Book Review - Emotional Fitness: Discovering Our Natural Healing Power Janice Berger (with Harry Hall) - 2000, Prentice-Hall Canada, pp. 236

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This is not a do-it-yourself book, but it does describe the therapy process very well. When I read such books about deep feeling regressive therapies, I try to place myself in the place of a person who knows nothing about the primal process. With that perspective in mind, I began reading and was becoming bored with Emotional Fitness and was wondering if the pre-regression therapy reader could identify with the material in the first few chapters.

But not to worry. Despite its slow beginnings, Emotional Fitness soon begins to be completely absorbing. Once Chapter Four had began, its pace and style quickly assured me that Janice Berger had made an important contribution to the literature of the primal process.

Should Emotional Fitness be the first book one reads before beginning the primal process? I don't believe it should be, but Emotional Fitness is definitely very near the top of the list in importance for a person who has begun to have access to his buried feelings.

Just about every page contains a little case history which beautifully illustrates the point which Berger is discussing. And just about every page has a quote or two which are memorable. It was tempting to just quote one paragraph after another and let Berger write this review! The book is so perfectly written that after she begins her stride, there is not a superfluous or distracting sentence in its entire text.

The author begins Chapter One by writing, "Our natural emotional healing power is our capacity to feel through whatever is happening to us." But since I had placed myself as a person who knows nothing about primal therapy this sentence would have been baffling. I can hear the potential patient saying, "But I already feel too much about what's happening. What I want to do is to experience less of those hurtful feelings."

Everything changed with Chapter Four, which is wonderfully entitled, A Leap of Faith. That is exactly what is required of the client who begins this type of therapy.

I wish Emotional Fitness had an index. Another complaint is that Berger does not mention birth and pre-birth traumas. Perhaps, that is because its inclusion might have been a real turn-off to some readers. Or is it, maybe, that her clients don't have birth feelings? That seems improbable. But, clients sometimes seem to have a difficult time going where their therapist has not been. But, still I wish she would have had a small chapter, or a paragraph, or at the very least a sentence or two on birth trauma so that she would at least have gone on record about such a major issue for many in this weird therapy.

The author writes about issues and truths which many in the primal process will recognize as accurate and important but which have not been mentioned before by other writers about the primal process. There are many such comments in Berger's book. For example, she writes how women in primal therapy can take advantage of their natural hormonal cycles of menstruation and later menopause and use these times of naturally lowered defenses to make good strides in therapy.

I found the chapter on Anger the least useful (after the first three! ). But, that is exactly the primal feeling which has always given me problems. After all, I had had the perfect mother, so how could I be angry with her? Even when those angry feelings arise I feel apologetic and shameful about them. I have apologized or "explained" away such feelings at group. Perhaps, my reactions to that chapter are telling me I should read it again, and then perhaps, once more!

Chapter Five is about using aides in therapy. Keeping a journal, engaging in artistic-type expressive activities, remembering and thinking about our dreams are some of the activities which can help us in uncovering our buried hurts. The rest of the book is about how repressed early needs bubble up into our everyday lives and often make us hurt (and sometimes, hurt others!). She explains how we defend against those early pains in the here and now. We often project those feelings unto others and often their "energies" are shunted into and intensify our sexual drives.

There is an entire chapter on Shame and how our other repressed feelings can become shame-bound. The author calls shame the "silent killer of the human spirit." The problem and origins of psychological Guilt also comprise a chapter. The following chapter discusses the almost universal bug-a-boo of neurotics -- Anxiety, Fear and Panic Attacks.

Explaining that this common triumvirate of suffering is really from a much earlier time of our lives, the author believes that these feelings are locked away not only in our unconscious mind but also as memory circuits in our bodies. She feels that this somatic replacement of the feeling helps us to disown it and therefore she exhorts us to pay attention to our body's aches and pains. That dedicated attention can help release them. (See my review of rehab physician John Sarno's The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the body, healing the pain).

Even the feelings of Powerlessness that we have as adults have an origin in earlier times. Unfortunately, as adults, attempts to resolve those unconscious traumas may turn us into becoming abusers or even to again re-experience the role of a victim. Life can feel too bland to those who were abused. For those, excitement and feeling alive comes with relationship chaos and then we might abuse those we love or else succumb to being in the familiar victim role once againe. The next chapter is entitled, Hurt, Regret and Grief followed by Loneliness and Numbness, Deadness, and Flatness.

Part III of the book is all about Unlocking Relationships. Those prevalent relationship problems are a direct result of neurosis and will begin to be resolved only when we start to feel our past hurts in regressions. The close interactions with loved ones will invariably trigger repressed memories of that first relationship we had with our parents, particularly our mother. The final three chapters deal with our Life Partner Relationships, Parent/ Child Relationships and Other Relationships.

I ordered Emotional Fitness from a Canadian bookstore, but hopefully the book will also become available in the United States. (See note below)

I can recommend, without reservation, that you read Emotional Fitness.


Janice Berger, M. Ed. is both a psychotherapist and lecturer on emotional health issues. She has hosted two television series on this topic. For the past 25 years she has practiced her Deep Emotional Processing Therapy at Janice Berger & Associates. Her practice is in Newmarket, Ontario.

Emotional Fitness is now available through Janice Berger's office. See
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