Symbolic Trauma Resolution In
The Regressive Psychotherapies

By John A. Speyrer

The search for an improved and faster primal therapy has been a seductive but often elusive goal since the very beginnings of primal's discovery by Arthur Janov in the late 1960s. A number of variations of primal have been developed which add "symbolic healing experiences" to the regressive experience. Their adherents claim that this addition to the re-living of early traumas can speed-up their resolution and proves especially useful in refractory cases.

Besides those mentioned here, there are probably many others. I have also included Dr. Janov's observations to these various deep-feeling oriented therapy "supplements" when I was able to find his comments.

It is difficult to determine whether their differences to each other and to the original Janovian primal therapy concept are substantial. Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, in an article in Psychology Today, 1 in l976, felt that the discovery of primal therapy itself was only "akin to putting a new toothpaste on the market." He felt that primal therapy was nothing more than abreaction. It is something, he claimed, which has existed since "time immemorial."

I do not claim to be especially knowledgable about the four psychotherapies which are mentioned in this article. Its writing is the result of a personal interest in the techniques involved in the use of positive affirmations during the regressive episode.

Pesso System Psychomotor

Gro Bagn Robinson, former president of the International Primal Association and therapist, strongly believes in the use of the Pesso System Psychomotor as a method of resolving early traumas, especially tenacious ones. In her article, Confronting Ageism Through Feeling Therapy,2 she writes,

"Those of us who work in feeling therapy know the slow, grueling, and often dramatic process of unblocking the energy manifest in our symptoms by feeling and expressing our old pain. While feeling and expressing the pain is a crucial first step, it is my experience that it is not enough. What is also needed is a way of helping the client to replace the negative introject with an antidote -- a positive message that tells us that it is safe to live in our bodies, to be who we are, to grow up, to grow older. I believe that primal therapy á la Janov does not address itself sufficiently to the all-important task in therapy of helping the client create ego boundaries.

The affirmation or positive message
"is taking in, symbolically, 'ideal parents' or 'ideal supporters' or 'ideal spiritual guides.' This is what was missing for the child, and is still missing in the psyche -- the soul -- of the neurotic or character-defective adult. This is what must be restored to the body-mind-spirit for healing or whole-ing to take place. This, of course, is the positive transference that is essential for the client to get well: He/she must be able to attach again, to cling to, to re-parent. By offering a symbolic 'ideal parent' structure the therapist can provide for the individual an experience of the 'right' interaction that was missing for the child."3
In the previous article she stated:

"Abnormal fears about illness, aging, and dying are all rooted in fear of losing control, being unprotected, and having our boundaries invaded. Years of primaling will not remove such fears. Nor will they reverse our ingrained learning not to trust our bodies or life's processes.

After coming to a dead end with primal therapy I was fortunate to discover a system that met my needs and provided a new perspective on healing -- a system that after fifteen years still intrigues and fascinates me."4

Since that article was written an additional seven years have passed. I recently spoke with Ms. Robinson and asked if she still felt as enthusiastic about the therapy as she expressed seven years ago in the original article. She replied that she remains excited about the Pesso System and presently uses that system, incorporating some techniques from primal therapy.

How is Pesso System Psychomotor different from Janov's primal therapy?

Gro Robinson explains:

Similar to Primal, the Pesso System Psychomotor may guide a client to relive an old trauma and express the blocked feelings. At that crucial moment Psychomotor will offer the client the experience of a symbolic antidote. It seems that the power of this positive experience at the moment when the client is deeply feeling the old pain is what is needed to change the negative programming, is what constitutes healing and real change in the client's life.

Only when a client can experience that her inner child's original needs for safety and protection -- for boundaries -- can be met, by symbolic "ideal" parents or caregivers, and that the energy of her feelings can be matched and contained, is she able to give up her symptoms and change her internalized messages.

We construct for that inner child, frozen in time, an antidote -- a symbolic healing experience that exactly "matches" her unmet needs. Only then can it feel safe for her to be in her body and to accept the reality of living and growing older.5

Rebirthing (Dr. Eve Jones' Model)

Rebirthing has itself evolved since the 1970's when it was developed by Leonard Orr. In this discussion I will use the model used by Eve Jones, Ph.D. in her Los Angeles office. The pre- and peri-natal traumas are accessed by breathwork. but unlike the breathing used by Dr. Stanislav Grof in his holotropic breathwork therapy, Dr. Jones use of breathwork is altogether different. She believes that the rebirthing breathing is how one accesses one's early memories and does not produce hyperventilation. She devotes an entire chapter on a description of what rebirthing type breathing is, and is not.

