Be Open to Where People Really Are and Start From There

A Group Discussion of Experiences At Other Primal Centers

As there are so many people here who have been at other primal centers before coming to Denver, we decided to gather a small group together and discuss our experiences. It wouldn't be truthful to say we had no preconceptions going into this talk. Stories of bad experiences people have had in various primal settings circulate freely here. But we wanted to air the whole matter of how primal therapy is being practiced around the country and, if it is at times harmful to the patients, what is going wrong and how does it affect them. I have added a few notes to the transcript to make some things more readily understandable to people who have not been involved in primal therapy. --Ed.

FRIEDEMANN: We want to get through to what lies under the surface -- What is the spirit, what is the feeling people have for other people at different places? What can you get there as a patient or as a therapist?

MICHAEL: Yes, we don't want too much of the horror stories; you know, so-and-so did this to me there and so-and-so did this to me here, and then a nice summation from me saying "well, here everything goes beautifully" (laughter). That isn't it. . . . A rip-off can be so . . . devastating, especially when someone has just started therapy; it can get built into their pain and their structures as it did with me for 1 1/2 years. I guess that's one thing I'd like to talk about -- how these things get built into how you are able to feel your pain.

SCOTT: I had a therapist who had been in L.A. as a patient at the Primal Institute. I've been into a lot of feelings about the whole thing with her. It made me so angry. One of the big things that happened to me when I got off the medication was I felt all these crazies in my head, these patterns happening in my brain, and they're really early feelings, but I didn't know that at the time. You know a feeling just wasn't for me -- it was part of something she had to prove -- to have it: Like, "Gee," he said to me once, "I wish you'd have your birth feelings here; it would be so nice." And the way she said it was like, "Then I can really show that my center's really good and a safe place," and I knew it wasn't. I asked her about this feeling of the crazy patterns in my head and she said to me, "Use mind control," And I said, "What the fuck is that?" So she said, "Just think of something else."

MICHAEL: Yes, that's pretty inadequate, isn't it?

CATHY: I really have a problem talking in front of groups because when I was little everything that was important that should have been listened to wasn't. So whenever I try to talk, it puts me right back, so my heart's pounding. That group I was in before at B-- (Letters chosen at random and do not signify the actual initial letters of the centers being talked about) was totally experimental -- totally. Nobody really knew what they were doing -- though it gave me enough to start crying which I hadn't done in years.

Very soon after I was in that group, I knew, "uh-uh, this is not right, this is not good, this is not safe, I'm not going to do it." I just kept going on my own. I could have feelings with my husband or a friend. So many times during these years I got so close to dropping [into deeper feelings -- ed.] and I just didn't know how at all; I just didn't know how to let myself have it. And the first day I was here in Denver, the very first day, I dropped into what I was needing to have for years, all because my therapist just said, "How does your body feel? Say what you need to say. Let your body express the anger much as you can." All those things. They're such simple little things but they're so tremendous. So, you were making a joke before and saying how you don't want to portray all that out there as awful and this as wonderful, but to me it's just been everything I ever hoped for so that I could have my feelings -- (crying) all the weird things that happened before -- pushing on me so hard when all I needed was just a gentle little touch.

And then I just followed my sister's progress, and I thought, "well if she went to Janov's she'd really be okay," and I read all those books and articles, every little word, and then she went there and they didn't even let her have her feelings. She ended up in the hospital and they kept trying to make her say the things, "say, say. . . ." when it was nothing that could be said, so that she finally just stopped. Then when I came here and she heard what was happening here, and I started being able to really hear her -- what was going on inside her -- she came out of the same mother I came out of -- she has her own unique thing but a lot of similarity too -- so then I'd tell her what was going on here and then she started knowing, "oh my gosh," you know, so she just knew it didn't make sense to stay there any more.

FRIEDEMANN: The thing you said, that you were expected to be somewhere else already; that seems like a really important thing for any therapeutic concept -- just to be open to where people really are and start from there. You mentioned your sister having to say things, but there are no words at times, some people don't have the words, and some people only have the words and they don't have their body, the ability to feel what's going on in their body. I guess what we're trying to do here is not be in one area and one idea where we have to try to fit the patients in, but rather to try to be open to where every individual, every human being has to go for himself.

MICHAEL: Right, you shouldn't try to fit a person into a preconceived schema.

RICH: The most dangerous thing, the thing that really hurt me at A-- is that feelings about the therapists were denied. I hooked into them acting out their pain, and so there was no way for me to get to my early feelings.

JERRY: It was really happening?

