A short review of our experience with other primal centers and our own development in the past two or three years will perhaps clarify what we believe have become legitimate concerns in evolving a more effective primal therapy without sacrificing the unquestioned benefits of what may be appropriately called radical primal therapy, i.e. that type of primal therapy practiced by centers which feel as discussed in detail below.
In practice, if not in expressed theory, the emphasis in radical primal therapy is almost totally on early trauma. Re- experiencing birth and pre-birth painful feelings becomes the sine qua non of therapy. Little time is allotted to the verbal, and intellectual integration of these experiences. Second line (see definition later) experiences are relegated a position of secondary importance. The relationship of an of these experiences to present life is often neglected. In effect, clients are frequently regressed to infantile states and left there unaided in their attempts to make these experiences work in their adult lives. A frequent attitude is " I shall take time out from my life until I am healed, then return to society an effective, defense-free, functioning individual."
Although the benefits of this radical but limited approach are dramatic for many, it leaves many others lost and confused. I believe this type of experience denies the value of most other aspects of a proven positive therapeutic experience, i.e. the healthy side of defenses, the value of intellectual functioning, and the need in everyone to have an organized internal ego structure; not defensive to, but facilitating to function. (There are others but space limits their mention here.)
What I now call "symbiotic therapy" often becomes the ideal. Briefly, in symbiotic therapy, the therapist is assumed to be able to enter into the earliest emotional level of the client, usually a body level, and give unlimited permission for the patient to experience with the therapist his earliest traumas. A therapist who is able and willing to give up dealing with intellectual and integrative functions during the sessions and feel exclusively from the "gut", "know all the client experiences and needs to experience, becomes the "prime" primal therapist. This is often perceived as sufficient for therapy. I call this "symbiotic therapy" because it recreates to some extent that relationship of mother to child prior to psychological birth.
This clearly has advantages and is appropriate as an integral part of therapy. In helping the client feel safe in an intimate relationship, he is able to go more deeply into crucial feelings than possibly could have been imagined previously. Unfortunately, this process frequently become an end in itself, and neither the therapist nor the client come out of this type of interaction throughout therapy. What can be a dramatically helpful part of therapy becomes a destructive regression in which pain triggers pain and the healthy part of the individual becomes even further disconnected. Too frequently clients end up seeking "ad infinitum" these intimate regressive experiences which can be most comforting and seductive, for it may be here only that the client feels fully understood and his infantile need seemingly met for the first time in his life. Unfortunately too, the therapist's own experience in his primal therapy has been in large measure of this same quality, and he may know little about effective integration, need for structure, or even the nature of the healthy personality.
What is lacking often in other therapies, i.e. feeling early body and psychological pain with a therapist capable of deep empathy, becomes the "end-all" of primal. ("You are your pain" is the expression). What is of value in other therapies, i.e., intellect, words, insight and action, is often deprecated in radical primal.
One last critical consideration: I feel all of us in the initial stages of our primal experiences isolated ourselves from the world, insisting only we had the answer. When any innovative philosophy insists it alone has the answer and is no longer open to other views, it merely repeats the mistakes of the rigidified institutions from which it so desperately flees. It frequently indulges in "group think" (see Psychology Today ,Nov. 1971). "Group think involves non-deliberate supression of critical thoughts as a result of internalization of the group's norms."
I wish to make it clear that much is gained through radical primal, if there is any question remaining of that fact in this critical analysis. Radical primal has demonstrated that re-experiencing feelings is an important capacity of the human organism for psychological and possibly body healing. Radical primal has demonstrated in a unique way the importance of intrauterine, birth and neonatal trauma. It has indicated how remarkably sensitive and sophisticated the developing embryo and infant are. Support for this new vision of the developing infant is increasing in sound scientific research. The so-called pain barrier of the theories of early infant neurophysiology and psychoanalysis, i.e. the infant has a very limited capacity to experience pain due to physiological development, is, as one researcher said at a recent symposium on "Infant Psychiatry: the New Frontier", no longer tenable. As the threatening oedipal theories of Freud are defended against by ridicule, so is the pain in us all from our intrauterine, birth and infancy defended against by this pain barrier and ridicule of primal in any form.
With some understanding of our disaffectations with the practice of radical primal, it may now be possible to see our motive for change. It now seems relevant to discuss the nature of these changes, although many of them have been implied by the previous material. I will confine myself to my own approach since others at the center may disagree as to specifics; however I believe there would be solid agreement with the spirit of these changes. I shall deal with the following topics:
1.) Post-natal Development
1. POST NATAL DEVELOPMENT
The psychological birth of the child, leaving the intimate symbiotic mother child relationship and becoming aware of his own person separate from the rest of his world, is crucial. The various phases illucidated by Freud, such as the oedipal, are equally real and crucial. There are many other concepts which accurately portray other pieces of truth about psychic and body development. I believe that it is vital for a therapist to have a broad range of awareness about these facts. The center also now encourages this and provides guest lecturers whenever possible.
This kind of data cannot be ignored in specific detail for adequate therapy when difficulty in these areas has been encountered in specific clients. Such problem areas do not always become obvious spontaneously to the patient as he follows his "track". Unless the therapist is knowledgeable, alert to their existence, can hear them in his client and, at times, direct the client's attention to their presence, they will be missed. These aspects of second line pain (post birth and pre-adult traumas primarily related to psychological function) must be dealt with in depth and specificity. No amount of feeling pain in general of birth and pre-birth pain can substitute for this therapy of later trauma.
2. DEFENSES AND STRUCTURE
For many who come to primal, defenses are primitive and little ego structure exists. For these, an intensive devoted entirely to feeling can indeed be destructive. A place for developing structure and healthy defenses can be made as feelings are felt, hand in hand, not one then the other. At times, it may be imperative to defer any emphasis on feeling until some ego structure can be developed. There are many effective ways to build ego structure and they should be available to any competent therapist.
3. THE "TRACK." FEELING AND WORDS
4. PRESENT LIFE
1. The myth that there is a right way to do primal. There is none. The most difficult therapy of all, perhaps, is primal because it demands openness. This goes against most of our training and lifetime experience. There are no crutches.In summary, radical primal has made a core contribution to therapy; the value of re-experiencing early trauma as body and psychological painful feelings. It is not, however, sufficient in itself for optimal growth to occur. The human being is far more complex and remarkable. It deserves and requires having all aspects, i.e., all feelings, intellect, words, structure, action,'present life, humor, defenses, even soul, utilized as well in any effective therapy. This is our idea of effective primal therapy. We feel second to no one in our endeavor to achieve this kind of therapy here.
I believe it would be a good idea to have a forum of some kind where these issues could be discussed further for those interested. Let us know if you are.
Dr. Baker was in private practice specializing in family and adolescent therapy when he became interested in Primal Therapy in 1972. Initially, he cautiously tried some of the techniques with a few selected patients. In 1974 he was introduced to Jules and Helen Roth, who had come from the Primal Institute and wanted to set up a Primal practice. They established what is now the Denver Primal Center. In 1978 he returned to private practice but is still a close friend and associate of the DPC.