Letters To The Primal Page
Nov 20, 1997
Hi John !
This letter is a CONTINUATION of my previous letter dated November 10.
1) My impression from reading the various letters on the Primal Page is that people who have suffered physical and/or sexual abuse as their most significant trauma tend to be attracted to the Stettbacher and Jenson methods, while those whose most significant trauma is birth tend to go for Janov's "method".
2) The lyrics of many of the songs written and sung by Billy Joel have always made me wonder as to whether HE has undergone Primal Therapy. Would anyone know whether he has or not ? (I'm thinking especially of his albums "Turnstiles", "The Stranger" and "An Innocent Man").
3) When I said in my PREVIOUS letter that I'd like to see a detailed critique of the use of medication, I meant the use of medication by conventional mental health professionals (ie. those NOT involved in Primal Therapy).
Here in Australia, there seem to be only two basic therapeutic responses: Cognitive/Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or the use of drugs (or both at the same time). So many patients are being told that they're suffering from a "biochemical distortion" which needs to be corrected through drugs. So drugs become a permanent (and life-long ?) "solution" to those patients' problems. And this practice appears to be very widespread. I agree with you that WITHIN Primal Therapy, the use of medication can sometimes be useful or even necessary. Similarly for more conventional therapies. Medication can also be of use in EMERGENCY situations. What I'm mainly opposed to is the use of medication as a PERMANENT, LONG-TERM "solution" instead of something more "real" like Primal Therapy.
From what I've seen of it, many patients on medication seem to loose their ability to think critically about mental health professionals and their inadequate theories and practices (eg. Cognitive Restructuring). They seem to be in a zombie-like state, intellectually speaking. Of course many mental health professionals would LOVE such compliant and uncritical patients. It allows them to feel competent !.
4) As a person who has always been interested in the subjective side of life in wartime Britain, I am rather intrigued by the title of the folowing article mentioned in Dr.Khamsi's bibliography:
Swartley, W., and Maurice, J. (1979). The birth of birth primals in wartime Britain. In Birth and Rebirth/Self and Society, 39-41.
If you have read this paper, John, would you be willing to give me a few lines about HOW this paper claims birth primals originated in wartime Britain ? (and WHERE, if in a specific location).
5) I quite like the honesty that Colleen English's letter dated January 6, 1996, seemed to display.
6) John, you and some of the readers of the Primal Page may find the following bit of information of interest: "...many schizophrenics do not dream, or do not remember dreaming, until they are given Vitamin B6, and if the dose is too stimulating, they will complain of excessive dreaming. It is a meaningful observation. Dreams are a necessary outlet for the feelings of a normal person..." (from: "Psychonutrition" by Carlton Fredericks, PhD, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1978, p.61). (NOTE: There appear to exist reports that too rapid withdrawal from Vitamin B6 can lead to adverse reactions).
7) I've had in my possession for many years now, a photocopy of an article called "A Feeling Person". It covers one side of an A4-page and is a guide to self-primalling. It appears to have been written by someone at The Primal Institute.
I wonder if anyone else has come across this and knows anything more about it ? (eg. when it was written, by whom, etc.)
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Dec 19, 1997
Your review of Cure by Crying by Thomas A. Stone discusses the question of whether self-primalling can be done alone or whether a second person's presence is necessary. It is my belief that the answer to this question is, "It depends on the person !" I would like to try and illustrate what I mean by this by giving two examples:
(1) A person who currently, and/or in the past, has, or has had, A LOT of relationships involving A LOT of POSITIVE FEELING (ie. alongside any "Pain"), will, on the whole, probably find it quite effective to primal on his or her own, ie. WITHOUT ANYONE ELSE BEING PRESENT.
(2) In contrast, a person who spent most of his or her life alone (ie. without ANY, or VERY FEW, relationships involving A LOT of POSITIVE FEELING), will, on the whole, probably find primalling on his or her own (ie. WITHOUT ANYONE ELSE BEING PRESENT) relatively ineffective.
Of course, many people fall IN BETWEEN these two extremes.
Also, it goes without saying that the other person being present needs to have the right qualities, such as being understanding, accepting, compassionate, non-judgmental, etc.
Having had a life with a lot of relationships involving a lot of positive feeling builds one's "positive self," which, in turn, ALLOWS the integration of "negative" feelings to occur.
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January 1, 1998
I am a PhD candidate at the Ateneo de Manila, Philippines, majoring in Clinical Psychology. I am doing my dissertation research on Catharsis.
