Mainstream psychologists and health professionals have perceived primal therapy for many years as ineffective, non-evidenced based alternative, form of therapy that is often downright dangerous.
The term Primal Therapy coined in the seventies by Arthur Janov in his book the Primal Scream has left an inaccurate image of primal as a scream therapy, absent of structure and scientific basis for what it claims to achieve.
Janov, has attempted to recertify this situation by working tirelessly over the last three and a half decades to raise awareness of primal therapy as a powerful therapeutic tool as well as scientific and evidenced based.
There are many benefits that come from doing primal therapy but these often take time and commitment to achieve. It takes time for a person to develop trust and safety with the process itself, the therapist and the centre.
Following are a list of questions clients have asked us over the years that has helped to build trust and safety. If your question is not answered by the following frequently asked questions please feel free to email us your query direct through the contact us page.
Who does primal therapy?
People who do primal therapy come from all walks of life and for all sorts of reasons and concerns. It can be from a sense of vague unease and unhappiness to unfulfilled relationships including addictions and trauma related issues especially sexual abuse and assault.
Further examples of people who do primal therapy include grief, insomnia, depression, anxiety, guilt, rage, tendencies toward illness or accidents, phobias, compulsions, sexuality issues, and eating disorders.
For others the pain may be overwhelming. They may feel very alone, isolated and that no one will ever understand them or be able to help them. And yet others read Janov’s books (The New Primal Scream or Primal healing) and know this is what they want to do; it is the only thing that makes sense. Others simply have a gut feeling that something is missing in their lives or that they have not begun to live.
People with addictions also find primal therapy useful. Alcoholics and addicts in recovery are often struggling with unconscious defences that avoid their feelings keeping them stuck in the addictive pattern. Primal therapy assists them to deal with their feelings in a totally new way freeing them from the addictions they suffer from. Primal therapy can greatly assist with the resolution of the root cause of the addiction.
Are therapists qualified?
Yes, all therapists are trained by standards set by the Primal Therapy Australia Centre. These standards include; 2 years of training after undertaking a sufficient amount of their own therapy (all have done at least 8 years); teaching forums on the theory and practice of primal therapy and other psychological modalities; participation in a year long, small interactive group; supervised facilitating of groups; supervised individual sessions over a year and supervised running of an intensive. Therapists are also required to have other registered health care degrees and to continue their own therapy.
We encourage honesty in the process by all concerned and in the relationships and interactions that take place. We provide a safe and nurturing environment in which feelings may be explored.
Are there different types of Primal Therapy and do you differ from Janov?
The short answer to this is that there are differences in the way each therapist practices, but the fundamentals remain the same. None of the therapists who work out of the Primal Therapy Australia Centre can comment on the way Arthur Janov does his therapy from personal experience (as none of us has trained or had therapy with him). Reference to the Primal Psychotherapy Page will give a variety of answers as to how processes differ from those of Janov.
In her book “Facing The Wolf”, Theresa Sheppard Alexander stated she had therapy with Janov, later becoming a therapist and a trainer of therapists. Her description of a session sounded very much like individual sessions work at the Primal Therapy Australia Centre.
Having said that primal therapy in Australian and specifically at the Primal Therapy Australia Centre has originated and evolved from the work of Dr Graham Farrant (cellular consciousness and ensoulment), Dr John Spensley (paediatrics) and Gillian Nikakis (psychiatric nursing and working with adult survivors of childhood trauma) together with the trauma work of Collin Ross and John Birerre.
We believe that using one therapeutic model to the exclusion of others creates rigidity and blinkers to the possibilities of what our clients can teach us. Although there is no doubt that the core of our work is primal therapy.
I have been told that re-experiencing is re traumatizing and makes things worse in the end?
Some therapeutic modalities and therapists believe that reliving painful feelings from past trauma is re traumatizing for the client. This is the paradox in primal therapy. While it would seem logical to stay away from earlier events and memories that hurt, and leave things in the past where they belong, this is often only temporarily effective. Life experiences can still throw clients back into distress when they have unresolved internal conflicts. It can take a lot of psychic energy and focus to control or hide feelings.
The view of reliving feelings as re-traumatizing stems from the early days of primal. At that time in primal it was seen as important to push the client into feeling as soon as possible. We have found though from working with many clients over the years that those with a history of early childhood trauma can become flooded with feelings and memories before safety precautions (safety and trust) have been established. This is why it is absolutely essential that the therapy must proceed at the clients own pace.
The irony in primal is that when a person first starts to connect and express repressed feelings and material they do sometimes feel worse before improvement is experienced. It is at this point that most people (some clients and non-primal therapists) become fearful and say it does not work. This is why it is vitally important to understand the biological basis of trauma and recovery to fully understand how primal works.
Some have warned me that primal is a catharsis. I understand that it is a release of emotional energy but that, whilst there is some immediate relief, there is no long-term change. What do you say to this?
This comes to the core of the difficulty with the understanding of primal therapy. Primal therapy is often confused with catharsis (purging of emotions) and abreaction (releasing painful emotions by acting them out, through words, behaviour or the imagination) usually with some temporary relief of symptoms. To the extent that primal therapy often involves a release of emotional energy, it is like catharsis, but it is more than that. It is the natural expression of feelings as they arise in the course of a feeling session.
