By John A. Speyrer

Even though some primal therapy enthusiasts consider the therapy to be one of the most important psychotherapy innovations of the twentieth century, it nonetheless has many detractors. Some believe that the therapy is nothing new - simply re-discovered early Freud -- which did not work then, and does not work now.

A wag, who at least backhandedly complimented primal, lamented that "it takes ten times as long to get half as far as you thought you would get." Alas, if only this was true. The truth is that is many cases, it can take even longer than that!

During the early "honeymoon" phase of the therapy, when insights are flooding one's mind and body symptoms dropping away, it gives much satisfaction to have finally begun the process of releasing our unfelt pain whose presence has been hidden from us during all of our life. One becomes very optimistic and elated, and believes that one's complete "cure" is just a few months away.

But the progress of the primal process does not proceed in a linear way. For example, if it would take 6 years to resolve one's neurosis, at the end of the third year one would not necessarily feel a fifty percent improvement in symptoms. Even at the theoretical end of the therapy, when one is the ninety percent "finished." one's suffering may be at the maximal range. And yes, at times, you can even feel worse than you did before you began primaling many years earlier.

Yet, it remains true that some psychosomatic conditions can be cured or their symptoms greatly alleviated in a relatively short period of time - in just a few months - while other symptoms and neurotic behaviors can stubbornly persist for decades. My guess is that what one gets from primaling depends on the relationship between the severity of the symptom, its frequency and whether the symptom has the root of its causes in early first line trauma which sometimes might not be accessed until relatively late in the therapy process.

Arthur Janov has written that after one begins primaling a new option presents itself: feeling one's pain in primals rather than suffering as before. But, after the primals begin, can a person simply decide to feel the feeling which is pushing the symptom rather than suffering? It is true that, in theory, a person might no longer have to engage in acting out behavior or suffer the psychosomatic symptom, but instead feel the repressed feeling pushing the symptom/behavior.

However, exercising that theoretical option at times can be difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes, the primal pain reveals itself as the symptom and sometimes in the form of a primal. One cannot always decide to feel as the urge to act out can be overwhelming or one's body "decides" to suffer rather than to allow the primal material to connect. It can be a miserable time for the primal patient, for not only does he suffer before being able to connect to a primal feeling, but he now finds it very difficult to use his newly found insight to change his behavior even when he recognizes it as neurotic. It can be a time of suffering, frustration and disappointment.

But there are things one can do during the uncomfortable, and at times agonizing, period of waiting for the feeling to connect. The resolution of the suffering into a primal feeling can often be accomplished by simply biding one's time and waiting for connection, but in the case of new material, it can often mean hours or even days and sometimes weeks of suffering before the material ripens sufficiently to be accessed. And if the person had previously found an outlet in alcohol or drugs, waiting can be particularly distressful.

Even old material, which one has felt many times before, can sometimes be difficult to entice to connection. It is at this time when the exercises of Stettbacher, Jenson and others can help to reduce this time of suffering. It is also the time when the use of a primal therapist or an "enlightened witness" or "buddy" becomes useful. The primal might resist our solo efforts to cajole it out of hiding but the presence of another person might be all that is needed.

We all develop our own techniques for feeling our pain. Some might use music, a small amount of alcohol, make an "emergency" appointment with a regression therapist or simply grit our teeth and wait. It is this particular primal style, which we originally used during our early days of primaling may be carried forward and used in the future as we continue to confront and resolving our repressed pain.

During the early stages of the therapy, after initial defenses have been lowered, it is easy to primal and insights flood the new primaler to an extent greater than will occur in the future. It is during this phase that the new primaler may begin to make plans for his new life since he expects the rate of progress to continue at that initial rate and that he will soon be well.

But he will soon discover that these plans may have to be placed on hold, as newer more traumatic material (oftentimes birth trauma) surges forth. It sometimes seems, to the primal patient, that much of the previous gains of the earlier period were only temporary.

