The unconscious is primarily a record of the past and a storehouse of past physical and emotional tensions. These tensions can be triggered by present events so that they are felt in the present. In fact, because their origin is from the unconscious and we are thus unaware of their actual source, these powerful tensions seem to originate in the present and the person or situation triggering them appears to be their primary cause -- when they may in fact be only a very minor part of the cause.
My understanding of the object of psychoanalysis is that it helps
the client discover these unconscious origins of present-day tensions
(and their accompanying but misplaced ideations) and to analyze and
use the knowledge consciously to change present and future behaviors.
On the other hand, the object of primal psychotherapy is to enhance one's life by first lowering the tension levels of the material stored in the unconscious. That makes these tensions less likely to be triggered and greatly lowers their ability to affect the consciousness when they are triggered.
In a session, I first help the client become highly conscious of
previously unconscious memories (being very careful not to suggest
anything that wasn't there already). The past is actually "re-lived.''
Previously buried motivations become obvious to the client. No interpretation
or analysis is needed from the therapist.
I totally accept and thereby encourage the client to accept the reality
of the new discovery he is making: that some of the pain he experienced
as a child was so immense or prolonged that it had to be buried, and
that those forgotten memories and their accompanying emotional tensions
have been the source of life-long painful emotions, psychosomatic
illnesses, neurotic thoughts, defenses and self-defeating behaviors.
He may discover that in having to build walls to contain the pain, he not only reduced his sensitivity to painful feelings, but also reduced his ability to enjoy pleasurable feelings. By slowly confronting the old pain that he had to endure, he starts to regain the compassion for himself that he had to diminish in order to survive; with that comes more compassion for others and greater ability to feel warmth and closeness.
I believe that most therapists and laymen recognize the value of
a cathartic experience used in connection with recent trauma. (Such
as crying to express the grief of losing a loved one.) It vastly lowers
tension levels. But long-forgotten past traumas still maintain very
high, though unconscious, tension levels. It is this tension that
gives such incredible power to neurotic impulses. ("I know it's self-destructive,
but I can't seem to stop myself.'') By doing a connective catharsis
of the past, the neurotic impulses greatly diminish (and some are
At this stage in each session, the therapy changes from an emphasis
on the unconscious to an integration of the unconscious with the conscious
and then to an emphasis on the conscious. Because the client has lived
from unconscious neurotic impulses all his life, there are areas where
he is inexperienced at living in a relatively un-neurotic way. The
therapy then focuses on exploring the new relationships, life-styles,
and extraordinarily pleasurable deep emotions that become possible
when one's conscious mind (rather than one's unconscious), is truly
© 1993, all rights reserved, H. Lawrence King
H. Lawrence King is a retired psychotherapist living in New York City.