Past Reality Integration Therapy

". . . we deliberately expose ourselves to that which we would
most like to avoid, in order to gain access to the feelings
that are hidden behind our avoidance."
--Ingeborg Bosch in Rediscovering The True Self

Ingeborg Bosch, a Dutch psychologist, has developed Past Reality Integration (PRI) therapy. In her self-help book Rediscovering The True Self, she describes this therapy in detail. The English edition may be ordered through the author's website, Past Reality Integration.

She wrote Appendix 8 (which can be found below the Prologue) for the 2nd revised edition of her book in order to correct some of the misunderstandings about Past Reality Integration therapy. PRI therapy stresses the importance and necessity of combining feeling and cognition and behavior for healing.

Bosch developed PRI out of Jean Jenson's concept of Primal therapy (See book review of Jenson's Reclaiming Your Life). Feeling old pain is an important part of Past Reintegration Therapy. However, in PRI therapy, feeling is only one of three pillars upon which PRI theory rests. The focus of PRI, therefore, has clearly shifted away from the idea that one needs only to feel one's early pain in order to heal.

-- John A. Speyrer, Webmeister, The Primal Psychotherapy Page


[from Rediscovering the True Self - a book by Ingeborg Bosch]

Past Reality Integration Therapy Summarized

Before reading in detail about the theoretical concepts on which Past Reality Integration (PRI) therapy is based, it might be helpful to have a general overview first. Hopefully this will make it easier to understand the theory that is discussed in the next few chapters.

Past Reality Integration (PRI) therapy is based on the idea that we all have a divided consciousness: one part of our consciousness sees the world through the eyes of the child we once were, and feels accordingly. The other part of our consciousness sees the world through the eyes of the adult we now are. Because of this division, we perceive and experience things quite differently, depending on which part of our consciousness we are accessing. For example, one moment we can feel secure, 'on top of things' and competent, and the next moment we might feel depressed, angry, insecure, guilty, etc.

Maybe you recognize this, often sudden, change in the way you feel about yourself and your life. Normally nothing extraordinary occurs to cause such a shift, so we can't make sense out of the change in the way we feel.

On an unconscious level, however, something does happen. What happens is that we are confronted with something, usually a person or a situation, that reminds us, without us being aware of it, of something in our past. Actually it reminds us of something in our past that we had to repress when we were children. This unconscious remembering is what causes a shift from Adult Consciousness to Childhood Consciousness.

PRI therapy is based on the idea that children do not receive what they need. Children need more than food, clothing and shelter, they also need physical and emotional safety, respect for their own identity, loving physical and emotional attention, support, encouragement and warmth. A child needs all these things to become a healthy functioning adult. However, children often grow up with caregivers who are not able to meet all these needs. Facing the truth that some or many of these needs will never be met is too threatening for the child, because her survival depends on her needs being met. In order to survive childhood, most of us had to repress the truth that some of our survival needs would never be met. We could not feel the emotional impact this had on us, and we had to deny the truth of the situation.

There are three basic ways to deny the fact that some or most of our childhood needs will never be met*:

  1. We think that we can get our needs met if only we try harder to do or be what we think our parents want us to do or be. This is called False Hope (FH).

  2. We tell ourselves that we can do without the fulfillment of these needs: "It's ok that my mother punishes me so harshly, I can tolerate it." This is called False Power - denial of needs (FP - dn). Or we get angry with someone else, blaming them. This is called False Power - anger (FP - a).

  3. We blame ourselves: "My father didn't pay much attention to me, I was a stupid child." This is called the Primary Defense (PD).

This way of repressing and denying the truth about our childhood causes our consciousness to divide into the two parts described above. One part that we have conscious access to (which later develops into what we call the Adult Consciousness) and one part that we hide from ourselves and can't access consciously, but which contains the truth about our childhood (which later develops into what we call Childhood Consciousness). For the child we were, this was a very effective survival strategy. It saved us from feeling the pain of the devastating truth that our parents did not fulfill our needs.

The trouble starts when, as adults, we encounter a Symbol (a person or situation that reminds us of the past, while we are not aware of this). Without realizing why, we suddenly experience feelings that we can't understand - we feel unappreciated, misunderstood, depressed, insecure, guilty, etc. We might feel a strong irritation or deep anger that is out of proportion to the situation. All these things signal that we have been triggered into a consciousness shift; from Adult Consciousness (AC) into Childhood Consciousness (CC).

Past Reality Integration (PRI) therapy is aimed at helping the client regain an undivided consciousness. If our consciousness is undivided we won't experience the pain that the child we were had to repress and deny, over and over again, as if it is happening now. PRI therapy works towards this goal by consciously accessing and feeling the old childhood pain.

