Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling - R. D. Rosen, Antheneum Press, New York, 1977

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This book is not new, but it is well written and interesting. The era of feeling referred to in the book's subtitle was in the late seventies which witnessed the rise and decline of Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis, Werner Erhard's est, Leonard Orr's Rebirthing and I'm sorry to say, also Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy.

About one-third of the book is an expose of primal therapy. There are some valid criticisms of the therapy, but all such attacks have one thing in common: The person doing the attacking has not experienced a primal. It is easy to intellectually disparage such a revolutionary psychotherapy as primal and explain why it should not work or will not work based on one's present limited knowledge. But how can a non-primal person write objectively about the primal process if he has never experienced the power and depth of a primal feeling experience?

Nevertheless, the book is recommended reading, as it shows the limitations of the therapy, by describing the poignant story of a young psychotic woman named Lauren, who primaled for 3 1/2 years in sessions lasting up to eight hours a day, before drowning in a bathtub from a drug overdose. Her story is described by another primal failure, her boyfriend, a college professor for whom the therapy was also ineffective.

The unfair criticisms are the usual ones we have become accustomed to read during these past twenty odd years. The author contends that changes in body temperature, blood pressure and pulse rate, which accompany primal therapy can be caused by outside factors which have nothing to do with feeling one's early pain. Rosen, obviously, has never heard of the late Canadian neurologist Wilder Penfield, since he believes that traumas are not stored in their original form, but become part of a sort of collective unconscious.

Rosen's biggest problem with regressions seems to be that a patient may be fantasizing about the supposed hurts of infancy/childhood which did not actually occur (Was this a premonition of the present-day ubiquitous false memory syndrome?). The author believes that some primals may just be the result of a overactive and vivid imagination. Such was the case of a story he quoted of a hospitalized World War II veteran who acted-out the entire battle of Iwo Jima, but who had never been in combat! No criticism of primal is complete without an attack on Janov's denial of the existence of transference in the therapy, so readers will be happy to know that Rosen's criticisms are complete!

The author makes a number of statements which show that he really does not understand what the therapy is all about. I'd recommend the book if only for the well-written story of Lauren.