She writes:

After more than fifty years as a clinical psychologist, ardently studying many therapies, including client-centered and Gestalt, and diligently practicing, first, psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy, then Primal therapy, and finally Rebirthing, I conclude that talking about your troubles doesn't help much and neither does getting into your feelings.6

When some emotions or feelings come up, breathing is continued through the feeling. Thus, she believes that "expressing negatives" and "carrying on" or using "melodrama" to setup an "as if" situation to trigger a primal are all useless. Because of the tendencies to use such histrionics she believes that primal patients make the worse clients in re-birthing. Dr. Jones believes that primal therapy's insistence on "expressing negatives" is futile and will not work. Primal clients in regressions do too much "carrying on." They stay "stuck" in their "displaced expressions," and make themselves "miserable."

To Jones, feeling one's primal pain is nothing less than an act out and does not resolve anything. Expressing old primal feelings is like "picking on a scab." After all, you don't keep pulling apart a wound to find out if it's healing. Picking at a scab is not the way to go about getting well since that won't heal the trauma, she adds.

The rebirthee, instead, expresses positives as does the person aiding him. Dr. Jones believes that during the rebirthing breathing, one's consciousness becomes open and at that time positive affirmations have a good chance of taking root.

"I believe the reason life starts to work for people into Rebirthing is that the Rebirthing breath clears out old negatives from consciousness, and the emphasis on using affirmations fills conscious Thought with positives - so the more highly positive Mind creates a more beneficent life. Rebirthing says, You, through your Thought, have created the Universe you exist in. The way people treat you is the way you, in both your conscious and unconscious Thought, need them to treat you in order for you to feel safe and alive."

So why go back to experience the original trauma? This is done, she writes, so that we find out how we came to be how we are and can then determine "if our imprints still serve us in the Here and Now. If they don't, we can and must change our minds about them and let go old pain so we can think positive thoughts and thus create the positive life we strive to realize."

So is Rebirthing simply Norman Vincent Peale's Positive Thinking? Not at all. That was one of the criticisms of Arthur Janov, but Jones says that Janov just doesn't understand rebirthing.

What rebirthers are exhorted to do is

"Let go old birth-related negatives that you've been carrying around and holding onto in your body and your thought and your feelings and your spirit and your being, and think positive thoughts that allow you to create an ongoing positive, supportive reality for yourself. . .

To heal myself, I must change my Thought. I won't progress by concentrating on my grievances. I must stop thinking my negative thoughts."

She wrote that when she "first moved into Rebirthing and found that it was possible to concentrate on the breath and concentrate on positive thoughts. . . (her) life transformed."

Both the talk therapies and the deep feeling therapies get a failing grade from Dr. Jones. She sums up her position:

"From my point of view, the big problem with conventional talk therapies, as with the expressive, emotion-release therapies, is that by concentrating on the negatives, they perpetuate the negatives. Thus, they don't produce prompt healing."


Jean Liedloff's Therapy Model

In the beginning, Jean Liedoff, like both Gro B. Robinson and Dr. Eve Jones, had her primary interest in primal integration therapy. She studied with the late, Frank Lake, M.D. of Nottington, England, and learned how to regress her clients so that they would "relive their earliest terrors, the birth passage, and even prenatal experiences. . . . Memories, images, and fragments of painful early experiences would frequently arise. And as the agonies suffered by 'normal' people in 'normal' birth and infancy came to expression, so, too, did the origins of many of their fears and irrationalities, as well as their self-defeating and antisocial behaviors."12

She had received her first "hint" that even "normal" parents could do everlasting harm to their children by comparing the young children of the Yequana indians she had observed in the South American jungle community, with her clients. In her book, The Continuum Concept, she recounts how the Yequana tribe raised their children and how neurosis was practically non-existent there. She sought a way to apply what she learned during her five trips to the jungles of South America and this led her to Dr. Lake.