Primal therapy is not just screaming (the Primal Scream was an unfortunate term and concept). It is a natural process orchestrated by the body and, as Janov has written, often involves various levels of feeling. It also involves a profound understanding of the effects of the re-experienced earlier event to one’s current functioning. Without this the therapy needs to be questioned.
Is primal therapy addictive?
Those who are not familiar with the biological basis of trauma are sometimes concerned that people can become addicted to the feeling process. When a client’s pool of pain is opened, it may feel that they are constantly in feeling and needing to primal. This is normal process, after years of repression.
It is important to understand that primal is not a quick fix.
Primal is a very thorough therapy when practiced correctly and in line with other forms of trauma therapy the repeated re-experiencing of the traumatic material is the healing process. It cannot be rushed. It can in some cases take up to five years or more to fully heal and integrate.
Other professionals in the field of trauma therapy (Ross, Birerre) also find the similar pattern of repetitive emotional re-experiencing with the duration often being years.
A client may need to relive their birth trauma for example, hundreds of times before they are able to move on. Our experience has shown that even during these times a client will still be making small shifts during therapy and in their current life situation. This is the indication that things are still moving and that the individual is not using feeling as a way of hiding and not dealing with areas of feeling and life that may be too confronting for them.
Nevertheless some people can become stuck in a feeling loop. That is, they keep feeling the same feeling repeatedly without dropping into deeper levels. Feeling the same feeling becomes comfortable (a feeling rut) and no progress is made; the feeling persists. The need is to feel in order to gain relief, but the deeper feelings are being avoided. At this point it may become addictive and the therapist must gently confront this to support the person to go deeper into their feelings in order to heal.
Can I self-primal?
Self-primalling is a great tool if you are very experienced in the process and maintain contact with your therapist, which includes regular sessions (on a monthly basis at the very least). Sometimes though, it can be too frightening to access the deeper feelings without a therapist or a primal buddy present.
We have also found that people who self-primal only in the absence of a therapist can become stuck in a feeling loop. That is, they keep feeling the same feeling repeatedly without dropping into deeper levels. Feeling the same feeling becomes comfortable (a feeling rut) and no progress is made; the feeling persists. The need is to feel in order to gain relief, but the deeper feelings are being avoided. At this point it may feel addictive.
As the aim of primal is to feel and integrate, bringing about permanent holistic change, we recommend working with a primal therapist that can facilitate this process or a primal buddy if you are advanced in your process.
I am on antidepressants. Would that affect my therapy? Do other drugs have an effect?
In our experience, antidepressants may dampen the process. Sometimes this can be useful, especially when painful feelings are overwhelming and cannot be integrated. In that situation, primal therapy can release the pain gradually, allowing you to integrate the feelings while continuing to function. Later your medication can be gradually reduced.
Other drugs can also have an effect on your therapy. For instance, alcohol and cigarettes are a very effective way of aiding dissociation of mind from body, and nicotine seems to persist in the brainstem and be evident for up to three weeks. Thus the body is busy “remembering” but the mind does not comprehend what the body is doing and this interferes with emotional processing.
At the Primal Therapy Australia Centre we do not offer intensives to someone who is drinking or smoking heavily. We also do not work with drug addicts until they have been off drugs for several months.
How long does the therapy take?
This is very much an individual affair and depends partly on how far a person wishes to go. Some people want to deal with specific issues; others want to use it as a vehicle for the journey of self-discovery. From experience, the earlier the trauma the longer the duration tends to be. The individual is the one that determines the duration of the therapy.
Certainly in the first 12 months therapy can be slow, while you are working through your defences or can be intense. This depends on individual characteristics combined with individual history although it is our experience that most clients need a couple of years. Some will vary from 4 – 8 years.
Although this seems a long time studies in the field of early, chronic traumas have shown that part of the brain (i.e. hippocampus) involved with emotions is smaller than normal and it can take at least 8 years of therapy for it to approach normal size.
Will I need to have a primal intensive of 3 weeks?
While the three-week intensive is often the most useful use of time, for some people it is not advisable and may even be contraindicated. Some people do best with a very short, intensive period to get them going, but if it is prolonged they may shut down their feelings. Others undertake individual therapy while they explore the therapy.
Others undertake individual therapy while they explore the therapy before committing to an intensive and whether or not you are considering an intensive we recommend that you do some individual sessions first. This way you can begin to learn how to go into your feelings which means you’ll gain greater benefit from your intensive rather than using the intensive to learn how to feel.
Part of the therapist’s role is to assess what is in the best interests of the individual. Whether an intensive is right for you initially and its duration will be discussed on an individual basis.
How do I get therapy?
The first step is to contact us by email or phone (found on the “contact us” page). A therapist will contact you and answer any questions you have.
A time is then made for the initial session in which the assessment process will begin prior to the formal beginning of therapy. This allows you to meet the therapist and discuss whether primal therapy is appropriate for you.
How much does it cost?
Sessions cost approximately 140.00AUD.
Residential Primal Intensives vary between 1 – 3 weeks long and are 3,000AUD per week. This includes all accommodation and therapy, not food.