RICH: It was really happening. What I have found in coming here, where there is the safety I need, is that I can now let go into these early feelings and not have to separate my pain from my therapist's. In A-- they reinforced what my parents did to me right down the line. . . . What I found happening was that I couldn't let my body go where it needed to go. I spent most of my time there with boxing gloves on, beating the shit out of the walls, literally fighting for my life, but keeping myself away from feeling the dumping that was done on me by the therapists. I did a lot of raging, a lot of screaming and then there were times when my body would drop and I'd be in incredible pain; but I couldn't have the feeling, I couldn't connect with what my body was doing. [The feeling was being expressed and felt, but he could not understand it or connect it to anything -- ed.]

FRIEDEMANN: Did you ever get that confirmed at all -- that something really was crazy in the present?

RICH: No, that just added to it and it's made it harder for me to separate the present from my past pain when I've gotten into those crazy places. I would start to say things about, "I feel you're doing this," and I'd be really terrified. And it would just come back to me from the, "That's your shit, that's your pain, tell your mommy and daddy," and in that real harsh tone; everything to keep it off of them. You know I felt there was no other place to go; I had borrowed the money and everything. What happened was I shut down totally on my feeling, like I did with my parents, of, "These people, my god, these people are really nuts." I tried to deny the feeling I had about my therapists by trying to take it back to my daddy, so I'd be a good boy for them by "connecting" it to daddy.

SCOTT: Yeah, I was burned, you know, at five different places, five different therapists -- not all in primal [some traditional psychiatric therapy, some mixed primal-gestalt, some straight primal -- ed.] - and it's like each time I would check into a hospital. Two of those times were direct outgrowths of my experiences at those places. I am way below a lot of those feelings which threw me into the hospital before, but I thought I was going crazy at the time. I didn't know I could go through those feelings. [He could not feel that intensity of pain and integrate those feelings in his life -- ed.]

MICHAEL: Why couldn't you feel it, why did you have to go into the hospital instead?

SCOTT: I knew it wasn't right. I just knew, just a feeling of, "If I go any further they won't know what I'm doing." There's just so many feelings about all that (crying). They did some awful things to me. One of the big things is that I'm terrified of suicide feelings, and I will just negate them, that I even have them, and when I went into them at this one place after I had gone off the medication, I was feeling that way all the time I was feeling crazy, but the trip was that it was crazy to say you were crazy. Here it's ok. There it was added "should," you shouldn't be crazy.

I hate to bring up horror stories, but I have to; I just gotta say this. This one guy, the head of this place at B--, was kicking me saying, "You wanna kill yourself, do it in Detroit, but don't do it here; go back to Detroit," or, "If you wanna do it, I'll give you the gun. Come on upstairs.". . Oh, God. . . (crying). . It just shut me down so much. It overloaded me and shut me down; I had to go back on the medication. After every time something like this happened there was a long space where I was just crazy -- not primal crazy, but crazy crazy, and there's a big difference, you know. After each time, I felt, "My God, what happened? Will I ever find a place that isn't like that?"

RICH: I'm just amazed. After having that your whole life as a child, and then, wham, five times in a row. . . you know, how did you get here, how were you able to have the hope?

SCOTT: (crying) I knew I was right, you know, and I knew they were wrong. I was so determined not to be taken in again -- I just knew. One thing I remember Vivian Janov said in one of those books, and it was very real. She said, "When you hear the truth you know it." And that's all I can say. . . We know, we got here, so we know something instinctively.

FRIEDEMANN: The problem is, too, that as children we always had to adjust to the craziness of the big people in order to survive. And what you are talking about fits the same pattern -- you have to twist yourself to fit what they expect. And, like you say, somewhere you know what's true and what's not true, and we're so used to denying that.

RICH: Now for me to say something straight to a therapist in the present and not try to drop [take the feeling back to something from his past --ed.] is so important, because I know I will get to the underlying feeling. But if I can say whatever it is to the therapist right now and get it straight. . . .

MARY: I've done that. I've made it a point to very calmly state precisely what my business is (laughter), to state, "So-and-so did this; it's not my feeling, they did it. Now here's my feeling." That's directly a result of where I was doing therapy before when I'd say something and they'd say, "What do you want, a perfect therapist?"

MICHAEL (to Mary): I remember how much you used to talk and have your feelings in post-group about your interactions with the therapists there. It seems you've been through a lot of that. The thing I'm remembering is you say, "If the therapist doesn't listen to you, keep saying it, keep saying it."

MARY: Yes. The basic, general, overpowering feeling of the center here is that whatever it is, say it and do it, cause it's right, and if it isn't right, you find out.

FRIEDEMANN: Have you ever run up against therapists having a preformed concept of what is going on with you?

