-in-hand with the other dominant therapeutic modality: cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, there is now a hybrid of the two called MBCT – mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Both techniques are based on the same mechanism—detachment from feelings and thoughts. The “how” of mindfulness meditation can be summed up simply: sit still for 30 or 40 minutes, keep your eyes slightly open, follow your breath, and pay attention to whatever is going on in your mind and body but don’t do anything about it. Just sit there. When you catch your thoughts drifting, get back to the breath. There are variations on this theme, such as walking meditation and meditation while doing yoga or manual work. In a word, meditation is about paying attention. Be here now! Nothing more, nothing less.
by Bruce Wilson
I’ve often told Arthur Janov that primal therapy needs good evidence from well-designed outcome studies before the psychological community will accept it as a valid therapy. I tell him this is the only way his colleagues will come to believe that the therapy works. His response is usually something like, “they won’t believe it even if you prove it to them. With scientists, the distance from the left brain to the right cannot be crossed.”
In a way, he’s correct. To those of us who have allowed ourselves to let go and drop deeply into feelings without inhibition or control, the concept of “feeling” takes on a whole new meaning. From that point forward, the common notion of feeling held by most psychologists is revealed as a pale facsimile of the real thing. Rather, it is only the tip of the iceberg, the bare beginning of what’s needed to connect with our deepest selves and reclaim our birthright as fully feeling human beings. And as Janov repeatedly reminds us, this process must be done slowly and carefully, with a constant focus on insight and connection, otherwise we can get easily get lost in empty catharsis with few insights or bizarre ideation. Janov calls this “abreaction.”
To psychologists who haven’t gone deeply into their own feelings, this is terra incognita. Most consider deep feeling as dangerous – something to avoid lest it “retraumatize” the client. Even the most well-meaning of therapists who say their approach is “all about feelings” miss the point. The loss of control needed to descend to the level at which the trauma occurred cannot be avoided. Without it, you remain at a distance, apart from the trauma. You must go into the center of the pain to resolve it, and when done properly, the pain dissolves into feeling and the insights flow. Left brain and right brain connect to create a wholly functional, feeling being.
But in today’s trauma therapy, the client is usually led part-way into the pain whereupon the therapist intervenes with advice on how to “appraise” the feeling. The cognitive brain stays firmly in control while the feeling is observed from afar, as though on a stage. A variation of this is EMDR – eye movement desensitization therapy – where the client witnesses the trauma from afar, as though in hypnosis, and then talks about it. She remains detached from her pain because to go deeper into it risks retraumatization.
And herein lies the difficulty in encouraging the scientific community to consider primal therapy seriously: unless you’ve been there and dropped to that level yourself, the concept of primal feeling is foreign and usually confused with loud screaming, crying, venting, flailing or flopping about, or some other display of extreme emotion, but with no understanding of what is happening on the inside. More often than not, deep feeling is avoided because most if not all psychologists have some degree of past trauma they are defending against. They may have touched on it in talk therapy, cried about it even, but very few have let themselves go to the depths because after all, it is painful, and most talk therapy situations don’t allow full expression of feelings, lest it disturb their professional neighbours. Also, later trauma often connects to earlier trauma underneath, a phenomenon Janov refers to as the chain of pain. There is a general fear of losing control, despite the fact that primal therapy has mapped this territory well over its forty plus years of development.
This is why the science of primal therapy must be done by researchers who have gone through the primal process, preferably all the way through therapist training. Otherwise, there will always be the question, “just what are primal feelings?” And as Louis Armstrong said when someone asked him what jazz was, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
by Bruce Wilson
On a previous post, I was asked why I neglect “past lives” in my discussions of primal therapy. The short answer is that I am not convinced that past lives or past life memories are real. If someone were to produce convincing evidence for this, I might change my tune, but the evidence would have to be extremely powerful and incontrovertible.
In scientific terms, the claim for past lives is extraordinary, and as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m not saying I am certain that past lives don’t exist, only that the current evidence doesn’t support the idea. In fact, psychiatrists highly dedicated to the scientific method have produced suggestive evidence to support past life phenomena, but its relevance to psychotherapy is questionable. I explain why below. Read the rest of this entry »
by Bruce Wilson
A comment I hear frequently is that primal therapy can never be proven by science. As Phil states in his comment to my last post:
“…the actual practice of primal therapy can never really be scientific, in my opinion. How could it be when it is based on feelings? Adding blood pressure measurements and brain wave readings might help a little, but not much. What is critical is what the therapist says and does, and has the patient say or do. That can’t be scientific, I am afraid. It is based on feelings and intuitions on what will work or not work, based on experience and the degree to which a therapist has done his or her own feeling work.” Read the rest of this entry »
by Bruce Wilson
This morning, I received a tweet about a new book written by Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge psychologist and psychiatrist who studies empathy. His book is Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty.
Baron-Cohen says that our view of cruel people as “evil” is misguided and rooted in obsolete, theological notions of morality. In an interview with the Guardian, he explains that people who are cruel have a low capacity for empathy because of genetic makeup and early childhood experiences. Cruel people tend to have had an insecure attachment in infancy, now recognized as a critical factor in the human development of empathy. Read the rest of this entry »
by Bruce Wilson
The main purpose of this blog is to discuss the science of primal therapy, but I want to address a question that goes beyond science: is primal therapy compatible with spirituality and is spiritual practice compatible with primal?
First, let’s define those amorphous terms, “spiritual” and “spirituality.” To scientific skeptics, they often elicit a gag reflex. At worst, spirituality is condemned as “woo,” at best, it’s put in scare quotes, held it at a distance like some stinking, dead animal with comments like, “just what the hell is ‘spirituality’?” Check out the many blogs and websites devoted to skepticism and you’ll see that spirituality is usually equated with religion, God (or Satan), magic, the occult, mysticism, new age, ghosts, souls, spirits, fairies, angels, or a number of other supernatural concepts, and often scorned as “woo,” “spooky stuff” or worse. In my former life as a hard scientific skeptic, I had this same response, and I admit, I still have a visceral revulsion to the words, “religion” and “religious.” Read the rest of this entry »
by Bruce Wilson
What is science? A simple definition is offered by George Orwell in his essay by that name. He defines science is either: “(a) an exact science, such as chemistry, physics, etc. or (b) a method of thought which obtains verifiable results by reasoning logically from observed fact.”
By this simple definition, primal therapy might be defined as a science. Arthur Janov developed his theory through observed facts by watching his patients descend into deep feelings, gain insights, and get better. He then reasoned logically from those facts and developed a therapy that obtained verifiable results. He then went further to find supportive evidence for his theory from physiology and neurobiology, both exact sciences (or close enough to it). Throughout this process, he developed a theory of mental illness based on early life trauma and a conclusion that primal therapy can be the one and only “cure for neurosis.”