What Is The Ark?

A Participant's View of the 1994 Ark

By Don Allan

The Ark is the brainchild of innovative Philadelphia psychotherapist William Smukler, Ph.D. It is a 40-day Intensive psychotherapy experience which also serves the purpose of training the participants in the basics of massed time therapy. Smukler is an expert at massed-time therapy, a kind of therapy that can last for many hours or days, or even for weeks, as in the case of the 40-day Ark.

Anyone who has ever been a client in a psychotherapy session can appreciate the advantage of meeting with the therapist for longer than the standard 50- or 60-minute session. Often a lowering of defenses if necessary to effect change. In a one-hour session, there is hardly ample opportunity for the client to begin to lower psychological defenses before the session is over.

The client must then return to the world of everyday living where strong patterns of behavior are deeply entrenched. But, in a longer therapy session, the defenses of the ego can be slowly and gently lowered in a safe and supportive environment to achieve greater open­ness and vulnerability. Rigid patterns of behavior associated with those defenses can be changed much more easily during longer sessions, especially if those longer sessions are linked in a series of continuing sessions. The longer the session or series of sessions within the supportive therapeu­tic community, the more likely the client can find the needed window of opportunity to effect real and lasting change.

In addition to the obvious advantage of lowering defenses, Smukler claims the most significant advantage of massed time.therapy is the 'bi-associative principle." He defines this as the occurrence of two or more diverse elements, in a sudden flash, making one aware of a new, hitherto unknown, dimension" (Smukler, 1984: 44). In other words, massed time therapy, especially as Smukler has designed R on the Ark, exposes clients to a variety of therapeutic experiences and techniques which together, or in rapid succession, can eff ect positive change in unanticipated ways.

A fuller description of this concept of bisociation can be found in Arthur Koestler's 1964 study of creativity in art and science, The Act of Creation. Smukler views the exposure to a wide variety of experiences and techniques as the most essential ingredient in massed time therapy. Smukler's 498 page dissertation in transformalional psychology, Noahs Ark: A 40-day Intensive Training Program (1984, International College in Los Angeles), provides a wealth of information about the Ark and its methods.

The most recent Ark was held Jan. 9 - Feb. 19, 1999, in a large, three-story house in the Pocono mountains near Lehighton, PA. Arks have been held at this location every two years for the last 10 years. Eight of the staff were experienced leaders and three were leaders-in-training (all veterans of previous Arks).

There were also three local residents who cooked and ran the kitchen. In general, people were very happy with the food. As one of the fussiest eaters, I was able to do all right once I arranged for brown rice to be served, or at least available in the kitchen, during each mealtime.

Although a wide variety of psychotherapeutic techniques are employed at the Ark, most of the staff at the Ark are either primal integration therapists or have had extensive experience in primal integration. Primal integration is a form of humanistic and growth-oriented primal therapy developed in the 1970's by William Swartley and practiced by many therapists affiliated with the International Primal Association.

No doubt, massed-time therapy is the chief advantage of the Ark over other types of therapy experiences. Forty days is long enough to give participants the opportunity to effect deep and lasting changes in behavior as a result of the prolonged and uninterrupted exposure to a safe and supportive therapeutic community. The activities at the Ark are specifically designed to effect the kind of sudden and unexpected change Srnukler envisions to be possible through bisociation.

Nevertheless, learning takes place on more than one level at the Ark. Even without the opportunity to work deeply on one's own psychological processes, the Ark would still be an extraordinary educational experience. In 40 days, most participants are exposed to a wider variety of therapeutic techniques than they have previously experienced in a life­time. Each person has the opportunity to witness the psychological processes of 17 other participants unfold over the 40 days. This alone makes it a valuable educational experience.

After the second week, the educational aspect of the Ark is expanded to include co-therapy sessions with other participants. These sessions supplement the continued therapy sessions with the staff. This training component of the Ark helps build the participant's skill as a therapist, and helps to empower the participant to see herself as capable of giving the kind of support she receives in her own sessions. It breaks decisively with the medical model of therapy in which the patient seeks help from a doctor who "has all the answers." Above all, it establishes a humanistic and holistic model for healing in which the participant is viewed as one who is growing continuously and In charge of her own psychological process.

The Ark can be viewed not only as an opportunity to deepen one's psychological process, but also as a means to develop one's creativity by tapping into the source of unconscious and creative energy. Many of the expressive arts techniques at the ARK facilitate the development of creativity at the same time that they provide opportunities to interrupt rigid patterns of behavior. Many Ark participants discover previously hidden talents in painting, sculpture, music, dance, acting, poetry, and writing in the course of following through with their Individual psychological processes.