I have read your impressive reviews of books on regressive psychotherapies in LYCOS. Could you kindly give me some advice?
In addition to the books you reviewed, could you kindly refer me to experimental researches on catharsis? From the limited literature we have here, I have read:
1. Effects of Varying Session, Length and Frequency in Brief Emotive Psychotherapy, Journal of Clinical and Counseling Psychology, Nichols, 1976
2. Outcome of Brief Cathartic Psychotherapy, Journal of Clinical and Counseling Psychology, Nichols, 1974
I have been impressed by the discovery of catharsis as a two-stage process of activation and recovery (Nichols, 1985), thus nullifying outbursts as catharsis. I also took note that emotive therapies are the treatment variable and catharsis is the intervening variable.
I have not yet read Nichols'
I have read the books of Dr. Arthur Janov on primal therapy which to me makes much sense but seems to claim too much (such as the treatment of prenatal trauma).
My conceptual framework starts with meditation of which I have had much experience. (As background: when I was 23 - I am now 51 - I went to India for 6 months to become a "sannyasin." After India, I never gave up the habit of meditation). In the early times yoga meditation was mainly in the form of sense withdrawal (emptying), then mindfulness came in (esp. with Zen Meditation and Jon Kabat-zinn's Mindfulness techniques). With mindfulness a person concentrates on his object of attention and also on distractions so that he may understand them.
What I want to add to these two stages of meditation (emptying and mindfulness) is regression to be done in a meditative state. Regression has the advantage of directly reaching and understanding one's pains.
My treatment variable is therefore meditation with regression (or regression in a meditative state). This is borne out of my personal experience. Again, as background: when I was in India, I used to meditate four hours a day in an ashram of the Ananda Marga organization. I resigned after 6 months when I found out that the organization had political ambitions and financially exploited its aspiring sannyasins.
At 24 and troubled with psychological problems , I chanced upon Janov's Primal Scream Therapy. I did primal therapy by myself and found it to be very effective. I was able to go back to my childhood pains and understood my subsequent defense mechanisms and patterns of behavior. Pains and defense mechanisms fell off like dead branches because after I understood my trauma and defenses, automatically I was liberated from my pains and I had no more need for the defenses. So my treatment variable is to do regression under an altered state of meditation. I connect with and relive the feeling of pain through catharsis. Through meditation I become aware and step back as it were to understand what is going on.
In addition, I see catharsis as a result of self expression. Pain comes mainly two sources: inflicted pain such as rejection and neurotic conditioning and from frustration i.e. frustrated growth, the suppression of one's talents, skills, thoughts, feelings and dreams (volition), such as what happens when one stymies the growth of an acorn seed. I perceive that regression is also an effective tool in confronting frustration pains.
The dependent variable are changes in self concept and behavior. The child's conditioning leads to vitiated self concept and negative behavioral patterns and defence mechanisms. Taking away the throttle allows the person to return to his unconditioned natural self and to the uselessness of negative behavioral patterns and defence mechanisms.
Thus my experimental group will do regression with meditation. My comparison group will do zen meditation only (as formulated by Suzuki) and the control group will spend their time discussing any cognitive approaches to therapy.
On methodology, at this point I would like to subject the experimental and comparison groups to meditation as separate groups. For the experimental group I will go one step farther: I will guide them as a group towards individual catharsis. This technique is similar to hypnosis-suggestion except that the participants through their breathing will maintain their alertness and will become very aware of the processes going on even while under altered states.
Of course it is difficult to bring about full catharsis to participants in a group. The results may even turn out to be tenuous. So I may end up doing one on one therapy to each member of the experimental group -which may not be ideally comparable to the group treatment given to the comparison group. I still have to sort this out.
The reason why I am writing you (and I am very happy to find your email address, thanks to the internet) is that I consider you as an authority on catharsis. I will be honored if you allow me to pick your brains. Secondly, as you can see, my literature review is so outdated and inadequate as I have to depend on our school library. I would like to ask you for some references.
Could you kindly refer me to some publications about the basic experimental researches on catharsis/regression, critiques on Janov (which is extremely rare because Janov does not submit his articles to scientific publications) and perhaps literature on meditaion as it relates to regression and catharsis, if any? I have two sisters in the US who may be able to buy these materials for me.
Could you also comment on my dissertation ideas?
I hope I am not imposing too much on you. I will be very grateful for any advice you can give me.
Lito: Thank you for your letter. I am in no way an expert or therapist in this field. I only consider myself to be a very interested self-primaler but will do my best to respond to your questions.