In that early honeymoon phase of the therapy, after a primal connection, one is left feeling elated and refreshed. As one continues the primal process, the quality of these good feelings is lowered as ones defenses are also lowered. The problem is temporary, but the primaler often becomes less sociable and begins to feel far too open and far too sensitive.

Some have criticized primal therapy because it seems to be more successful with those who need it the least! Thus, well functioning, employed neurotics with a minimum of behavioral/psychosomatic symptoms do best in the therapy. However, the fact that people with more pain are more difficult to cure is consistent with primal theory.

One of my chief complaints about the therapy is that the material which becomes ripe and ready to be accessed is beyond conscious control. I never have been able to choose what I'm going to "work on." I always must connect to the next feeling in line because that is what comes up. Thus, there can be important problems which need to be resolved but which I have no inkling of their existence.

It has been suggested by many that having deep personal relationships will help in bringing up new material. This is true. It is also recommended that one should change behavior and begin doing the very thing which one neurotically fears. True again! But it also true that important material which is not being triggered by these relationships and changed behaviors can remain hidden and thus still exert continual force on symptoms and act outs.

For example, even after two decades of primaling I had no inkling that I had almost died while being born. My only symptom relating to this trauma had been mild hypochrondria. It was not until I had a possible medical diagnosis of a fatal disease that "dying in the birth canal" feelings became triggered. It is possible that this important trauma would never have been felt if I had not had that particular medical diagnosis. And important issues in my present life relating to this important trauma may never be resolved. It is quite possible that the resolution of my fear of death and dying and of hypochrondria may take longer to resolve than the span of my life which remains!

You cannot always "trust your body." Your body and unconscious mind often have agendas other than your ultimate well being. Their agenda is to keep the repressed material hidden. Oftentimes, this hidden memory material is not released without a battle!

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In The Success and Failure of Primal Therapy, Swedish Psychologist Tomas Videgard, Ph.D. writes that those primal patients who have not had the support and love from at least one parent do very poorly in primal therapy. All in all, he writes ". . . that 40% of the primal patients achieve a satisfactory result within a 15 to 25 months. . ." period. This rate, he believes, is no better than any other types of conventional therapy, Videgard believes that primal is not the unique therapy some believe it to be.

I believe that if I had been in Dr. Videgard's survey when I completed 25 months of self-primaling, I too would have not been included in the list of successful patients, since at that time, I still had frequent anxiety and insomnia. So, from a scientific viewpoint, my enthusiasm for the therapy which was able to remove my main complaint of chronic stomach pains, (after the failure of three other therapies) would not have counted for much since I still had those other persisting problems.

Dr Videgard wrote that none of the primal patients surveyed considered themselves as cured. Perhaps this might be that the patient, with his new knowledgeable insight keeps pushing forward the point of what he knows is the "cure." To other primal people, "being cured" is an arrogant assertion since the tentacles of pain extend very deeply into one's life and can never be completely resolved.

Furthermore, in Videgard's study, "a great majority of the patients found the PT slower and much more difficult than expected." (p. 273) and, found, as mentioned previously that "those patients whose childhood had been characterized by a lack of emotional contact with both parents seem to have small chances of benefiting from primal therapy." (p. 282) He further contends that almost all prepsychotics and borderline cases fail to be helped in primal therapy. My question is, did those patients feel first line (birth) pain?

Perhaps a period of from 15 to 25 months is insufficient time to gauge the results of primal therapy, except for those with the mildest of neuroses. At the end of 25 months, many have not yet even begun to re-live their most severe first line traumas. In fact, since severe pre- and peri-natal trauma is so ubiquitous in neurosis, I am surprised that 40% have done well in the therapy after this time.

Videgard feels that, "(had) there been 90 - 98% or even an 80% success rate, wouldn't there be Janovian Primal Institutes all over the place now?" He believes that primal is about as successful as other forms of therapy and wrote that about twenty-one percent of the subjects of his study were not able to primal at all.

Information about Videgard's study was from Issue No 8, June, 1988, entitled, A New Look at Primal Therapy which appeared in Aesthema, a journal of the International Primal Association