This is a painful process, but uncovering the truth about the past makes it possible to integrate the old, childhood pain, into our Adult Consciousness (AC). When old, childhood pain is uncovered, felt and integrated, eventually less and less pain will have to be Repressed and Denied, and ultimately the division in consciousness will come to an end. The pain becomes a scar instead of the open wound it is as long as it is repressed and denied in Childhood Consciousness (CC). The old, childhood pain doesn't hurt anymore, it is just a memory. An unpleasant one, but a memory nevertheless. This makes it possible to achieve a sense of inner autonomy, because contact with the True Self will now be restored.

Engaging in PRI therapy means actively feeling any old pain that surfaces when we confront a Symbol. Normally, feeling pain is not something we like to do. In this case it is old, unfelt pain, which can only be resolved by admitting and feeling it. In this respect it is helpful not to be consoled. Consolation, no matter how well intended, will take you out of your feeling and away from integration. There is no need to worry, the feelings will subside by themselves.

PRI therapy also encourages clients to change those behaviors (often ingrained and incorrectly considered to be part of one's nature and personality) that support the denial of the past reality. As explained earlier, such behaviors are called defense mechanisms because they defend us from feeling the old pain. Changing those behaviors - consciously not employing our defense mechanisms - often feels counterintuitive and unsafe, but it is a powerful tool in the healing process aimed at creating an undivided consciousness. Use of this tool can create unexpectedly different behaviors that might not be pleasing to friends, family, or co-workers. Imagine a woman who tries to accommodate her husband in as many ways as possible in the hope of getting love and attention, which never comes. This is an example of False Hope (FH). The woman will need to stop doing anything related to that specific goal of accommodating her husband. This will be very difficult for her and, quite likely, for him too.

Next imagine a man who either reacts angrily or remains totally untouched by a disturbing event (FP - dn), such as being passed over for a promotion he had expected. This is an example of the defense mechanism we call False Power (FP - dn). The "cool" behavior will have to be turned around into behavior that admits such things are painful. This man will have to acknowledge his hurt instead of pretending that "it's no big deal." Such behavior might come as quite a surprise to the people around him because they are accustomed to him being "strong" or stoic.

Now imagine a man who blames himself for events in his life that are not his doing. If someone runs into his car while it is parked in a parking lot, for example, he will feel dreadful about having parked in that particular spot, cursing at himself for being so careless. "If only I would have . . ., but I am too clumsy" is a thought that he has often. This is an example of the defense mechanism that we call the Primary Defense (PD). It consists of blaming ourselves, feeling worthless, meaningless, bad, etc. The Primary Defense has to be countered by admitting that something painful was done to us by someone else. Not because something is wrong with us, that we deserve the treatment, or that we elicited it. This man who is always quick to take the blame will need to stop doing so. Again, this might be quite surprising to those who know him. It could be unpleasant, too, in the case that others find it convenient to blame him, and they exploit his willingness to accept the blame.

In summary, Past Reality Integration therapy is aimed at helping the client work towards an undivided consciousness in order to be free from childhood pain, which surfaces when a Symbol is confronted. To that end, PRI therapy, will encourage the client to:

  1. access and feel pain, while knowing it is about the past, not the present, and

  2. act oppositely from what has become habitual in many cases, realizing that these behaviors are defense mechanisms that are no longer needed in the present.
N.B. we can only apply PRI successfully when we have (access to) an Adult Consciousness and are capable of providing for our basic survival needs. When these prerequisites cannot be met, e.g. when someone is permanently dependent on caretakers as a result of being mentally challenged, PRI should be discouraged. In those situations a therapy that helps develop and supports coping-strategies is more useful.

Please read Appendix 8 (below), in which a graphical representation of the structure of PRI is presented. Hopefully this Appendix will aid to a further understanding of how PRI is constructed.

*    *    *    * 

Appendix 8

The Structure of Past Reality Integration Therapy

PRI is based on three pillars: cognition, behavior and emotion and on the ultimate integration of these three pillars into one, during PRI's last phase: the so-called Dual-Consciousness. Attaching more or less importance to any of these three pillars amounts to an incorrect interpretation of PRI. Such a misunderstanding will effect our healing process in an unfavorable way. The content and application of these cognitive, behavioral and emotional elements of PRI is very specifically defined and unique to PRI and should not be taken to be an eclectic combination of the existing Cognitive, Behavior and Regression therapies.

Putting too much of an emphasis on feeling the old pain while not paying enough attention to daily self-observation and the reversing of defenses in the here and now is not effective. This holds true also for a one-sided focus on PRI's cognitive aspects: understanding and recognizing the mechanisms at work, but not reversing defenses nor feeling the pain sufficiently. Lastly, an emphasis on reversing defenses, without sufficiently recognizing and accessing old pain, also isn't a useful application of PRI.