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April 15, 1998
There is certainly enough controversy about which is the best method of primal therapy. I would like to ring in with my thoughts. The relevant question in my mind is the following: Is it enough to feel the feelings?
Intuitivley, the idea that we can cry away a childhood of hurts and feel better the same way we did as a child when we were able to cry until we didn't feel like crying anymore, is an appealing one. But it is not a coherent and sound argument. It is really more a description of what happens to some people in therapy. (I presume). It has no explanatory power. Just a strong resonance with our deepest intuitions and longings.
As I see it Janov's theory adheres more closely to this idea and Stettbacher's less so. Stettbacher's theory is based on the idea that if we regress ourselves back to the ages at which we suffered at the hands of those most important to us and allow ourselves to state to ourselves what we need and to demand from them what we need then we will learn that the hurts that we suffered were not our fault, and that we need not fear their repetition.
The key difference as I see it is that Stettbacher's therapy is about learning not to fear and Janov's is about some incomprehensible draining of something called the primal pool of pain. Something which the existence of is very dubious.
At this point I think it is important to point out that just because a particular form of therapy works this does not mean that the theory behind it (if you can rightly call it a theory) is correct. You will probably be very surprised at this point to find that of the two therapies I prefer Janov's. I will explain why.
Neurosis is about fear. Fear created by events that took place in our lives and the conclusions that we had no choice but to draw about them.
Overcoming neurosis is about overcoming fear. But overcoming a fear that we have ignored for years and simply don't recognize for what it is anymore. Primal Therapy creates the conditions in which we can again see this fear for what it is. It is at this point that I must depart with Mr Janov's theory and bring in control mastery theory. A healing primal is one in which a patient is able to confront this fear without it being necessary for the subconscious to again confuse us about its cause.
A primal that doesn't heal is one where we see the fear for what it is but in which we are unable to leave the primal with the satisfactory feeling that the fear is unwarranted. (Any primal that leaves us feeling that the fear is probably unfounded is a step in the right direction). The fears that I speak of are existential in nature. Namely the fear that something is wrong with us.
Now I know that many have been healed with primal therapy but the reason why I think this is so is that they have overcome their fears. They are willing to accept possible outcomes in events that they were not previously able to except because the outcomes don't mean the excruciatingly devastating things that they meant when they happened in their childhoods.
Having said all of this you may think that I believe that cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy or insight therapy could be successful. This is not the case. The reason for this, I believe, is not the reason that most in the primal/regression camp think. In my opinion the reason is because these therapies never make people aware of exactly how afraid they are and exactly what they are afraid of.
These therapies don't allow people to feel their fear for what it is. Fears can be extincted in humans but not by a cognitive argument. Desensitization can extinct people of their fears of certain events but not of what they really need. Primal therapy is like desensitization of what one is really afraid of deep down. It is like cognitive therapy where the real fears of the person are fully known to him and he is certain of what they are.
The rules of logic and common sense do not cease to work when primal therapy is practiced. Primal therapy works and there is a simple explanation for why. In my opinion what is needed in primal therapy is some faith, some support, and some courage. What causes it to fail is that when people finally see what they are afraid of they are afraid that it is true. They are afraid that they are not worthy of the treatment they received and they recoil from this idea and abandon therapy.
Thank you for your time in reading my letter.
Mitchell in New York
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February 5, 1998
Happy New Year, I hope everything is going well for you!
I thought I would write and let you know that I am inviting any experienced primalees in central Ontario, Canada to e-mail me or give me a call if they need a place to do their work. I have decided to free up one evening a week to accommodate such a group. To my knowledge, there are no primal groups operating north of Toronto (if you hear of any, please let me know) and I really think it is time to create the space for one.
I must say, John, that this endeavour on my part is at least partly inspired by all the letters from people all over the world trying to connect up with primal facilitators through the PPP, and I honour the tremendous effort you put forth in maintaining this wonderful network resource.
If you think that putting this information on the PPP would be of service to anyone, please do.
My phone number at the bookstore in Barrie, Ontario is 705-737-5671 (daytime). Thank you.
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One of the turning points for me came to me after a long time. It is, normal life is consciousness and feeling all the time. So one goes beyond the idea that "when feelings come up" then "I must need a primal". You get to the plain reality where consciousness is existence, and where feeling accompanies every perception and every thought. When I need a primal now is when pain or confusion or ineffectuality (I have other symptoms too numerous to mention) comes up and interrupts the rather more prosaic normal consciousness in which I live my rather prosaic but generally happy life. My normal state of feeling now contains more energy than what I thought I had all together before starting primal therapy. It's not more intense, because it is much larger and involves my whole body, as I am usually completely conscious now.