MARY: You mean has that ever happened to me here?


MARY: Constantly, you know therapists have frequently said, "I think this is what's going on with you. I think you need to do this." So I blasted them for six months in post-group, and sometimes they were right and sometimes they were 100% wrong. But me, I'm loud; I've got a big mouth. But the people who can't come up and say that so easily are the ones who need somebody to pull them out to make it safe -- the whole center -- the whole atmosphere. As long as nobody's telling me, "you're wrong, you're wrong to feel that, it's all your feeling," then I can live with that. . . .

There's a good chance that not just a therapist but another patient is in a similar place, and you can pick it up -- "Well wait, that happened to me, that same thing." And if it's safe at the center to say, "Hey, that happened to me, too," that works it out, too. You know, one person might stand up and say, "Such-and -such happened to me." Well, you know C-- [another therapist] was a good example. I mean one person got the nerve to say, "This happened to me," and somebody else said, "Me too," and then someone else over here. It went on and on, and it couldn't be ignored. It was okay to keep saying it, and when it keeps getting said you can pretty well bet it's not limited to one person's craziness, so it works out. [He was asked to leave the staff - ed.]

MICHAEL (to Peter): You went to so many different places, why did you keep on going?

PETER: Because each succeeding place didn't feel right, it just felt. . .I could'nt have said what felt to me my natural way of dealing with feelings.

MICHAEL: You didn't feel like giving up on primal therapy?

PETER: No, no, but I didn't have the safety to say whatever I needed to say and track it down to wherever it went when it came to anger and bitchy craziness, which is important for me. A separate point, but kind of related to that is that these people at the other centers really didn't understand the importance of using, like in post-group, present triggers -- feelings in the present -- as a way to get into yourself -- to me that's very important here.

FRIEDEMANN: How was therapy handled at those places?

PETER: Mainly, you know, "Say it to your mommy or daddy."

SCOTT: Yes. . . . like I just feel when I go into a room here, if I hit what's on the surface and just keep dropping it down, that's a way in -- and that mommy and daddy feelings might be way down here, but I need to go through all these stages first. Otherwise, they are robbing me of all these subtle feelings on the way down.

FRIEDEMANN: It seems only logical to say that our present life is so much determined by our feelings that we use our present life to get to those feelings.

MICHAEL: Yes, and a therapist may not be able to give a patient the help he needs to use his present life feelings if that therapist can only hear the words the patient is using and isn't sensitive to what's going on below that level. So if you get a therapist who can only respond to words, and your feeling inside is incoherent but has some angry words along with it, then no matter how many times he encourages you to go round and around with it, you're not really going to be able to have the feeling. When I started therapy in D--, with the large groups, there was automatically something of a premium placed, for me at any rate, on fitting the present feeling into a painful situation of the past, whether or not I could actually feel a true relation between the two. It didn't matter how disconnected it was. Part of it was that there wasn't enough knowledge or safety coming from them to have that incoherent anger and rage or whatever, just in my body.

FRIEDEMANN: I've only been to this place, but it seems what we call experience here is the importance of body feelings [precisely what one's body is feeling -- ed.]

PETER: The two places I was talking of put more emphasis on words; and like, if you could also cry, then they were happy.

MARY: Breathe and Scream! (laughter).

FRIEDEMANN: To me, it is a natural thing, when I look back on my therapy, that I first would talk about the things that happened yesterday and just go slowly back, and at some point my body would take over. Where did that leave you when you couldn't go as much as you needed into your body?

JERRY: I can remember when I started therapy at E-- having this one really purely physical feeling shake loose and feeling like it was in my stomach. And yet now when I look back on how little I could go with those kinds of feelings, I can see how my awareness of what's going on in my body is completely different. You know, I've seen some people come here who are just in their bodies, period, and I'm not like that. My pain has shoved me way up in my head, and the guy that I did therapy with at E-- had no awareness of how to help me take the pain down. So when I would get to a place where I could drop into my body, nothing happened. And the difference for me here is being around people whose bodies are connected to their pain. If a person has a lot of pain like I do, with a lot of structures in the way that he thinks, if that person doesn't come across somebody else whose body is connected and who has a real deep knowledge of himself, then nothing happens. But if he does, it automatically starts to happen.