"For a time, I hoped that reliving early experiences was in itself therapeutic, that it was nature's way of healing the wounded psyche. After a year or two of utilizing the technique in my London practice, however, I came to the conclusion that as cathartic as it might be, it rarely made a difference in the quality of the person's life. Discouraged, I even began to wonder if it was possible to remedy the damage sustained in childhood."13

After becoming disheartened, she closed her therapy practice and later opened it again. At that time she noticed in her normal neurotic adult clients certain "curious" characteristics. "Instead of suffering from a myriad of psychological problems, her patients seemed to have one overriding concern.

They possessed

"a deep sense of being wrong -- of being not good enough, not lovable, disappointing, incompetent, insignificant, undeserving, inadequate, evil, bad, or in some other way not "right." What's more, this feeling of wrongness had come about almost always through early interactions with parental authority figures. And it had evoked powerful unconscious beliefs that have informed our views of both self and self-in-relation-to-other."

The Yequana tribe had received their new members upon birth with feelings which conveyed to the infants that they were worthy and welcome. She concluded that all people needed to feel that they were worthy and welcomed and it was the result of these perception which was the origin of neurosis.

Her patients had the life script of believing that "Nothing I am able to do has the power to move others, I want people who do not want me, I must be wrong to want a response, I am wrong to desire a place in my mother's arms, or I should be ashamed of my desires.14"
How would she go about and rectify these past programs in her clients? She found that in all her clients there were some "good" memories -- memories of instances where the parental figure had been wrong and the child justifiably angry, disappointed, and hurt. These feelings were the appropriate ones to have and represented a hint of hope that they were not always wrong.

The uncovered material is examined by the therapist and the patient. The material is re-evaluated. Untrue conclusions of the client are studied . Eventually there becomes so much evidence that the client changes the lifescripts and neurotic modes of living.

Leidloff ends her article with these words:
"It became clear that to believe we are, and have always been, worthy and welcome, we adults have to understand that our parents were wrong.

The idea was simply to understand how mother and father came to behave as they did and thus strengthen our case against accepting that behavior as authoritative .

When we no longer need to see ourselves through what we believe to be our parents' eyes, there is no further spur to resentment. We are free. All the unpleasant or unbearable irritations with our parents become superseded by a familiarity, a deep understanding of what we have all been through. And invariably there arises a new, easy compassion for the human-sized old dears."15

* * *

Dr. Arthur Janov, discoverer and chief theoretician of primal therapy, believes that symbolic resolution of repressed material is not good therapy. For example, in regard to resolving birth trauma, he writes that its sequence ". . . must be run off exactly as it happened without interference. The experience itself is resolving. That is why one cannot decide to superimpose a good ending over a particular Primal trauma with the hope of resolving it. . . The original trauma did not end well; that is the truth. There is no way to make a Primal experience end well." 16

William Emerson's Shock/Trauma Resolution Therapy

William R. Emerson, Ph.D., is based in Petaluma, California, and has an international reputation in the study of pre- and peri-natal psychology. He has specialized in an area which very few have been involved -- primal therapy for infants.

Like Gro B. Robinson, Emerson believes that some early traumas are very resistant to healing. These are the "shocks" which often occur during pre- and peri-natal events. These shock traumas, he believes, require a different type of treatment for adults than normal primal therapy. [This section will be completed later - Editor]



1Torrey, E. Fuller; The Primal Therapy Trip: Medicine or Religion? by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Psychology Today, December, 1976
2Robinson, Gro Bagn; Confronting Ageism Through Feeling Therapy, Aesthema, The Journal of the International Primal Association, July, 1994, Aging and the Life Cycle
3Robinson, Gro Bagn; A View From the Lake: Reflections on Life and Therapy, Aesthema, The Journal of the International Primal Association, Issue #2, 1984, p. 5.
4 ibid. p.5
5 ibid. p.5
6 Jones, Eve; The Difference Between ReBirthing and Primal Therapy From Chapter 4 from The Logic of Magical Thought and The Dance of the Breath - Chapter On the Internet
7 ibid.
8 ibid.
9 ibid.
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12Liedloff, Jean; Normal Neurotics Like Us - Article on the internet
13 ibid.
14 ibid.
15 ibid.
16 ibid.
17Janov, Arthur; Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, p. 243.