I'd like to comment on ultimate goals--there are about as many ultimate goals of primal therapy as there are in healing from any illness or disease--one wants to return to society and participate in it and be accepted by other human beings, share in the collective existence in which most people who have always been normal have a community sense of love. Talk to a local politician about whether the people in his community have a collective sense of love, and then mention the reactions among its people to happy events, such as someone getting well, or sad events. People in normal communities love each other tacitly and it flows and is communicated quite beyond marital and family relationships. It is one of the modes of the energy of the community collective. It has sensibilities and is pleased with good fortune, affronted at bad behavior, and all the rest. Discovering that was one of the happy consequences of primal therapy, and though I will always associate it with the people who explained it to me now (and remember them dearly) I can find my place in it now, anywhere I go.
About going back to the genetic DNA--there is something to that. (See Dr. Vereshack's article for May, 1998) What I found was that I was putting pieces of my father's genetic contribution to my character, together with pieces of my mother's genetic contribution to my character, wherever they both are in reach of normalcy as far as I can see it. This is very slow. As you probably know, each parent contributes one half of the double helix of molecular codons to the genome. There probably are not too many unresolved differences genetically because if there were you would not be likely to exist. But traditional culture is full of metaphors like "It's his father's blood" or "She was born on her mother's side of the family" or "On your father's side" or "Some of Mom's character"... etc. These are all early attempts to make sense of things which can be approached fairly powerfully now. Getting one's mother's character to congruence with one's father's character (or "side") -- to agreement within oneself, on even such simple matters as the sun and mountains, the sea, moonlight, or plants and animals can be a rewarding conclusion. I describe it as "putting mother and father back together again" within myself. Each time, the discord decreases, the result is a simpler me, and they don't appear to be so much distinct characters; I become more distinctly a different person than either of them.
On going back to the "beginning of the universe", here's what I believe now. The event which happened between five and twenty billion years ago was the development of only our star, the Sun. There's not much point in attempting it through perceptions of genetics unless you are willing to wade through god knows how many animals, dinosaurs, early insects and fishes. Some people are doing this in an attempt to renovate the position of evolution now that we have got to the moon. But there are some guesses one can make, and certainly primal therapy allows one to sense one's evolutionary past more clearly than when neurotic. Also, some nonorganic techniques like radiocarbon dating (or other radioactivity dating) allow us to put things together we would not be able to relate. Certain patterns in the evolution of the earth and sun as well as motions of the stars can put you more solidly into a time scale which you will measure in centuries and millennia, as an actual part of your personal experience of physical reality, than in at most your own lifetime. This is true both for normal people who never needed or experienced primal therapy because they never were neurotic, and for people who are recovering from neurosis and can feel and be conscious again. I should add, that many neurotics think such people are terribly boring and dull--they are not, after all, willing to pretend to be Mommy.
Generally, my views of the universe tend to be somewhat more mystical and psychic than the strictly rationalistic stuff I used to believe with the faith of the True Believer, but rationalism has made a good deal of sense to the nature of things. It all depends on whether you believe that it is important to hold that Mind exists prior to any perception of the physical universe, or exists consequently, as a result of the nature of things. I tend to the latter. We, and our minds and consciousness, feelings and thoughts, emotions and love and community, evolved through millions of years as a result of, among other things, antientropic processes which result in the existence of crystals and frost patterns. So I am comfortable being a part of physical reality and of the natural world.
Writing this much as an introduction tends to shout people down or intimidate and I apologise if I did that.
Seattle, Washington, USA
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I agree that all experience in out life has feeling attached to it. I only go deeply into these if there is some difficulty, ie, some over or inappropriate reaction etc.
Mike, my reference to the beginging of the universe, was intended to be a little bit metaphorical and poetic. It was intended to say that we flow out of all things ( as you have alluded to) and that everything comes from and is connected to everything else. ( Don't want to be too legalistic here.)
The idea being that if we go deeply enough into our psychobiology we meet the ground of the universe, and somewhere we might want personal limits to the search for the boundaries of our "neurosis". It is after all as I have just said, a part of all things.
I do believe that the universe is "intelligent." I don't believe that we can exist and be sustained by something that is "less" than we are.
Thanks for the response.
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