MARY: I had the opposite happen -- I had been wiped out for three years before I started therapy. I was addicted to codeine and went off it the weekend I came out to Colorado to start therapy, so I was 100% in my body [in physical pain -- ed.] and couldn't get out of the damn thing -- I'd have done anything to get out of it. The therapists at C-- repeatedly denied my body, like it wasn't acceptable to be where I was when staring therapy. You weren't supposed to be there until after you'd been in therapy three months -- one of those brilliant things. I was into very early feelings but they were coming out of me in the third line [being acted upon and acted out in her present life -- ed.] Everything was now; I never related to when I was an infant or anything, but the whole feeling was right there. The therapists there were trying to get me to make sense out of what I was saying when it made no head sense at all. Plus they denied me my present, my real present. I wasn't supposed to have feelings about being separated from Bryan [her son - ed.]. He was still in St Louis and I was supposed to feel what caused me to have feelings about being separated from him. So they wanted me to have a present out of my past and a past out of my present. And it was simply because they weren't together enough to let people be where they were at, whether that was being totally shut off and working a step at a time to open up, or being totally wiped out and working to shut off in order to start feeling something real. . . .

. . .Yeah, I've thought that I wouldn't do well out there (L.A>) because I never made connections. I still haven't had any connections. I cannot sit down to this day and say that such-and-such happened so therefore this happened -- none of it has made any sense like that. It's just like all of a sudden I stop and think, "Hey, wow, I'm not feeling this way any more." I've grown two inches. There's nothing there to say why -- it just happened.

MICHAEL: And the difference in the connectedness of your body as you talk and as you come across to me over two years ago is enormous. Whether or not you have little boxes where you put connections, there is a connectedness about you now which simply wasn't there before.

JERRY: The guy at E--, whose group I was in, read Janov's book, was very taken with it, and tried to direct what he was doing by grabbing everything with his head. And that's what I did. . . .

We used to just come in and start talking about what was happening in the present. There was a sort of regular progression, and at some point this guy, who was a psychiatrist and very straight actually -- you could say anything you wanted to him -- at some point he would say, "Does that bring any pictures for you, does that remind you of anything?"

Then we would go down all the steps, and afterwards we would sit up and talk about what happened. He was very strong about trying to make you relate the different places, like where you had started with the feeling and where the feeling went. The stuff he did like that was right for certain kinds of feelings. And as long as what was happening fit into what he was doing, it was fine. For me that worked for a long, long time. but there were just whole areas I didn't get into. There were times when if he had known what he was doing from how things worked inside himself instead of from reading the book and understanding, which he was very good at, there would have been other areas opened up for us to go into. [The therapist could not help patients feel early feelings which he himself was defending against in his own life -- ed.]

Another thing about him was that he was extremely verbal, just like me. It all had to be easily verbalized; there was never any inkling of working into a place where you would feel without being able to say anything about it. So the way we understood the connections was by being able to talk about them in a rational, logical way. And for me, I know now, the kinds of things that happened to me being born didn't fit into anything that's rational or logical.

FRIEDEMANN: There is also a phenomenon which I've seen in myself and others, that I would pick certain therapists when I got into certain feelings, even when I was not aware where the feeling was going yet. Often I ask myself now why a particular patient in a particular space wants to work with me. Even sometimes before I know I'm in that space the patient still picks up that safety from me. And that is the role of what the therapist can be, I think.

JERRY: I remember hearing from someone when the people from L.A. first got here that Janov's idea was to refine the therapy to a point at which any therapist could work with any patient at any time -- period. That's real strange to me. It's so obvious that you can come to group sometimes and want a particular therapist, just knowing it's right.

MARY (to Jerry): You said something before about the guy you were with being together, and that what he did was right in a way, but that you just did the therapy backwards. You have to be little [able to feel early feelings -- ed.] before you can be big and together. You've got to be together to run a center, but you can't just be together. You've got to be apart and go back together. To me, it all comes down to whether the therapists can really trust the patients to know where they're at. Because then the therapists are not walking around thinking. "Aha! You're into anger now," but have the idea of trying to see what is happening to you.

PETER: I'd like to point out that almost everything that's being talked about has to do with safety. Whether it's somebody trying to fit you into categories on the one hand, or having bodies that have been there [a person who has felt early feelings in a deep, connected way -- ed.], or any number of these things, what they're saying is that you need to have safety to feel who you are, to feel your pain.

What it really comes down to is that all the other places I've been to are just not safe compared with the center here. At one place they really had strict rules about what had to be done, like a very, very firm rule about being in isolation during your intensive. And there was an emphasis on analyzing your whole behavior and looking for all the ways you can act out and stopping them, trying to get people to live apart to feel their aloneness, and absolutely no smoking, absolutely no drinking, just very authoritarian, like they were standing over you with a whip saying, "You feel your pain."