The accommodations at the Ark are not luxurious. During my stay, the house was slightly over-capacity in terms of how many people could squeeze comfortably into the relatively small dining room at mealtimes. However, we did have a spacious and beautiful living room with a picture window for the large group meetings. There were only two large bedrooms available for the 18 of us who were participants (or trainees as we were sometimes called). One room held six, the other, twelve trainees.

The sexes were not segregated. Most of the staff were housed in smaller rooms with two people per room. Telephone contact with the outside world was minimal, and part of the commitment In coming to the Ark was to stay for the full 40 days. Heavy snows and cold temperatures kept the majority of the participants indoors on most days during the 1994 Ark. Some of us took daily walks on the country road, but there was not a lot of free time available in the schedule for this kind of activity.

A typical day's schedule at the 1994 Ark was as follows:

6:30-7:30 a.m. Meditation (optional)
7:30-8*15a.m. Dream clinic (optional)
8:15-9:00a.m. Breakfast
9:00-9:30 a.m. Chores
9:30-10:00 a.m. Town Meeting
(required for whole group)
10 a.m.-noon Morning seminar

noon-12:45 p.m. Lunch
12:45-1:15 p.m. Free time
1:15-2:45 p.m. 1st Therapy Session
3:00-4:30 p.m. 2nd Therapy Session
4:45-5:45 p.m. Afternoon seminar

6:00-7:00 p.m. Dinner
7:00-8:30 p.m. 3rd Therapy session
8:45-10:15 p.m. Pods (regular daily

small group meeting to review
and track progress, etc.)
10:30-11 p.m. Story time (optional opportunity
to lie comfortably under
a blanket in the living room and listen
to a children's story)

The daily schedule is packed with seminars and three therapy sessions, each of which is 1 1/2 hours in length. Sometimes additional therapy is done in Pods, depending on how Its members choose to spend the time. The Pods are designed to fulfill a"family" function. Participants return each evening to the Pods to be with the same group of six participants and three (or four) therapists at the end of each day.

The regular therapy sessions consist of both individual and group sessions. Participants rotate their individual and group sessions with the entire staff. This means that every staff member becomes familiar with the psychological process of each participant, and the psychological process of each participant receives the full benefit of the collective therapeutic experience of the entire staff. The group sessions usually consist of about eight trainees and two or three staff.

The Ark staff works extensively with transference, counter-transference, and projection phenomena as they occur within interpersonal and group dynamics. Of course, these dynamics carry over into mealtime and free time activities and, frequently, individual or group therapy session are devoted to issues that have developed in interactions through the day.

The Ark provides a rich variety of specialized modalities of therapy that are not apparent in brief glance at the daily schedule. For example, a large room In the basement was set up exclusively for Jungian sandplay with a sandbox available for each participant and therapist. The walls of that room were lined with shelves containing an estimated 10,000 sandplay pieces. Another room in the basement, known as the "shadow room, was set up especially to facilitate the release of anger and rage during sessions.

The shadow room contained plastic bats and other props to help vent rage while surrounded by thick padding on the floor and walls. A third area of the basement contained a booth lined with plastic to facilitate mess painting sessions such as those described by Wolfgang Luthe, M.D., in his Creativity Mobilization Technique. Another part of the building was set up with massage tables for body work.

The Ark schedule was altered on Saturdays to accommodate men's and women's support groups, and on Sundays to accommodate sandbox presentations by each person to the entire group. Occasionally, large group sessions were scheduled for special topics like holotropic breathwork, cellular consciousness, or birth regression work.

Each participant at the Ark presented a two-hour seminar on the topic of her choice sometime after the second week. These presentations, along with the seminars by staff members, provided a wealth of information on a wide variety of psychological topics and techniques. Some of the seminar topics included Junglan sandplay, bioenergetics, focusing, gestalt, subpersonalities, dream analysis, Re-evaluation Counseling, Jungian psychology, cognitive therapy, stream of consciousness, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, archetypes and rituals, journaling, tracking, mess painting, authentic movement, expressive art, buddying and co-therapy, bi­associative method, psychosynthesis, guided fantasy, Chinese medicine, addictions, the death process, past lives therapy, incest and many more.

All of the trainees rotated through a daily list of chores, such as meal set-up or clean-up, bathroom cleaning, etc., which helped to keep down the total cost of the Ark. It would have been nice to have more spacious and luxurious accommodations, but when I consider what it would probably have added to the cost of the Ark, I didn't mind the living conditions.

A loving and accepting community of people, and at least three therapy sessions each day, make it easy to process any distress that comes up around issues of lack of privacy or lack of luxury. At $4,800, which includes room and board as well as therapy, I would have to say that the Ark is the single 'best buy" in psychotherapy and training that I know of.

Return to the Primal Psychotherapy Homepage