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Child Development

Cool Intervention #3: Primal Therapy

10CTI: I scream, you scream...

Cool comes in many forms. In the case of Primal Therapy, cool means unorthodox, controversial, and powerful enough to ruffle feathers after 40 years. None other than Dr. Arthur Janov himself chimes in as we dig deep to explore one of the Ten Coolest Therapy Interventions.

First off, Primal Therapy is the name of the modality, Primal Scream was the name of the 1970 book where Janov claimed mental illness can be eliminated by therapy that involves experiencing and expressing repressed pain from childhood. Sometimes this results in screaming, sometimes sobbing, whatever it takes to express the hurt. The decibels don't matter as long as clients access and express these raw, early emotions. Why is this so important? Take a look at this:

"The number one killer in the world today is not cancer or heart disease, it is repression." - from Why You Get Sick and How You Get Well

According to Janov, unexpressed pain and painful memories place undue stress on our psyche and physical bodies, and may cause illness. Everything from hypertension, allergies, asthma, panic attacks, heart palpitations, ulcers, phobias, depression - each can be potentially traced to repressed emotion. Address the cause (early pain), and the symptom will subside.

Janov was educated at UCLA and the Claremont Graduate School before working at a Veteran's Administration hospital and the Los Angeles Children's Hospital. During his own therapy he discovered an "eerie scream welling up from the depths of a young man lying on the floor" and created Primal Therapy as a result.

Working with core emotions must be revitalizing because at 85 Janov shows no signs of slowing down. He is the author of thirteen books related to Primal Therapy including The Primal Scream, The Biology of Love, and more recently Primal Healing. His new book Life Before Birth will be published this year. He founded the Janov Primal Center in Santa Monica, California, where the work continues. He even has his own blog.

Most everyone associated with psychotherapy has heard of Primal Therapy. Whether they love it or hate it, Janov's work has forced the field to wrestle with the significance of repression and raw emotion in their theoretical formulation. If this area were completely unimportant, Primal Therapy wouldn't cause such a ruckus. Furthermore, John Lennon wrote a great album after his time with Janov, so there's that. Here's to the ruckus, and a big loud, throaty welcome to Dr. Janov:

1. When would a clinician use Primal Therapy?

Primal Therapy is used to treat a wide variety of neuroses, including the treatment of anxiety and depression. The aim is to return to the origins of the pain (which always goes back to a lack of love in childhood, or a trauma at birth), relive the pain, and thus heal it.

2. What does it look like?

Patients return to the exact neuro-physiologic state as occurred originally at the time of the trauma. The treatment is an open-ended therapy in which the therapist remains accessible to the patient for as long as necessary. The aim of Primal Therapy is to restore the patients access to their repressed feelings and therefore free them from the consequences of repression. It is a process that the patients can go on doing by themselves once they have "access" to the buried feelings.

Each time they let themselves "feel" they reconnect themselves to the origin of the repression and have numerous insights. They also feel better that they knew was possible because they take the misery out of their systems.

3. How does it help the client?

Primal Therapy helps by returning to the origins of the problem, lifting it out of the unconscious, making a conscious connection and thus integrating and resolving the pain.

4. In your opinion, what makes Primal Therapy a cool intervention?

A common misnomer: it is not Primal "Scream" Therapy, but Primal Therapy, and rather than saying it is "cool", I would rather say that it is scientific. It is one of the most heavily researched private psychotherapies extant in the world; and the "cool" thing about it is it is also one of the most effective modalities extant.

** Many thanks to vidi who allowed me to use his stunning artwork

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