RICH: The feeling I got from a similar set-up was just this tremendous push out of whenever my therapist's pain was (he had been at L.A. for six months and was "well"), to get his patients into pain. There was a constant push. He'd nail everybody in the group, you know, "What have you been doing? Did you fuck so-and-so to get into feelings?" It seemed to be a thing he was doing to get whatever sense of self he needed by having his patients in pain.

JERRY: That's another thing about trying to see every place you were acting out and then stopping it. That whole idea, which I think I used to get from Janov's books, that you have to do something to yourself to get to your pain just isn't true. You don't have to twist anything. . . .You don't need any extra triggers to get into feelings. My perception was that I had to create situations which would trigger me into feelings. Now my idea is that you don't need any extraneous stuff. It's all in there.

MICHAEL: There are people who can use triggers -- people who are shut down and need something to help open them up, like seeing a scary film.

JERRY: That's different from doing something to yourself, kind of twisting yourself around.

RICH: My therapist had a thing about breaking couples up, whether they were married or living together, because it was an obvious mommy-daddy trip. He would really push them to fuck other people, whether it was people of the same sex or people of the opposite sex. Everybody, practically everybody, was told during their intensive to go to a gay bar, to pick someone up to get to fag feelings, because everybody, everybody has fag feelings -- this kind of thing was happening.

MICHAEL: That just puts so much craziness and overload on top of what was already there.

NANCY: . . .I was fortunate not to let myself open up very much there [in A--], I think because I was in a couples situation rather than a single person. We saw how crazy it was faster because they were trying to break us up all the time. They put this trip on us where they gave us people's phone numbers -- me men and him women -- and told us to call them up and said, "If you don't, he going to do it first and you're going to end up doing it for revenge."

MARY: At the place in C-- you were supposed to facilitate each other's getting into feelings. So one of the patients was my therapist and I was his. And it became a thing where you were supposed to help your fellow patient get into feelings, so if you didn't do it you didn't do what you were supposed to have done. And it was really crazy because my facilitator -- and we were both really in a lot of pain -- he was the most unsafe person in the whole world for me because he had fantasies of doing things that fit in with that that had happened to me. He would voice his fantasies in the encounter group or post-groups, and then he would sit for me. It is like I not only was feeling about something from my life, but there was someone beside me who was thinking about something very similar -- which made it dangerous for me to stay with my feeling. He was under pressure to get me into feelings, which put him into doing things to me to get me into those feelings. It just got crazier and crazier and crazier. . . having somebody set up to be your therapist and that person sitting down and saying, "Aha, this is where she's at. I think I'll do this -- kerboom!"

There were a lot of times when I was taken out of feelings; that was minor. I don't even consider that an evil thing, though it was repeated and repeated. The evil things to me happened when I was into a feeling and he would do something to get me more into the feeling. I can't even describe what it did to me because I was so into the feeling and it was so real at the time that I could hardly convince myself that it wasn't actually happening to me. Any place that has patients working with people on a therapist basis -- you couldn't convince me that there could be anything good about the place [italics mine -- ed.]

JERRY: All these last things that have been said sound like when all these trips were laid on people trying to get to their original feelings, it just recreated the same thing that happened when we couldn't feel it all to begin with. . . .That's so dangerous. . . .it just recreates the situation where originally it wasn't safe to feel even though it's not the same amount of pain in relationship to the size of the body. . . . It comes back to, for most people, that you have to have somebody whose body has been there.

SCOTT: You can be getting killed in those places and not even know it. You get small, and as soon as you get small a little bit they can say things to you and you'll eat it up because . . .

RICH: You need them.

NANCY: It was surprising people didn't commit suicide, because there were patients who were really, really in bad shape and couldn't drop into their feelings because it wasn't safe enough. And the therapists would actually tell them, "I'm afraid that you're too crazy; there's no help for you."

RICH: Yes, they called them emotional cripples: "You're an emotional cripple."

NANCY: And so they would leave there in that suicidal state believing the therapists that there was no help for them, that they were beyond help. . . . What happened to me really hurt -- a therapist actually walked out on me during my intensive. He left after about fifteen minutes and said, "Listen, I'm just wasting my time today." He thought that what he did was good; he figured it would trigger my anger at being left. But who was he to force that feeling on me?

RICH: Yes, the whole atmosphere was one of dumping [trying to make others hurt for the pain of one's own life - ed.].

MARY: Our therapists were just little kids. One of them was down the whole time while she was supposed to be being a therapist, and she did an enormous amount of drugs the whole time, too -- continuously. There was no separation of patients and therapists. Here there's no separation either, although you seldom see therapists and patients hanging out together. The separation feels like a very natural thing. The therapists feel solid and real, and you can tell when there're two people sitting together who is the patient and who is the therapist. Where I was, it was a toss-up.

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