The Primal Wound: A Transpersonal View of Trauma, Addiction and Growth, by John Firman and Ann Gila, State University of New York Press, £ 15.50, pp. 284

Reviewed by John Rowan

This is a marvellous book. It is that rarity, a genuine attempt at theory from the transpersonal camp. I say transpersonal, because the authors come from psychosynthesis. Psychosynthesis does of course have a huge overlap with humanistic approaches, but it is best known for its very early involvement with the transpersonal. The authors do not kowtow to Assagioli, but use his ideas in a very creative way, adding to and criticising them as and when they need to, which I personally respect very much. It is also a very integrative book, and would be of real value to anyone interested in the integration of psychotherapies. It refers to Winnicott, Kohut, Jung, Balint, Maslow, as well as transpersonalists such as Dwight Judy and Ken Wilber.

The theory starts from the postulation of an I-Self unity. Here "I" is the subject, the origin, the source of self-consciousness. And "Self" the transpersonal self, the representation of the Divine. Any disruption of the I-Self unity may bring the threat of nonbeing. Such disruption can be brought about in the presence of abuse or neglect by the caregiver. The key thing here is empathic failure. What is experienced then may be the basic fault (Balint), the unnameable dread (Kohut), the bottomless void (Neumann), naked horror (Binswanger). And the defence against this may be splitting, resulting in the formation of a false self or selves, and ultimately in subpersonalities. This process can begin at any time from conception onwards. "The cause of primal wounding is not the suffering itself but the absence of some empathic other and, thus, the threat of nonbeing." (p.99)

One of the most striking additions the authors make to this story is the idea that false selves may go upwards or downwards.

"In other words, there is always a negative and positive shadow... We would maintain, for example, that if there is an unconscious wound from childhood incest, there may perhaps be an unconscious image of a valiant saviour. Or if there is an unconscious trauma of neglect, there may perhaps be an unconscious ideal of being seen as the most special. Or if there is an unconscious memory of abandonment, there may be an unconscious hope for perfect union. There is not only a repression of the negative, but a proportional repression of the positive." (p.111)
And this positive is just as false, just as phony, as the negative kind of subpersonality.

Obviously the form of therapy based on these ideas would be very interested in the restoration of the I-Self union, and so the aim is self-realization in a transcendent sense, where full justice is done to the Divine - though the authors make it clear that they are not proposing a religious solution. There are many practical points of detail in this book and it is full of new thinking.

This is not an easy book to read, because of its originality, but it is well worth the effort for anyone who wants to know the latest in transpersonal theory.

JOHN ROWAN, author of six books dealing with psychotherapy and personality, practices Primal Integration, which is a holistic approach to therapy. He teaches, supervises and leads groups at the Minster Centre in London, England. His particular workshop interests are creativity, body languages, sexuality and sex roles, subpersonalities and the transpersonal. He has four children and three grandchildren from a previous marriage.