1. Self-observation (cognition)
Meticulous self-observation is the foundation of PRI and never ends. In that sense PRI is not so much a method, as it is a way of life. By observing ourselves very closely we first learn to recognize when we are behaving defensively. Then sooner and sooner it will become clear to us which Symbol activated our defenses. We learn to distinguish the Adult Consciousness from the Child Consciousness and our defenses, and we are aware whether feelings are caused in the here and now or whether they are old. This phase mainly entails being engaged in a cognitive way.

2. Defense Reversal (behavior)
After we have developed a certain skill in observing ourselves and we are fairly able to recognize our defenses, we can start reversing our defenses every time they are activated. Just as is the case with phase one, this phase continues as long as is necessary. That means that as long as we keep on behaving defensively, the need remains to reverse our defenses. Here too it is more accurate to speak of a way of life, than of a temporary medicine. This PRI phase entails a very active engagement with our concrete everyday behavior. In some situations this might lead to applying so-called 'exposure.' This means that we deliberately expose ourselves to that which we would most like to avoid, in order to gain access to the feelings that are hidden behind our avoidance. As important, DR helps us to disidentify from our defenses: to truly acknowledge on a deep cognitive and feeling level that we don't need to defend ourselves anymore and that this idea is an illusion that keeps us imprisoned.

1. Regression (emotion)

After the cognitive and behavioral work in phase one and two, the emotional element receives specific attention especially through the use of regression.

    a. Regression with the help of a therapist

      Regression with the help of a therapist serves primarily as a way to learn to apply regression independently, not as a means to heal. This phase ends when the client knows how to apply regression by herself. Some people will need much time to achieve this skill, others might be able to apply regression independently with hardly any or even no help at all. For people who have a very hard time accessing their feelings (much FP-dn) DR work is often more effective than accessing old pain with the help of regression during the beginning phases of PRI.

    b. Regression Independently

      Applying the tool of regression independently is important in order to be able to connect old pain to its true cause: the old reality. In other words: regression serves as a way of gaining access to the repressed contents of the Childhood Consciousness with our Adult Consciousness, in order to facilitate integration of the old pain and the old reality which caused it, into AC. This phase in principle has an end. When we are aware of what the old repressed reality looked like in general and we know (on an emotional level) what that would have felt like, it is not necessary anymore to experience the same old pain over and over again every time a Symbol is confronted. When this stage has been reached regression remains of importance only in those situations in which a Symbol causes a very strong (over or under) reaction, which makes it impossible to apply phase four: Dual-Consciousness. Or when we are confronted with a new Symbol and a pain that we haven't previously accessed and connected to the old reality.

      Experiencing regressions can also be considered as a form of 'exposure,' just as is frequently the case with Defense Reversal. After all, during regression we expose ourselves deliberately to old situations and feelings that we would rather not undergo.

1. Dual-Consciousness (cognition, behavior, emotion)
    Dual-Consciousness refers to PRI's last phase in which we are able to:

    - notice when we are Symbolizing (we can feel old pain come up and identify it as such), - know what the Symbol is,

    - know exactly what the pain is that the Symbol brings up and which old reality it is connected to. For example: this is how the child I was felt when so and so did or didn't do such and such,

    - allow the pain to be in our body without suppressing/defending against it (as we did before PRI therapy) or increasing it(as during Regression) until it subsides by itself, while we stay connected to the present reality and act based not on our defenses but on our adult consciousness.

    In this fourth phase of PRI, the Dual-Consciousness, PRI's three pillars - cognition, behavior, emotion - integrate into one.

    This phase ends in theory when all our defenses have been dismantled, nothing works as Symbol anymore, we have integrated all old pain and we are continuously and permanently in to our Adult Consciousness, completely in touch with the here and now, from an undivided consciousness … This is a goal that most of us might spend a lifetime (or more…) on before reaching it! However, do not let yourself be discouraged, because no matter how far removed this final phase may be, every step on the path there is very worthwhile because it will influence our lives and the lives of our loved ones in such a valuable way.

    The following movement will develop during a successful PRI process:

      - from 'Unconsciously being Burdened': We find many problems on our life's path, but are quite unable to understand or succesfully deal with them, to

      - 'Consciously Being': self-observation provides us with the recognition of and insight into our emotional problems, to

      - 'Consciously being Burdened': as a result of Defense Reversal and opening up to old pain in regression (so called 'exposure') to

      - 'Consciously being Unburdened': the relief we experience in the state of Dual-Consciousness, when we are able to function in the here and now from an Adult Consciousness, without fighting to keep up our defenses with which we had erroneously identified, because we now know that old pain does not need to be fended off.

      - 'Unconsciously being Unburdened' More and more areas of our life will become free from the influence of our past. A freedom which often is so complete that it becomes unconscious.

    When we are able to experience the Present for what it truly is, it is usually surprisingly unburdened.

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Ingeborg Bosch