by Réal Beaulieu, MA, MFT, Primal Therapist

[I was trained by Dr. Janov from 1989 to 1995, and worked at his
Primal Training Center with certification as a primal therapist
under supervision from 1993 to 1995.]

Many myths about primal therapy have evolved since the publication of The Primal Scream in 1970. Some dubious tenets and practices have flourished in all parts of the world and seem to have been rarely questioned. These often pass for an integral part of the theory and are sometimes applied in the name of “clinical expertise.”

Four cases in point come to mind as I am writing:

  • Feeding the hope for a cure or enviable status of being some day post-primal,

  • The three-week intensive, for the average sum of six thousand dollars (more like ten thousand dollars, after plane ticket and living expenses if clients have to leave their country),

  • Deprivation as a general rule during the three-week intensive, and last but not least,

  • The idea that primal therapy is relatively short.

A typical story goes something like this: someone works for years to save the money (or use up their savings) then leaves their country, family, friends, job, and support system to live in a strange city, with the hope that they will be practically cured after a month, six months, a year or maybe two.

Several years later, they find themselves still there, often having to find work “under the table” to continue paying for their therapy. I remember my therapist telling me after I expressed some disappointment about how long the process takes, “Wait two years. . . you’ll see”. Well, it has been twenty-five years and I still need sessions occasionally!

The worst-case scenario is the following and has been related to me a few times: a client opens up to previously repressed painful feelings, runs out of money, finds him/herself in a difficult present reality, starts feeling stuck, hopeless, is encouraged to go on medication in order to block the first line pain (peri-natal traumatic memories), gets to be dysfunctional, becomes “too much” in terms of a caseload and, finally, is advised to go back home because he/she cannot be helped in an outpatient clinic.

In this worst-case scenario (let’s keep that in mind), the clinical reasons invoked for terminating the client’s therapy may vary from “you need an inpatient clinic,” “you need a job," “your life is not changing,” “you are medication non-compliant,” “you need a more conventional therapy,” to simply, “primal therapy cannot help you.”

In the same worst-case scenario, primal therapy was the last hope for the client and there is no primal therapist or primal support back home. Or if there is, the client is turned down because of selective criteria. You can easily imagine what may follow. Now, if those stories are true, they represent my idea of what mock primal therapy is.

I call that “Pushing the river with the canoe and back paddling irresponsibly, without any regard for your passenger’s destination, for lack of a map, proper equipment and a clear itinerary,” It has also been called, “Being up shit creek without a paddle.”

Those myths should be addressed before the start of any intensive primal therapy. It is called informed consent. Proceeding with intensive therapy without such informed consent is at best unethical and at worst, illegal. According to David Fox, J.D., attorney at law, (founder of PASS, a workshop that prepares for Marriage and Family Therapy licensure) in either case, revocation of the right to practice could result.

Those myths should be replaced with more therapeutic and realistic principles based on welfare of the client, observations, feedback and experience. Here is what comes to mind:

  • Primal therapy can be a lifetime process especially for people with massive early pain.

  • It can be a very costly process.

  • Education is of foremost importance. An honest and comprehensive informed consent procedure should be available for all potential clients. Whenever possible, a workshop or primal sensitivity training should be offered, in order to address the myths mentioned above and start the therapy on the right foot. One of the goals of the educational phase is to encourage people to start a primal support group that can eventually become a “buddy group” or “peer co-therapy group” in order to make the therapy affordable and to insure that fragile people do not fall through the cracks.

  • Attention to present circumstances comes first. Before any intensive, all precautions should be taken to ensure a secure life situation and support system. For example: a job that is flexible, sufficient income or money in the bank to last a few months, etc. Having the clients’ best interest at heart does not start with encouraging them to spend most of their savings in order to get primal therapy.

  • Generally speaking, disruption of a client’s current life situation should be minimized, although it does not apply to everyone. Some people do dramatically better when they move away from the site of where their childhood pain occurred.

  • The first intensive two or three weeks (depending on the case) are only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Isolation during the intensive may or may not apply, depending on the client’s lifestyle and defenses.

  • The selective process is a reality, depending on the resources of the primal therapist or institution. Not everybody can be accepted.

    This article is meant to be the framework for further reflection and discussion. It is the way we intend to operate in Montreal. Your reactions and feedback are welcome, and I promise to be open to your ideas. You can send me an e-mail at

Réal Beaulieu has also written:
Primal Theory vs Past Lives Theory
Primal Therapy: What It Is and What It Is Not
On Buddying and Self-Primalling
On The Origins of Death Anxiety

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